When does a construction project officially begin? The easy answer is when ground actually breaks or designs are put into place. But others would argue that the starting point of a project occurs the moment you identify an opportunity.

Being able to identify and track such opportunities can be difficult for contractors. For some the answer comes in the form of CRM (customer-relationship management). The problem is that unless the CRM system is construction specific, it can tend to be too generic for tracking the intricacies of a construction project.

It is for this very reason that we are seeing construction software providers focusing on the rollout of preconstruction suites. Viewpoint Construction Software, www.viewpointcs.com, Portland, Ore., for example, has put a lot of effort behind developing its PreConstruction module, which CEO Jay Haladay expects will reach full feature build out in mid 2011.

At this point, the Pre-Construction module from Viewpoint offers bid management and solicitations that track the coverage of bid invitations by recording bidder responses, bid receipts, and bid prices. The company says such an enhanced workflow can extend the tracking of project leads and opportunities. As a result companies are able to have a better view into the macro trends (market factors) as well as the micro trends (win/loss performance of the company), which paints a more complete picture overall.

Haladay notes the trend of contractors spending more time in preconstruction efforts and planning to have maintenance agreements for assets after the completion of the construction effort. Dedicated technology can allow contractors to be most effective in carrying out such efforts. This includes data pertaining to potential partners and historical construction information.

To the earlier point about certain CRM systems being too generic to effectively manage preconstruction tracking for construction, it all comes down to the way in which you deploy and use the system, according to some in the market.

This topic was debated on Constructech magazine’s official LinkedIn forum, during which Robin Harris, senior sales executive, Profitool, www.profitool.com, Centennial, Colo., emphasized the importance of needs analysis when working with CRM in construction. “So often a client asks me about CRM and when I ask what that means to them they cannot articulate what the expectation should be and worse–it has different meanings to different groups in the company,” says Harris, articulating the fact that often accounting has one profile need, sales has another, customer support has another, etc.

He believes most companies focus on customer data and fail to develop a strong prospecting system. Overall it comes down to knowing what you want to get out of a system so that you don’t fall into the old “requirements creep–trap of letting the software vendor sell you on things you may not necessarily need.

When it comes to preconstruction, contractors have much more to track and monitor these days. Why not let technology handle some of the upfront tasks and help turn a prospect into a job. After all, the job can start at any time, and these days that’s a good thing.