Alan Banks, marketing director for Evans Coghill, shows off the company's new software system.
Alan Banks, marketing director for Evans Coghill, shows off the company's new software system.

Selecting the right construction management software is a crucial but often overlooked step in the home building business. Builders often end up patching together a variety of systems to handle everything from payroll and accounting to scheduling and sales. This ends up creating extra work instead of helping the business to run smoothly. 

North Carolina-based builder Evans Coghill Homes faced this challenge after investing in a combination of systems that involved entering the same data into two Excel spreadsheets while entering related information into an Access database in order to communicate with homeowners and trade partners. The system worked but was very disjointed, says marketing director Alan Banks. 

“It carried us through the lean recession years,” he says. “Now that the market is improving, we were looking to wrap this up in an end-to-end solution.” 

In a process that he thought would take three months but took a year, Banks and his team researched and selected new management software for the company. Here, he talks with BUILDER about lessons learned. 

What did you find as you researched new systems?
There are many, many solutions out there. I can only imagine how many more were there before the recession! We thought it would be much easier but we found there really is no one offering comprehensive reviews of the packages, so you have to do it yourself.

The confusing part was sorting out the strengths and promises of one compared to another.  All of the systems we looked at were good in some way but few were good in all ways. 

How did you figure out which system would be right for your company?
After seeing several online/webinar demos, we recognized we had to tighten up our list of “must haves” because we were getting lost in the promises of each package but not reconciling it to how we did business.  We knew it had to be web-based (most are) for field access and we wanted a product from a larger company because we needed reasonable certainty the package would continue to exist.

In the end, we visited and talked to several other Builder 20 builders and even went to Alabama to see one package in action at a builder’s office. We ultimately created a “must have” list based on non-negotiable ways we did business. The list narrowed significantly then.  Finally, we had more highly focused web meetings to really drill down on the software. 

Which system did you choose and why?
We chose BuildTopia by Constellation. It matched the way we did business. The sales team was very responsive and we felt very the implementation team understood how we worked. The company has years of experience and offered several solutions for larger and smaller companies allowing us to upgrade later, if necessary.

We liked that fact that BuildTopia is a fully integrated, bringing all tasks, processes and workflow together without the need for multiple software packages. It handles everything from sales, purchasing and scheduling to warranty, while meeting specific homebuilding and management needs. The cost for the upgrade will come out to approximately $17,000 annually. 

What should builders keep in mind when setting out to evaluate their software?
First off, determine why you want a change. Is it for higher profits, improved customer service, to cut down on administrative costs, or enhance staff communication?  Whatever your reason, realize that there is no magic bullet--unless you are willing to write your own software, you have to fit your company’s operational needs into the parameters set by the software company.

Find the right solution by coming up with your list of non-negotiable “must-haves” and shop for those. Don’t get lost in promises that aren’t important to you or your brand. In other words, if online selections are not important to you, then don’t buy a solution because it has that feature and you believe you might use it.

Lastly, be sure to budget for the time and expense of switching . We expect to lose several starts this year, due to implementation.