You have many options if you’re an architecture or engineering (A/E) firm decision-maker and are looking for software to help you manage your organization. Systems run the gamut from something as simple as a set of spreadsheets to advanced, industry-specific solutions.
Consequently, you’ve got to be careful and thorough when doing your research. Choosing the wrong system for your needs or budget can be very costly—in one way or another.
What You Need to Know When Purchasing a Firm Management Solution
To conduct a comprehensive review of an A/E firm management solution, you’ll need to consider several factors. Below are eight questions you should be asking in order to select the best software platform for your needs.
1. Can the software break down project phases, expenses, and subconsultant fees the way I prefer?
Flexibility is critical. An A/E software platform should allow you to setup a combination of fixed fee, hourly, and non-billable phases. Additionally, you should be able to setup and track budgets for various expenses and subconsultants, whether they are included in your service fees or not.
2. Can I enter vendor costs and track them throughout the contract?
The question is not if you will be tracking subconsultant contracts, but how? If this feature is not built into the project management system you select, then you (or your team) will end up tracking it manually in spreadsheets or some other tool that is disconnected from the rest of your project information. For more information on subconsultant management, review this Guide for Managing Subconsultant Fees by Factor AE.
3. Can I include the level of detail my clients expect on invoices?
If you implement a system that does not allow for detailed invoicing, you are likely to encounter many frustrations either from your employees or from your clients. It’s vital to have the ability to add, remove, or adjust certain aspects of invoices like service fees, sub fees, expenses, aging information, progress billing, etc. View a few examples of how to create invoices that improve communication between you and your clients here.
4. Will the system let me view and schedule resources across multiple projects?
Hopefully there is a lot of work flowing through your firm. When this is the case, that work needs some proper organization to ensure deadlines aren't missed and tasks aren't falling through the cracks. Who is working on what projects and when? Does this comply with the schedule you have communicated to the client? Are members of your team out of the office? You’ve got to be able to see the “big picture” regarding overall employee capacity, project budgets, work completed, etc to ensure all of these moving parts are staying on track. Explore Factor AE’s best practices on properly balancing act of scheduling projects and resources here.
5. What is the cost and timeline for implementation?
The most amazing A/E project management solution ever conceived won’t help your firm if it’s too far out of your price range or takes too long to get up and running.
6. Will system response time support high productivity?
It’s typically not the first thing people think about when evaluating an A/E firm management system, but the speed of your software application is crucially important. Not only do long wait times add up and begin to hurt productivity, but they also create overall frustration and a poor user experience.
7. How well does the company support its products, and how is support billed?
A software provider should offer multiple ways to get assistance, from self-help resources to various ways to connect directly with a support representative. And it must be affordable. After investing in a new system, the last thing you want is to be charged extra every time you have a question or an issue.
8. Will it be easy for our people to access the system?
Here again, a great system does you no good if your people can’t access it quickly from wherever they are, such as when field employees want to enter time from their mobile devices. Focusing your search on a cloud-based system that is optimized for any device will pay dividends in the long run.
Implementing an Effective Short- and Long-Term Solution
As you review answers to the questions above, you should do so from two perspectives. The system you select must meet your needs today, of course. But it should also have a solid foundation, carefully crafted features and functions, and enough flexibility that it can evolve with your organization.
That way, you won’t find yourself repeating this whole process in a few years!