Amid all the M&A (merger and acquisition) activity within the construction space over the past few years perhaps no company has been more active in this regard than Trimble, www.trimble.com, Sunnyvale, Calif.  Its efforts have brought such brands as Meridian Systems, Vico Software, Tekla, and WinEstimator, among others, into the fold. Today’s announcement demonstrates Trimble’s long-term plan for building ‘closed-loop integration’ amongst the brands.

The company has announced new versions of WinEst, Modelogix, Prolog, Proliance, and Vico Office designed to enhance the processes associated with budget management and planning for key members of the construction team.

Focused on a concept of ‘closed-loop integration,’ part of its new strategy involves linking the estimate to project management (and eventually to capital management programs) to allow for the use of real budget information to manage a project and estimate future jobs more efficiently.

The company has made it so detailed estimates created in WinEst will automatically create a Prolog budget which can be used to manage budgets at the project-management stage. Then eventually when a budget is marketed as closed and the project is managed to completion the next step that should happen is projects deemed as closed become available in the Modelogix cost-modeling tool.

In an interview with Constructech, Steve Watt, president, WinEst, outlined the immediate need for such integration, citing the frustration contractors endure in the steps following when they are awarded a job. “I could not tell you how many times companies get awarded work and they have created this detailed estimate and the estimate is organized any number of ways—one is by budget code for financial side—and yet those budgets are still being entered manually in accounting or project management,” says Watt. “Every time you enter a series of numbers, you introduce possibility of error. Unfortunately it is still pretty common in this industry for budgets to be entered manually into the costing system.”

Going a step further, Watt discussed how the need for this ‘closed-loop integration’ becomes even more necessary as the long-term needs of the job continually evolve. “In the past when you developed a list of cost codes, rarely if ever, did they change,” says Watt. “Now with contractors doing a lot of repetitive work for owners, the owners are dictating what the budgetary code and breakdowns will be when presenting the information.”

Introducing the model of ‘closed-loop integration’ Trimble addresses such challenges and more. Under this model closed projects now become part of the portfolio in Modelogix. If you frame that in the everyday workflow of a general contractor, it helps with such things as being able to base feasibility budgets off of past projects that are similar in scope. In situations where such a budget is requested by an owner with which the general contractor has worked previously, that cost model is based off of actual cost budgets from projects that are similar in scope.

Taking this one-step further, ongoing maintenance costs of a facility have become equally important as the costs associated with initial construction, which means owners are looking to be a part of that ‘closed-loop integration’. To address this, Trimble has made it so the data in Modelogix can also be used in Proliance, the capital management technology tool, to manage these long-term costs associated with maintain a facility. In the end, from estimate through facilities management, Trimble’s vision involves one set of data.

Additionally, the company is taking its Tekla Structures product, which is a powerful tool for design and layout for structural concrete and steel, and linking it with Vico Office. By itself Tekla Structures does not complete the 5D workflow, from schedule or from cost/quantity perspective, but these functions are key pieces to the Vico Office product.

By creating a link between quantity and cost with location-based scheduling users will now be able to take structural steel and concrete design and layout work and publish to Vico where it can be inserted into the 5D workflow. This will allow quantities to be verified and costs to be applied in order to effectively complete the workflow.

In a way, all the pieces are starting to come together for Trimble. As the products continue to evolve it will certainly be worth watching the way in which Trimble furthers this concept of ‘closed-loop integration.’ If anything, this primary step is providing clarity for what can be accomplished when you link together key technology systems for the complete construction lifecycle.