Paid vs. Free Construction Software: A guide for Project Managers.

Published on 24th Feb 2016 at 02:00 by Sarah Kennedy

Paid or Free Construction SoftwareAs project management software in the construction sector becomes increasingly popular, contractors and subcontractors alike are surveying their options and researching what would be the best fit for their company.

Earlier on this month Software Advice released a report that outlined users’ experiences of free vs. paid software. To help you make the best choice for your business we’ve summarised their findings, and outlined some things to consider before you decide on your project management software.

Software Advice delved into user satisfaction levels exploring their experiences with free and paid construction management software across six categories. Their research indicates that users who pay for their software are more satisfied with their project management software in every category, including cost.

69% of users project managers using costed software are “completely satisfied” with their platform compared to 26% of project managers who are using free construction software. Nonetheless the majority of free users (71%) claim to be “mostly satisfied” with their software, indicating that these free options are still a viable choice for some companies. However, it is worth thinking about the following factors before you make your choice:

 Cost

One key consideration for project managers investing in construction management software is the that will be cost incurred. Interestingly, this research suggests that project managers who pay for their management system are more likely to be satisfied with the price than those who don’t (55% vs. 50%). There are a couple of reasons why this might be.

Often free software is only free until a point. For example, you might be limited to a certain number of users, projects, or amount of space after which you will be required to pay for the software. This can result in unforeseen expenses for contractors who began a project on a free platform but are forced to invest in order to continue using it.

Another hidden cost faced by project managers stems from the maintenance and customisation required for open-source software. Many construction companies don’t have the expertise required to tailor this software to their specific needs. The expense of hiring an outside expert to customise, and then maintain this software can be significant and is often unexpected.

In fact, Software Advice suggest that the total cost of ownership for free and paid construction software tends to equalise overtime. So if you’re planning to invest in software for the foreseeable future free software might not actually save you money long-term.

Support

Only 31% of project managers using free construction project management software report being satisfied with the support available, compared to 81% of their counterparts who are paying for their project managements tools.

Getting to grips with new software in the workplace can be frustrating for employees. Even more so if you’re left to your own devices to make sense of this new system.

Many free and open source construction software providers offer limited training to their users, often relying on dense, hard-to-decipher manuals. This can cause unexpected delays, and can be a drain on employee time and project efficiency. Paid construction software companies are more likely to provide comprehensive training. EIDA for example, provides intensive, ongoing and role-specific training to all of our users.

Striving to keep costs down free and open source construction software companies tend to exist with less staff and resources than their costed competitors. As a result, customer service and support can be limited to particular hours, email correspondence, or none at all. This can begin to explain the low levels of satisfaction with the reliability (48%) and usability (52%) of free construction software.

In light of this, it is worth investigating what support your prospective software provider offers, and how you might report errors or bugs that might arise in the future.

Finally, before you choose your construction project management software look ahead to the end of a project, decide what you’ll need from your construction software (e.g. data) and investigate if the support that you need at the end of your project is provided.

Features

Nearly 100% (98%) of project managers using costed construction management software are satisfied with the features provided. This is compared to just 43% of those availing of free or open source options.

Costed software providers are usually in frequent contact with their customers and clients through the support channels outlined above. As a result they are made aware of the bugs and errors in the product early and are privy to new features customers and clients would benefit from. Paid software solutions are usually reviewed and updated frequently to reflect these user requirements.

A quick google search for “free construction software” will return pages upon pages of options for project managers to choose from. However, many of these products provide a software solution for just one aspect of project management (such as material management, punch lists, progress tracking etc.) but do not offer a complete, centralised system.

Contractors who are looking for a more comprehensive software solution might be better advised investing in paid software that is designed with industry-specific features across a variety of modules (e.g. document control, progress tracking, quality assurance).

Security

The last, but definitely not least important consideration for project managers to think about is security. How secure is your construction software system and in turn how secure is your data?

You may be thinking that security isn’t an issue for you - your project management software won’t be handing any confidential information. Do you intend to compete for high-end construction projects such as data centres or pharmaceutical plants in the future? Increasingly these clients are insisting on their construction contractors (including the software they use) undergoing rigorous security checks as part of the tendering process. Using vulnerable project management tools will leave you at a disadvantage to competitors who’ve already invested in, and are familiar with suitable construction software solutions.

We’re not suggesting that all free construction software is vulnerable to security breaches, nor do we claim that all costed construction management software maintains stringent security standards. However, there is one major difference between costed software, and their free competitors: a contract.

Generally speaking, when you invest in construction software, particularly of the SaaS variety (software as a service) a contract is signed by the provider and the customer. The software provider’s commitments to the construction contractor are outlined - these can include a commitment to certain security standards and procedures, and an outline of how your data is handled upon completion of a project or contract.

Finally…

As the Software Advice research suggests - there is no “one size fits all” when it comes to construction software. While project managers who pay for construction software are more than twice as likely to be “completely satisfied” with their choice, it’s possible that your company could be in the 26% that are completely satisfied with their free construction software.

The most surefire way of ensuring satisfaction with whatever choice you make is to take your time, and do your research and:

  • Don’t assume that free software will ultimately cost your company less than costed construction software.
  • Don’t just think about the present - where do you see your company in the future? Will your needs still be the same?
  • Think carefully about the functionality that you need your project management system to have in order to be as efficient as possible. 
  • Don’t forget about security!

To find out more about EIDA's construction software you can download our feature set by inputing your email below. This two page document outlines the modules EIDA offers including document control, quality assurance and progress tracking and the features of each.

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