The power of estimating
Ian Hauptfleisch, General Manager of Construction Computer Software (CCS), spoke to Technical Review about why the process of estimating should be at the heart of all contractors management systems and how CCS offerings are making real headway in the construction industry.
Construction Computer Software (CCS) has been in the construction industry for over 30 years and has been at the forefront of pushing integrated software suites that focus on estimating, planning, modelling, managing and controlling construction projects,
The company is concentrated on producing IT software that is focused on project control in the construction industry. "Our software suites provide improved accuracy and increased productivity," said Hauptfleisch.
The company was set up in 1978 in South Africa and was part of a large construction group based there.
The first example of the software was Candy and in around 1989 the founders bought themselves out and set up their own company. "This allowed us to market and develop the software ourselves and we have been completely independent since then," commented Hauptfleisch.
CCS is comprised of experienced, construction industry professionals and computer programmers. CCS Gulf, as the Middle East operation is known, officially started in 2003, but in practice CCS had been active in the region since the mid 1990s.
"We initially did not have an office but we were supporting the market from South Africa. We then decided to set up an office in 2003 with Dubai designated as the hub for the region, which would handle sales and support in the Middle East."
Hauptfleisch discussed the company's approach to having distributors based across the region which supports CCS's customers locally in both the installation and implementation of CCS's main products.
"All the distributors are trained up in our product and are backed-up by us and our support staff in South Africa who frequently visit the region," he explained.
"We have distributors in Bahrain and Lebanon and we are setting up another in Dammam in Saudi Arabia which will hopefully be completed by the end of Q4."
Estimating and Procurement
CCS has two main products that cover the estimating/project control and procurement/accounting/payroll fields of the construction industry. The company's first main product was Candy which is an estimating and project control system that specifically targets the contractor's software requirements. It covers the whole contracting process for a contractor, from the awarding of the contract, planning, programming, costs, forecasting and eventually to managing the project on site itself. Candy then handles all the allowances within a project from pricing and costs involved.
Hauptfleisch emphasised that "it easy to underestimate the importance of estimating."
Candy provides a variety of inter-related modules such as Material Costing, Drawing Register, Sub-contract database, Allowable Cost Reconciliation, Information Schedules and Time-Location charts to provide a wide range of analytic tools.
An important advantage of Candy is that it suitable for all environments of the construction industry and can operate in the conditions found at most sites.
CCS believes that the single-package that Candy offers is a powerful and unique design point that is very attractive to contractors in the construction industry.
The company's other main offering is BuildSmart which focuses on the procurement, accounts (including Subcontractiors, plant, yard and inventory) and Payroll side. This high level system encompasses all aspects procurement, accounting and payroll and uses the latest Dot.Net technology and a web based interface.
Buildsmart integrates costing, project accounting and enterprise accounting for real-time analysis and the effective construction management. BuildSmart operated as a separate entity until 2008 when it was merged into CCS.
"The merger of the two products allowed us to approach Candy and BuildSmart clients offering a complete construction enterprise solution, catering for both sides of the equation: allowances and actual in real time."
Candy covers all the allowances or budget of a project while BuildSmart deals with all the costs. It looks at what you actually spend. As Hauptfleisch explained, "CCS Candy and/or BuildSmart now allows real-time comparison of what has been spent (BuildSmart) with what was expected to have been spent (Candy)."
Most clients have both products but they do not necessarily have to be implemented together. "You obviously get more benefits by implementing them both together," Hauptfleisch observed. Candy can run independently of BuildSmart, but both products complement each other and can be described as a "symbiotic relationship" providing mutual benefit.
"Our products are used by contractors to increase productivity and we have seen an increased demand for project control systems after the global downturn," commented Hauptfleisch.
Candy purchase model is based on a monthly rental basis. All software updates are included in the rental agreement. This means all changes or enhancements to the software and customer support are included in the rental price. There are no hidden charges.
This model has a number of advantages over the traditional license model. It avoids the high set up cost and this model provides a client with greater flexibility. Users can be taken off the license at a month's notice and additional systems can be rented for short bursts at peak times.
Hauptfleisch explained that CCS always makes sure that even if a license expires, the service will continue and the company tries to accommodate customers with the provision of emergency licenses. On the other hand, Buildsmart's pricing model is the traditional license sale + AMC (annual maintenance contract).
CCS systems and products are continually being adjusted, developed and enhanced. "We obviously have to keep up with industry requirements but we also have to be a one step ahead so our clients are getting the last enhancements. We do not have a dedicated R&D department and our R&D is based on the constant feedback and communication with our customers," he said.
Hauptfleisch explained that all requests from our clients are evaluated and implemented and if it is something that we feel can add value to the overall product then we will try and build it into a future update.
Users of Candy all have direct access to our programmers and are able to discuss changes or bespoke requirements. This keeps us constantly in touch with our clients. All updates, even if they are minor, will be made available to all our users and can be downloaded directly from the CCS website
"The UAE is a very important market for us and we have a range of major clients in the region, including the likes of Al-Habtoor, Arabtec and Dutco Balfour Beaty."
Over a 100 contractors use Candy in the UAE. Candy is spreading across the GCC and an important component of this is positive recommendations and word of mouth from people in the industry. Candy and BuildSmart is used by a number of major international contracting companies across the world from Australasia to Europe, Africa to the middle, near and far East.
On markets outside the UAE, CCS sees Saudi Arabia a growth area and during the global downturn the Saudi market continued to grow. Qatar will be very big market in the build up to the Fifa World Cup in 2022 and it is starting to kick off.
Hauptfleisch added that his outlook for the construction sector in 2012 is more a wait and see policy. It is too early to say when the construction market in the UAE will properly pick up.
"The global downturn in terms of numbers was not good but we still grew during the time period and post a profit which was quite remarkable" he noted.
What the downturn did do is make people re-consider how projects should be assessed and managed. Hauptfleisch said, "The whole process starts at estimating. A lot of people have not grasped that concept yet."
"We think it is very important to make sure our existing clients are able to maximise the usage of our products and this is why we run regular training sessions that help acclimatise new users and, importantly, introduce existing users to new techniques." said Hauptfleisch.
CCS provides theoretical Candy training every month with two-day training courses across the region. All the instructors at the course are highly trained in the operation of our software and will be experienced in the construction industry.
CCS also provides 'In-house' courses that can be arranged and given to employees of one company. On the BuildSmart side, the company implements the product and trains people up at the same time.
CCS prides itself on having a close relationship with its clients and customers. "At CCS we make sure that support for our clients are always available to provide help or resolve problems," said Ian.
"The nice thing about us is that we are always available; there is always someone on hand to help. Our world-wide contact numbers are available through the system so that our support staff is on call 24/7."