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Dealing With Year-End Office Stress

October 28, 2011 at 11:03 AMDoug O'Roak

The days are getting colder, the nights are getting longer, the holidays are fast approaching, and it’s almost time to start performing all of your end-of-year business duties (and I’m careful not to add to the pile by mentioning the T-A-X word.)

I was searching my network the other day, and came across a letter from 5 years ago that was written for our weekly staff meeting by one of our staff members.

To paraphrase, it basically was a reminder that stress levels increase starting around November, and to remember not to take this out on your co-workers.  It warned us to take a deep breath and smile, not to talk down to or yell at each other, and to bear in mind that we were all going through the same stressful time together.  It suggested the continued use of “Please” and “Thank You”, and to consider the tone of your voice.

I thought this was a great letter, and I even had a talk with the author about the idea of the letter, since this is my first year in the office, and I haven’t experienced a November yet.

So as you grumble about the cold mornings and the cold nights, and you curse at the heating bill after you have your tank filled, as you drive to work in the morning in the dark, and return home, in the dark, and as you try to figure out how to pay for your holiday purchases, and as you hunker down to prepare your taxes, try to remember how to do year-end after not having done it for a year, and your weekends are spent inside, just remember:

·         Don’t take it out on your co-workers.

·         Take a deep breath and smile.

·         Don’t talk down or yell.

·         We are all going through the same things.

·         “Please” and “Thank You” go a long way.

·         Consider the tone of your voice.

The biggest thing to remember:  The holidays will be over, tax season and year end will be over.  The weather will get warmer.  Your co-workers will still be your co-workers, so how you treat them now will be remembered when the stressful time is over.

Unemployment Figures Show Boost to Construction Industry

October 14, 2011 at 11:38 AMDoug O'Roak

While things may still seem down for many construction companies and contractors, the Bureau of Labor Statistics released their Employment Situation Summary last week, and while the national unemployment rate remains steady at 9.1%, it seems the construction industry has seen a gain in jobs over the last month, and the industry unemployment rate is down to 13.5%.  This is quite an improvement from the 17.2% the same time last year.

Supply of workers is still outpacing the demand of jobs, but with many new projects on the horizon, there is light at the end of the tunnel.

According to the Business Examiner, the employment gains in construction are also dynamic, with large gains in heavy, civil engineering, and specialty trades.  The significance of balanced growth within the industry shows that it is not just one type of growth that affected the numbers, but rather a balanced growth.  A good example of an artificial spike is the telecommunications industry, which reported growth, but was mainly due to returning Verizon workers coming back after the strike.

Balanced an dynamic growth in the industry is a recipe for continued growth.

Even better news is the president's new trade agreement signed this week with Panama, Colombia, and South Korea, which will reduce traiffs on exported U.S. goods, and this will especially benefit U.S. based Catepillar heavy equipment manufacturer, especially in Colombia where there is currently heavy demand for coal mining equipment.

 

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Tightening the Belt in Lean Times

October 7, 2011 at 6:29 AMDoug O'Roak

When you run a business, it’s common sense that in lean times, you lean up your operations.

The obvious ways to cut fat are through labor, equipment, inventory, overtime, and overhead.

If you’re only getting half as much work as you have in the past, it makes sense to reduce your labor force, sell off extra equipment, reduce your stocking levels, kill off expensive overtime, and cut back on as many bills as you can, such as warehouse space, and cut back on any major purchases.

But in the front office, it’s tough to know where to place the scalpel.  In sweet or lean times, everyone in your office has a function, and every manager will tell you how important their staffing levels are, and how impossible it is to make cuts without jeopardizing the smooth operation of the business.

contractor accounting software

But just as technology makes you more efficient in the field, it can make you more efficient in the office.

What do I mean?  Take painting contractors as an example.  As rollers replaced brushes, and sprayers replaced rollers, fewer painters were needed to complete a job.  Wooden scaffolds were replaced by metal tube scaffolds, which are now replaced by modern snap-fit scaffolding on wheels.  Imagine how long it would take a crew to build scaffolding from wood at every job site!

As you adapt new technology to your business, you realize a savings in labor.

This can easily be applied to your office.  These days, every desk has a computer.  But if every computer is using better tools to do the job, they become more efficient and easier to use. 

contractor accounting software

Choosing the right business management software will allow you to more easily cross-train your office staff, so they are able to act in more than one function.  If your construction accounting software allows your staff to spend less time running and organizing reports, inputting data, and waiting for background processes to run, it gives them more time to invest in other tasks.

When trying to overcome objections with potential customers who are considering using our contracting accounting software, we often hear that they are not ready to make a switch, or they can’t see the cost benefit, or the software is more than they need.

