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 tend to be expensive and 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. Adapting software, even that with a close fit, can be time-consuming and expensive.
Estimating Software Solutions
DMW’s 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
DMW’s client required an estimating package to cover:
- Plant, labour and materials
- 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-1990s, DMW equipped the spreadsheets with toolbars, menus and macros to make the system easy to use.
DMW updated this estimating system through Excel 2003, 2007 and 2010 versions and on to 2103 and 2016.
Inevitably, Excel ran out of steam as the list of additional requirements for the system lengthened. Programming macros to make Excel behave like a relational database proved lower and lower in terms of cost benefit. The move of estimating to a Microsoft Access database became the imperative.
DMW now holds an estimating module that can be integrated into any of the Access databases it is engaged to develop.