The housing industry has finally reached the point where many home builders feel that the software products available can meet their business needs, but the ongoing downturn has put a damper on information technology (IT) spending.
“It's really a shame,” says David Thikoll, a principal at Cardamel Consulting in Phoenix. “The unfavorable condition of the market is shifting money away from many IT projects on the residential side,” Thikoll says, which is why his group is taking on more commercial jobs.
Thikoll says most builders he works with have put the brakes on IT spending. He says one of the only major IT projects he worked on with a home builder in late 2007 was with Scottsdale, Ariz.–based Hacienda Builders, which was continuing with the project despite the company's 35 percent sales slide and reports that Hacienda might sell to Scottsdale-based Montage Holdings.
Thikoll says that while most home builders won't invest in IT now the way Hacienda is, he still believes they are much more in tune with technology than in previous years, a view that's supported by our survey.
BUILDER recently conducted an IT survey that drew responses from 463 builders about their projections of what role IT will play in their companies over the next 12 months, compared with the past 12 months. Only 8 percent of respondents say IT will be less important going forward. Thirty-nine percent say IT will be more important, and another 47 percent say IT will have the same importance. Forty-five percent say that the builder-software industry is meeting their business needs, while 23 percent say that vendors fall short.
Big builders (those building 300 or more homes a year) are mostly leading the IT charge. A full 47 percent of big builders say they are using the Web to post construction schedules, payment information, change orders, and documents, up a couple of percentage points from BUILDER's 2007 survey. Only 19 percent of small builders (those building fewer than 300 homes a year) are using the Web in this way, and it will more than likely take another five to 10 years before small builders embrace the Web as much as their big builder counterparts have.
One builder that has moved on building a trade portal is Denver-based Metropolitan Homes, a company that peaked in 2003 with 314 closings but closed about 150 homes in 2007.
“We post all our purchase orders, schedules, documents, plans, and options sold on the Web, … and we don't have any problems with the subs because in our market they all have computers,” says Brian Kraft, the builder's IT manager.
Kraft says one major IT goal for the upcoming year is to generate better metrics on how Metropolitan spends its marketing dollars.
Web-based construction manage-BuildTopia now features integration with Intuit's QuickBooks. This is major news, since the Intuit software is by far the most popular accounting program among small builders. The integrated system lets builders view QuickBooks data within BuildTopia, offering enhanced job cost reporting, payment approvals, closing entries, and financial reporting. Integration with Quick-Books is free for BuildTopia subscribers. Prices start at $900 a month. Visit www.buildtopia.com for more information.
View Finder DataCAD 12, the new release from software maker DataCAD, lets builders design walls, doors, and window objects that can be manipulated graphically or via dialogue boxes and displayed in 3-D and 2-D as well as in photo-realistic rendered views. Builders can switch between 2-D and 3-D views at any time during the design process without compromising the integrity of the drawing. The software sells for $1,295. Visit www.datacad.com/demo for a complete overview of the software.