But consider this:  Paint sprayers are much more costly than paint brushes.  Wood is much cheaper to buy than modern scaffolding.  But since you’ve made the change, you realize that the new technology offers a long term cost benefit, and allows your business to run leaner.

This is also true of your software, and how lean you can run your office. 

Look around your office, and think how much it costs you to run it.  Then imagine you had some beefed up tools that would allow you to cut that cost in half. Then imagine what you could do with that savings.

business management software

Rebuilding Iraq: Will American Contractors Benefit?

September 30, 2011 at 10:52 AMDoug O'Roak

 

Back in 1995, I remember one of my first jobs was working for a company that installed fiber-optic computer networks.  Back then, the internet was fairly new, and the idea of high-speed networks was just taking off.

 

The company I worked for took contracts all over the country, networking banks, hospitals, and large office buildings.  We had so much work, all over the country, because at the time there were only a handful of companies installing fiber networks.

 

On top of all that, two-thirds of our guys were taking contracts in Kuwait.  This was just after the first Gulf War.  Kuwait had been decimated by Iraq, and the rebuilding was going full-tilt.  I remember picking up newspapers and scanning the help wanted section, and seeing pages of ads looking for workers to go to Kuwait and help contractors with the rebuilding.

 

In 2003 there was a lot of talk about a new mission to rebuild Iraq.  The Madrid Conference on Reconstruction was held in October of 2003, and there a plan was outlined to rebuild the infrastructure, power grid, hospitals, schools, and public buildings.  They established the Iraq Relief and Reconstruction Fund (IRRF) to pay for the reconstruction, which consisted mainly of monies allocated from Iraqi oil production and multi-national aid.

 

There has been a lot of traction in these rebuilding efforts, and the contracts were awarded to big companies like Haliburton and Bechtel. 

 

Today, much of the power grid has been restored, oil wells have been rebuilt and put back on line, and roads, bridges, hospitals, schools, and public buildings have been rebuilt and reopened.

 

Since the majority of fighting in Iraq has stopped, there has been a Baghdad Renaissance Plan proposed, which will consist of high-end homes for a half million people, commerce, banking, medical centers, broadcast stations, IT, exhibition space, and convention and cultural centers.  There are also plans for high-rise development, and Baghdad’s first skyscraper, all built in Tahir Square, along the banks of the Tigris River.

 

Unfortunately, there is still a high rate of corruption with the funds, attacks on workers, and high rates of insurance claims among the workers.  Political and social instability in the region are making these ventures risky, and security concerns are making it cost-prohibitive.

 

However, as the region stabilizes, and these projects begin to take foot, demand will increase, and there will be room for contractors from the US to win some of the bids.  The proposed projects could offer a very high rate of return on the investment.

 

It really would be great to see American contractors win these jobs, and put US laborers back to work, while bringing millions of dollars back home.  Instead of reading about the high-unemployment rate, especially for the construction industry workers, I would love to flip to the employment section and see pages of ads for workers and contractors to go to Iraq and help the nation rebuild.

 

To view a demo on STRUCTURE Construction Acounting Software:

To see a video testimonial on STRUCTURE Contractor Accounting Software: CLICK HERE

Posted in: Bidding | General | infrastructure

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Fall 2011 Newsletter

September 30, 2011 at 7:29 AMDoug O'Roak

C/F DataSystems, LLC has released their quarterly newsletter.  Click on the photo to read it:

 

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Work Orders: Easy, Fast and Profitable

September 23, 2011 at 10:18 AMDoug O'Roak

When describing STRUCTURE construction accounting software to potential customers, we often focus on the accounting aspects.  Just about every customer uses the accounts payable, accounts receivable, general ledger, and job cost features, and most use the payroll feature.

But, when I ask customers who have been using STRUCTURE for some time what really sets STRUCTURE apart, I often hear that it’s the Work Orders component that really sets it apart from other software packages.

You see, STRUCTURE really makes creating work orders easy, fast, and profitable.  The system offers instant access to client history and credit history, and your service rep and equipment at the site.  It allows you to dispatch service at the site, while allowing you to keep an eye on your resources and profitability.

You can set up zone analysis for routing and scheduling, and you can log times of call and dispatch.  You can also set up screens to enter the problem, and, ultimately, the resolution.

It gives you all the automated features you need to keep your trucks on the road and your paperwork out the door.

What are some features that set STRUCTURE Work Orders apart from other accounting packages?

How about the ability to generate quotes for your customers, and then convert them into orders?  Or the ability to check open orders reporting by status, priority, date/time, customer, order number, job, truck, service rep, or zone?  You also have the ability to automatically recall work orders for billing, and handle COD’s, as well as automatic pricing for labor and material that is updatable from services such as Trade Service or Harrison.

You can also cross-post to accounts receivable, job cost, payroll, and general ledger as required. It automatically tracks material inventory by truck, and automatically bills scheduled service contracts.  It offers preventative maintenance scheduling capability with automatic PM work orders, and has the ability to generate cost and profit analysis by job and service technician.

