Construction estimating is one area in which communication plays a crucial role. Since the estimating process relies on passing concepts from design to builder/contractor, insight is an important part of determining the requirements for any project.

For years an estimator’s tools consisted of Microsoft Excel spreadsheets, which are a step beyond pencil and paper, but still not a fit for collaboration among an entire project team. Even today, many in the construction industry have yet to capitalize on the advanced technology solutions to open up more communication during the estimating process.

Luckily, 3D-modeling technology such as BIM (building information modeling) can help. While BIM, for instance, is being used by many forward-thinking construction companies to streamline project management and modeling in the backoffice and in the field, it’s important for estimators to adapt by learning to leverage BIM and other technology solutions.

In addition to 3D modeling, construction companies can use BIM for 4D scheduling and 5D estimating during construction. Estimating and scheduling are not as common in the BIM process as 3D modeling and clash detection. However, estimators that can truly embrace estimating as part of the BIM process will reap the benefits.

One opportunity BIM offers estimators is the ability to take a more long-term look at maintenance costs for a project’s lifecycle—integrating these numbers into the initial cost estimates. This provides cost savings and transparency among all parties, including owners and operators.

According to the BIM to Field Alliance—a group of organizations within the construction industry promoting the benefits of extending BIM data to the field—the ability to extend virtual design-build data from the office to the field helps to meet project needs efficiently and accurately. Essentially they are advocating technology that provides a means of clear communication among team members.

Accubid Systems, www.accubid.com, Concord, Ont., a division of Trimble, is one member of the alliance and a provider of estimating, project management, and service management software that also aims to provide streamlined, efficient workflow solutions to contractors.

While business is slow, construction firms are finding it’s a prime time to evaluate their strengths and limitations when it comes to overall business processes, communication among phases of a project lifecycle, and how technology can lend a hand in these areas.