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By Erica Sweeney
July 10, 2017
Construction companies invest in job costing software to create efficiencies and more accurate financials. While this benefits the company as a whole, no one gains more than company controllers and chief financial officers.
“I can sit at my desk, I can sit at home, I can be at an event and go online and be able to see exactly where we are and what’s going on at all times,” says Dena Rowland, controller at Steele & Freeman Inc., a Ft. Worth, Texas-based construction company focusing on commercial and institutional projects.
Steele & Freeman has used a software solution to handle job costing, payroll, and other accounting functions since 1998, when Rowland joined the company.
“It’s invaluable,” she says. “Job costing is the most helpful from a controller side.”
Migrating from a collection of Microsoft Excel spreadsheets and single-use software systems into one robust solution is a major time and money saver. It ensures accuracy with bidding, job cost reports, budgets, and more. The information is kept up-to-date in real time—and, most importantly, it can be accessed by anyone from anywhere.
Anyone who’s had a long tenure as a CFO or controller probably remembers the days when job costing and accounting functions were done by hand, and how long it took. There was the added headache of gathering various data sets stored in different places and putting it all together.
A job costing solution condenses what used to be an hours-long (or even days-long) process into about 30 minutes, Rowland explains.
“It's so important that you are able to pull each report and see what’s happening throughout the entire job, not just bits and pieces,” she says. “[Our software] ties everything together. It brings it all into focus to be able to make forecasts and projections and budgets.”
She says it provides project managers with budgets on a daily, weekly, or ad hoc basis. And, this same information can be provided to project owners, who can see exactly where they stand.
“They know we’re doing our job,” says Rowland, who is also director of the National Association of Women in Construction’s South Central Region. “You can’t pull that out of Excel or QuickBooks.”
It all starts with the bidding process. Then, once the job is bought out, she explains, the budget, cost codes, and everything else is ready to go. The system also tracks contracts, work orders, and other information.
“You don't have to get up and go dig in file cabinets anymore,” she says. “And, you don't even have to be in the office to be able to pull this up. It's great.”
At Steele & Freeman, Rowland wears many hats. Along with being controller, she also handles human resources and trains staff on how to use the job costing software. So, efficiencies are vital for her and her five-person accounting team.
The company also has a document imaging system, so when invoices, purchase orders, or other documents are received, they are scanned into the system daily and routed to each project manager. And, everything can be tracked.
“As controller, I’m able to see this,” Rowland says. “We're trying to get rid of all of the paper. Everything is online. Everybody can see if something has or hasn’t been approved. If somebody calls and says, ‘Hey, I haven't been paid for such and such,’ you're able to actually pull up that document. You can tell them right then and there either why it hasn't been paid or when it was paid and what check number it was paid with.”
Having all of this valuable information in one place, available in real time, and easily accessible from anywhere is particularly helpful to project managers. During owner-architect meetings, project managers can discuss budgeting and give the owner the most current information.
“If that owner has a question or is wanting documentation, a project manager is able to pull that up and print it out or email it to them right there on the spot,” Rowland says. “So, they're not having to leave that meeting and come to the office and do research and get back to that owner.”
This makes the controller’s job much easier.
Because so many essential functions are tied to the job costing software, Rowland and her team hold in-person trainings for new staff on how to use the system. They also bring in seasoned project managers to help.
In the training, they discuss generating reports and what information is included in each report, along with coding invoices and more.
“I have learned in teaching my staff that people learn better if you let them do it,” Rowland says. “Instead of you being the hands on one, they need to be hands on.”
The training is important because it sets everyone on the team up for success. Plus, she says, “It's way harder to fix things than to just do it correctly the first time. We let them do it step by step. They're more apt to remember and understand so they don't make that mistake again.”
Steele & Freeman also leverages its job costing tool during the client interview process, Rowland says, by actually showing project owners how the system works and what will be available to them.
Technology is everything. Owners look for tech-savvy companies because they know it leads to project efficiencies and highly accurate budgeting. Construction company staff appreciates how streamlined technology can make their jobs.
“It is going to save you money and time in the long run—especially if you’re ever audited,” Rowland says.
In that case, she explains, “All the information is so much easier to provide without spending days at a copy machine or a file cabinet because you can basically hand the auditor a computer and give them access.”
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