Is your current accounting system able to handle all of that, seamlessly?

Information is only good if you are able to extract it and use it the way you need to.

Our Work Orders module allows you to run inquiries and pull reports such as Dispatch Board, Work Orders, Open Orders, Service History, Inventory Location, Service Contract, Contract Expiration, Invoice, WO Scheduling, Recurring Billing, Make/Model Problem Analysis, Service Rep Profitability, Invoice History, Service Contract Labels, Preventative Maintenance, and Call Analysis.

However you are generating work orders now, stop for a minute, and think about how nice it would be if an easier way exisited.

To view a demo of STRUCTURE Contractor Accounting Software:

 

To view our latest YouTube video:

 

 

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Remembering 9/11

September 9, 2011 at 8:05 AMDoug O'Roak

Where were you on September 11th, 2001?

I remember where I was.  I was home from work, nursing an injury, and sleeping late.  I woke up to a phone call from a friend who told me to turn on the television.  A plane had just crashed into one of the towers.

I got up from bed, went to my living room, and turned on my new big screen and saw the footage.  At the time, no one knew what was going on yet.

I thought it was some freak accident, a plane coming in too low trying to land, and so did many of the reporters.

I sat, with most of America, watching the first tragedy, as a second plane struck the second tower.

I remember my stomach knotted up with the realization that this was deliberate.

As the day unfolded on the screen before me, the towers collapsed, and a third plane struck the Pentagon.

Having grown up during the Cold War, I was shaking, imagining Russia was attacking, and these were the pre-emptive strikes.  My biggest fear was we were under attack, and this was just the beginning.

It seemed like something out of a Tom Clancy novel, and amazingly, the reporters called Tom Clancy in to give his commentary as we watched the scene unfold through the day.

Luckily, all air traffic was grounded or diverted, so there were no more strikes, save for the flight that went down in a Pennsylvania field.

That day, for the first time, I learned who the Taliban was, who Al-Quaeda was, and who Osama Bin Laden was.  And, for the first time in my life, I realized America was vulnerable.

I remember the rage that filled Americans to get whoever did this to us, and the frustration that it was not a nation that attacked us that we could swiftly punish, but a group of terrorists.

In the days that followed, on the television and on the internet, we were flooded with images of the destruction and loss of life that occurred on that day, and we all vowed never to forget.

Here we are ten years later, and though the towers are not rebuilt, New York City is back to business as usual.  The Pentagon is fixed.  And Osama Bin Laden was brought to justice.

The events were a tragedy, and the terrorists were able to inflict a sense of fear in America, but ten years later we’ve proven that we can persevere.  Though we will never forget that unfortunate day, we will neither be crushed by it.  America will continue to rebuild and become stronger, and we will never let the terrorists win.

I look forward to this weekend, honoring the victims and heroes who were affected by the bombings, and will stand proud knowing that America will always stand strong.

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Updating the Power Grid

September 2, 2011 at 9:25 AMDoug O'Roak

Irene came and went, and luckily here in Southeastern Massachusetts, the hurricane was little more than a wind storm.  I know other parts of New England, and places like North Carolina, wish they could say the same, but we barely saw any drizzle and wind gusts barely topped 50 mph.

Though we didn’t feel the full brunt of the hurricane, and we didn’t experience flooding or hurricane-like destruction, we did lose quite a few trees and limbs.  And, of course, most were without electricity for some time, and there are many that are still hoping to have electricity restored.

In fact, there are several towns that won’t have power restored until at least Sunday, 8 days after the hurricane.

Estimates show 330,000 Massachusetts residents lost power for more than 24 hours, while 30,000 are still without power as I write this.

Of course, a lot of people are upset by this.  And the big question you keep hearing is:  What if this “wind event” actually was a hurricane?

The answer is our infrastructure.  Like our roads, bridges, and water systems, parts of our electrical grid are so outdated, that they are in worse shape than some third-world countries.  So bad, in fact, that a 50 mph wind storm can wipe out the power supplies of entire towns for over a week.

This storm and its effects are starting to bring to light the question of why we aren’t improving our infrastructure.

My neighborhood, which is only 25 years old, has a modern underground utility system, as do any of the more modern developments.

Unfortunately, this doesn’t help us when the breach is in the grid that supplies our neighborhood.

The construction industry is sitting in sort of a holding pattern for now while the economy starts to recover.  But once the economy recovers, we will still be held in place if we don’t take some serious measures to improve our electrical, roadway, and water infrastructures.

Every town wants to grow, every town wants to attract new business, but if we don’t have adequate resources in place to support this growth, than we are dead in the water.

