Construction isn’t like most other businesses. Manufacturing or most service industries have their own cycle, in which they continue providing the same services or materials as long as there is a demand. In the construction business, one project might vary widely from the next, and each project might require completely different work. Not to mention a single project could take months or even years. Given the differences in workflow, it may seem that it enterprise resource planning (ERP) software or other such applications are not as suited for construction as they are for a standard office setting.

The truth of the matter is that ERP is not just for manufacturing anymore. With the rise of electronic records, business software suites are making inroads into the health care field. The ubiquitous use of computers in the classroom has given rise to planning software in educational institutions. In the meantime, the construction industry has been getting by with the standard accounting or human resources software, each of them a separate operation.

Greater efficiency can benefit virtually any field, construction included, and that’s just what ERP provides. Every site needs payroll, scheduling, delivery, inventory, and other functions. ERP combines the management of different business functions into one unified place, then manage and predict needs. Since the software is also modular and highly configurable, transitioning data and business processes to an ERP software is easily doable.

Do I Really Need ERP Software?

The answer to that question depends upon the business. It may be that a construction firm is functioning fine as is – but there are very few operations that don’t have room for improvement, and a good suite of ERP can provide just the improvement a construction company needs need. The real choice is in finding just the software that fits a business’ particular needs. Every construction firm is different as are the projects on which they work.

So, first a software needs to be mobile. Not necessarily on mobile platforms, like phones and tablets (though that helps), but something that can change as a company evolves, with minimal fuss. It helps that the software is already modular. This makes it possible to change some of it or all of it without having to shut everything down for refurbishing. After a little practice, it may well become routine and easy to shift from site to site as needed. ERP software is often the best way to keep everything connected and coordinated. The software you choose should fully support such coordination over multiple platforms.

Construction companies are often, by necessity, involved in fields that are not wholly part of the construction industry. In fact, construction itself tends to have many different disciplines under its umbrella, including electrical work, plumbing, environmental control, and carpentry, just to name a few. All of them have separate needs in terms of material and personnel, and sometimes it can be practically a nightmare to keep it all together – unless you have the right software keeping track of everything.

Where most industries are based upon a product, construction is based upon projects. While supply chains and other concerns can be of some importance to contractors, their day-to-day concerns are much more freeform, because different stages of the project have different needs. Fortunately, there are many modern ERP suites built distinctly for project-based work.

Ask your vendor if their ERP can accommodate the above needs and whatever other unique features you feel you might need to make your projects run far more smoothly than they ever have in the past.

A Sampling of ERP in Construction

ERP is a big business and there are many, many options from which to choose. If you’re not sure which direction you’d like to take, here are some standouts in the field of construction.

Microsoft Dynamics SL: This ERP suite is not already geared toward construction, but it is one of the most complete and reliable systems today. A relatively small but widespread business, no matter what their field of operation, can find the modules they need to build an effective ERP system of their very own, including construction concerns.

Maestro: Contracts are naturally a big part of contracting work. This just happens to be Maestro’s specialty. It can also help you provide estimates, calculate time and equipment costs, and automate a great deal of the busywork associated with your work. It also integrates with Microsoft Office, so all those spreadsheets you’ve already been using can be plugged right in.

Penta: This is a well-respected name in the construction industry, because they’ve been providing software to the industry for decades. If your operation works in multiple locations at a time, using a great deal of labor, this is probably your best choice. Your documentation will be in good hands, no matter if you work general construction or one of the more specialized fields, like roofing or retrofitting.

This article was contributed by TGO Consulting.