Most builders who close 100 homes per year feel the national builders breathing down their necks. To stay competitive, these smaller builders need software that lets them grow on their own terms, while affording the same financial controls large builders enjoy.
The problem is that small-volume builder accounting software is geared toward one-off custom projects and isn't capable of the purchasing and scheduling automation required to stay competitive. And integrated back-office solutions require a larger commitment of resources—well in excess of $50,000—than most already stretched-to-the-max mid-sized builders can muster.
Recognizing the market need, Atlanta-based Computer Data Control Inc. (CDCI) released its “Big Builder” product suite, designed specifically for the growing mid-sized builder. Maggie Geoffroy, CDCI's vice president of new-product development, says that the software features the essential financial controls found in enterprise products such as Timberline Production Management, but in a package that is more affordable and easier to deploy for mid-sized companies. Big Builder starts at $25,000, with a standard implementation starting at $10,000 per location.
Big Builder makes use of a process-driven “best practices” workflow tailored to production home building. Beginning with the “Model Designer” module, salespeople and estimators use a community standards/model/options database to select and set up a project for sale or production. The combination of selected features is then used to generate a complete set of binding vendor purchase orders (POs) representing all materials, labor, and non-construction activities.
Once the vendor list has been determined, the system prints, e-mails, or faxes the POs automatically, depending on preferences set for each supplier or subcontractor. The POs can be released to the vendors in groups, for instance, to represent different work stages, or all at once. Once released, a PO becomes a binding contract with that vendor to deliver a fixed amount of goods and services at a pre-defined price. Cost increases occur only if both parties agree to a change, and then a variance PO modifying the original scope of the work is issued.
Big Builder also integrates CDCI's scheduling module, with each PO becoming a task in the scheduling template that defines the construction of the home. Project managers can view and manipulate the schedule from either their PC or a PDA. When a task on the schedule is marked as completed, the system flags the corresponding PO as approved for payment, alerting the accounts payable department that it's fine to cut the check. This automated bill pay functionality eliminates the need for vendor invoices and the grunt work of an accounts payable clerk manually coding invoices to particular jobs and cost accounts. Job costs are tracked directly against the released purchase orders, further simplifying the accounting process. Big Builder includes complete general ledger, accounts receivable, accounts payable, and payroll modules.
Geoffroy says Big Builder can be purchased with a Microsoft Access database, Microsoft's lower-end database, and then can be easily upgraded to a more powerful enterprise version that uses a Microsoft SQL Server database without any loss of data and no re-training because the user interface is identical between the versions.
Joe Stoddard is a process/technology consultant to the building industry. Contact him at email@example.com.