Focus on Collaboration: The Estimator’s Changing Role

Technological innovations and other recent developments are rapidly altering the job of the estimator in construction. Estimators are taking on a more collaborative, value-added role — enabling them to have a significant impact on project costs, quality and risk management. Let’s look at some of the most important changes.

Better software
The latest software products significantly enhance the takeoff process, allowing estimators to work more productively and cost-effectively. But these products also improve quality with “drill down” capabilities that allow estimators to obtain more detailed information about a project’s plans and specifications.

In addition, today’s software offers version control features that create an audit trail and reduce risk by ensuring that project personnel are working with up-to-date specifications. Meanwhile, increasing reliance on smartphones, tablets and other mobile technologies makes these applications more accessible, which enhances communication and collaboration among estimators, architects, engineers, owners and other team members.

Bolder BIM
As you’re probably aware, building information modeling (BIM) technology creates 3-D models that facilitate collaboration by enabling parties to view the completed project from different angles and to better understand the spatial relationships between building components. BIM also incorporates specific materials and other building information into the early stages of the design process, allowing the parties to see how various changes affect the project.

The most advanced BIM technology, known as “5D BIM,” links 3-D designs with scheduling data (“4D BIM”) and cost-related data. Some in the estimating profession fear that 5D BIM poses a threat to the estimator’s role. But many observers believe this technology will enhance that role by allowing estimators to work more efficiently and focus on only the most valuable activities.

For example, 5D BIM allows estimators to get involved early in the construction process to help identify potential design issues and show team members how changes in materials or other specifications will affect a project’s costs, quality and timing.

Legal eagles
One should never confuse an estimator with an attorney. Yet there are contractors who ask their estimators to review job contracts. Why? Because, with experience, estimators often develop a keen eye for identifying provisions that may increase financial risk.

For example, one common red flag is a contract that modifies or eliminates provisions requiring an owner to furnish evidence of project financing. Your estimators may learn to spot others common to your jobs.

A continuing evolution
As the estimator’s role continues to evolve, the skills and training required for the job will also change. Moreover, as BIM and other software products become increasingly integrated into the estimating process, it will be more and more important for construction businesses to hire technology-savvy employees for these jobs.