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The article below was written by Kenneth Sewell of Baker Triangle and featured in the AGC.




With so many vendors, how do you pick the right one? By Kenneth Sewell, Director of Technology for BakerTriangle

BakerTriangle recently jumped into the deep end of the pool and began replacing paper timesheets with an electronic version. After 35 years of collecting time the old-fashioned way, our management team felt it was time to upgrade this crucial area. Like all construction companies, payroll is a critical component. Most companies pay weekly, which does not give much time for trial and error. We started the selection process with an internal needs assessment to determine what we wanted to accomplish with electronic time and attendance collection. After we understood our requirements, we talked with the multitude of vendors.
We researched for more than three months and talked with 15 or so vendors claiming to have customers in the construction market. Here are some observations made as we decided:      

Not all vendors have customers who work in construction – But that does not stop vendors from claiming they do. Do your research. Ask for references in construction. If they cannot or will not produce references in construction, do not take their calls. Move on to the next vendor. The jobsite environment in our business is challenging and you should choose a vendor with experience collecting time at a real job site; not in a factory or an office cubicle.

Accounting system integration – I visited a customer site of a vendor and was horrified to see the lack of  integration with accounting software. This customer had to manually enter each employee, job and cost code into time  and attendance software. This practice wastes time and is error prone. There are different levels of integration, but at a minimum, you do not want to re-enter employees and jobs. Do not buy a system until you test the integration with your accounting package. If you only take the salesman’s word, you are asking for trouble. Once you have narrowed selection to two or three vendors, ask to see a demo of integration with your data.

Where are the programmers? – Some companies outsource programming to overseas developers. A vendor can save costs by outsourcing, but that could cost your company money. Keep in mind that every Windows patch or upgrade could potentially cause problems with your software. It is hard to put a price on the peace of mind knowing your software development team is reachable and not asleep on the other side of the planet. Make sure they are real. Ask to talk with them.

Web-based or client/server? – Many vendors are beginning to push Web- or cloud-based solutions. While that might work well in the office, be careful selecting an Internet-based solution for a job site. Many sites have connection issues and you would not be able to collect time while offline. The best solutions offer offline collection of data, which works well for job sites and Internet-based solutions for the office.

Devices – What device is your vendor pushing you to buy? Beware of vendors who only support one device or solution. Beware of vendors who push the Palm PDA or other outdated platforms. You do not have to be in the IT field to know the world of smartphones is rapidly changing. You cannot expect a vendor to have versions for every device or platform, but they should have options. Interesting things are happening with netbooks and tablets. The technology and hardware devices available in 6 to 12 months will be quite different than today. Make sure your vendor will help your company take advantage of changes.

To fingerprint or not? – Exciting things are happening in biometrics. Technology is evolving and companies are already fingerprinting employees at job sites. Facial recognition and eye scans are available today, but the price will need to drop before it becomes feasible. Pick a good vendor already planning on the future.

Lease or purchase? – You can lease your time system and pay recurring charges each month or can you purchase and amortize the cost. Both have benefits, but make sure your vendor can meet your needs. You will pay less in the long run if you purchase the software rather than lease it.

Technical support hours – Regardless of where your vendor is, find out the hours it supports the product. Even if the office is across the street, you will probably need help beyond 8-5. You should also find out what the actual level of support will be as well.

Roadmap – Any reputable software company should have a roadmap of where its product is headed. If a company is not willing to share the map, it probably does not have one. Your company  will invest money each year on maintenance and support. A robust roadmap ensures you get the most out of your dollars.

Customizations – A software package will rarely work right out of the box. Customizations will likely be necessary to shape software to fit your business. These could be minor or major customizations, meaning your needs assessment will be invaluable.

Reporting – Most vendors will tell you the most frequently-asked question is about reporting. Every customer wants a custom report. Some vendors charge to write reports. Some have developed ad-hoc report writers and some are beginning to embrace SQL Reporting Services and other open-source reporting. Regardless of which type your vendor uses, make sure you can get the information you want out of the software.

Price – The software ranges from a few thousand dollars to hundreds of thousands. Some vendors price per employee and some per foreman. Some vendors have one-price-fits-all and others have a la carte pricing. Regardless of how your vendor prices your deal, keep this important fact in mind: Everything is negotiable! The larger your purchase, the more leverage you’ll have, but everyone can negotiate. Many vendors are offering very competitive deals and everything can be negotiated, including customizations, custom reports, free hardware, reduced maintenance and discounted modules.

Scalability of product – You need to look for a product that can start out simple. Once your employees work through the learning curve and gain reasonable comfort, you will want to add more controls, restrictions and functionality as necessary. You should select a vendor that can help through integration issues, workflow changes or adjustments and possibly even personnel challenges. It is important to realize how you are run today may not be the way you need to run tomorrow. The product needs to grow with your business every step of the way.

Management team– Who is actually behind the product when you pull back the curtain? Are they a bunch of programmers who do not understand construction? Or a bunch of contractors who do not understand programming? Find a balance. Ultimately, any software is only as good as the people behind it. After months of searching we selected two companies as finalists, and I am convinced both would have been great choices. However, we could only pick one, so our team went with the one we felt was most progressive. We have been extremely pleased with our selection and the relationship we have formed. BakerTriangle is already seeing the benefits of electronic time and attendance and would recommend every contractor see if it would work for their company. Time and attendance can save your company thousands of dollars each year. If you are looking for ways to manage costs in a down economy, this might be right for you.