Don’t let your estimate become your weakest link. Perhaps the most important piece associated with any job is the estimate, and in most cases that fine-tuning process needs to occur before the job is even bid.

Given today’s highly competitive marketplace, it takes a bit more for contractors to fine tune an estimate than it did in years past. A few trends are driving the market for construction estimating software these days. Let’s take a look at how some providers are stepping forward to meet the demands of the market.

Data from the recently published 2011 Constructech IT Playbook shows users believe current estimating solutions lack the integration needed for their jobs. In fact, 52% demand better integration capabilities with systems like project management and accounting, while 41% want the estimate more tightly associated with BIM models.

Addressing the latter, Hard Dollar, www.harddollar.com, Tempe, Ariz., released its 5D Design Data Integration model back in April. With an open API for integration to any design software system, and out of the box integration with On-Screen Takeoff from On-Center Software,www.oncenter.com, The Woodlands, Texas, the focus of the product definitely centers on translating design and takeoff information for purposes of quantity estimates.

Dynamic two-way integration between the two packages provides an intuitive estimating experience. For example, in On-Screen Takeoff users calculate lengths, areas, volumes, and counts, all on screen and the resulting quantities are visible to estimators immediately. This data turns the estimate into a tool that helps drive cost items, resources, or assemblies. Any changes later to the drawings are flagged by the Hard Dollar application, which then alerts to any new or revised take-off quantities.

Weaving the estimate in tighter with BIM models is nothing new to a company like MC2, www.mc2-ice.com, Memphis, Tenn. Within its ICE software, realtime takeoff graphics provide live 2D and 3D representations of components, which help to provide a visual validation of takeoff accuracy. MC2 has established key integrations with digital takeoff systems from On Center, PlanSwift, www.planswift.com, Henderson, Nev., and Autodesk, www.autodesk.com, San Rafael, Calif., (with its QTO product), among others, to allow data to be directly mapped to the estimating system.

In fact, MC2’s ICE Import Tool supports imports from both digital takeoff and CAD (computer-aided design) files in one application. It then stores source tracking information in the estimate and on a reimport from a source, the old data is stripped out.

Those estimators looking to sharpen their estimate should look at how their data is integrating with other key parts of the organziation. Whether or not your current system is allowing such data flow to happen seamlessly could be the key to you ultimtely winning more jobs going forward.