Taking the time and uncertainty out of estimating for the SME

Estimating Software Applications for the SME

Estimating is a tough activity to computerise. That's because there are so many variables to be taken into account and no fixed pattern against which to match them.

Hence commercially available estimating packages are likely to be expensive and tend to be targeted at large companies, often on big-budget projects in specific sectors, like building and civil engineering.

For the SME, finding an off-the-shelf estimating package that relates to their activity with a sufficiently close fit and to a budget can be difficult.

Estimating Software Solutions

Our approach to developing estimating software is to work closely with our clients to build our understanding of their estimating processes, and, as we do so, to fashion and refine the software solution.

We usually start with Microsoft Excel as the development tool. Because nearly everyone we work with uses Excel, this means:

  • No initial additional software costs
  • The system is very open and transparent to the user
  • Users familiar with Excel can contribute to development
  • Development tends to be very focussed, yet flexible
  • Changes can be incorporated with relative ease
  • Testing is ongoing
  • Training costs are virtually nonexistent
  • Development costs are reduced.

This evolutionary approach proves more attractive to SME clients than the formal one of composing an exact specification and agreeing it with their developer. We find that few SMEs have the time to devote to crossing Is and dotting Ts in the writing of the definitive spec.

Example of Estimating

Our client required an estimating package to cover:

  • Plant, labour and materials
  • Subcontractors
  • Margins
  • Discounts
  • Materials picking lists
  • Output for presentation to suppliers
  • Output for presentation to subcontractors.

Also, they wanted their estimating to be visually similar to the paper-based processes in which their sales staff and project managers were well versed.

Developed originally in Microsoft Excel in the mid-90s, we equipped the spreadsheets with toolbars, menus and macros to make the system easy to use.

We have updated this estimating system to Excel 2003 and 2007 versions and we are in the process of upgrading it for Excel 2010.