Usually, I would try to tie this story into an analogy of how contractors should likewise concentrate on improving their own infrastructure to more effectively operate their own business, but I’m just so awestruck at how bad things are in the wake of a minor storm.

In previous articles, I’ve talked about infrastructure improvements, and I’ve attended meetings with our state government, so I know they are aware of our problems.

The big question now is: What are we going to do about it?

Sadly, I don’t have the answer, but I know whatever the solution is, it will definitely help our construction industry.  With so many workers still unemployed, and with so many contractors just getting by, wouldn’t it make sense to use this opportunity to put the industry back to work by improving our infrastructure now?

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STRUCTURE: Joining the Club

August 24, 2011 at 6:48 AMDoug O'Roak

I bought a Jeep Wrangler recently.  I always wanted one, but always talked myself out of it.  It’s not a glamorous or expensive vehicle, but they’re tough, fun, convertible, and can go just about anywhere.

As soon as I bought it, I learned about the “Jeep wave”, where all Jeep owners wave to each other.  I had some questions about how certain things operated, and when I Googled for the answers, I found all kinds of forums dedicated to Jeeps, and the people on these forums are willing to help you with just about anything, and welcome you to their “club” and offer unlimited support.

Speaking of clubs, I found there are all sorts of actual Jeep clubs, and there a quite a few locally, regionally, and nationally.

When I park in a big parking lot, I’m surprised to find other Jeeps park next to me, and often the owners wait around for me to come out so they can “talk Jeep” with a fellow Jeeper.

It’s amazing that what I considered just a simple vehicle purchase could be such a life changing decision.

 

For a lot of contractors, this is like switching to STRUCTURE construction accounting software.

Sure, there are many choices when shopping for accounting software.  The simplest being a good accountant with Quickbooks or Excel.  There are other “out of the box” versions, and even some more advanced systems.

But when a customer chooses STRUCTURE, they are joining an exclusive club.

When viewing a demo of the software, our team takes the potential customer on a detailed tour through the entire system.  They answer any and all questions, and give examples of how each function of the system operates, and what the system can do.  They also discuss how the system can be optimized for special circumstances, or how it can adapt to do what a user needs it to do, or emulate special tasks the user currently runs.

The technical and support teams take over to help the user prepare migration to the new system, and install it.

Once the system is installed, the tech and support groups help the user load their info, and then the training programs begin.

Though we do provide thorough training manuals with the package, these are typically for reference, as the training provided covers every aspect of setup, migration, load, and use.

Once the user “goes live”, the support team is an e-mail or phone call away from support, who are available to help or answer questions all day long.  They can even go into your system to see what you are doing or what you need help with, and can even perform the tasks for you remotely in a web conference.

Aside from live support and user manuals, there is a support website that covers every aspect of the system, and a help function loaded into the software itself.  Patches and upgrades are available on the website.

There are also newsletters, how-to guides, user group meetings, and advanced training sessions available, all offering support to the STRUCTURE user.  Meetings and training are available online via web conferencing built into the software, on-site at the customer’s location, or right here in our classroom.

It’s no wonder that our customers give us high grades for help and support, because our customers truly are “part of the club”.

 

Though you may not be able to put big tires and a lift kit on the STRUCTURE package, when you do make the switch, you’ll find the resources are unlimited, a team that is willing to help, and just when you thought you had pushed the package to the limits, we’ll show you how you can optimize it to do more. 

Our team can make your business more efficient, more robust, simpler to operate, and give you every detail you could ever imagine at your fingertips.

We even find that when our users have opportunity to interact with each other, they will usually stick around and “talk STRUCTURE” with each other, comparing ways they’ve used the software to improve their business.

STRUCTURE is more than an accounting software for contractors; it’s a ticket to join the Club.

Development: A Key to Supporting the Customer

August 18, 2011 at 10:06 AMDoug O'Roak

We often talk about the important role of customer service and providing support to our customers.  In fact, it’s one of the main selling tools of our STRUCTURE package.  And we always hear plenty of feedback from our customers and users about just how important our support team is.

But equally important to supporting users is the development of the software.

I remember once I was in a conference room with a couple of old colleagues before the start of a big business meeting in which we were in charge of the presentation.  We had our presentation on the projector, and we couldn’t get something quite right.  A colleague was trying to get everything lined up, and as an expert user of the presentation software we were using, he was getting frustrated.  I made a suggestion, and he glared at me and said, “That’s just a workaround.  I want to do it right.”  He continued to fumble, and we ultimately made our presentation with the misaligned components.  I was put back by the comment, and even more amazed that he wasn’t willing use my “workaround” to fix the presentation.

Here at C/F, I was talking to some developers, and they wanted to try a new system to test the software where they would have someone not familiar with the software (a newbie like me), but familiar with the concepts, test it using the instruction manuals, and record how I used the software.

That way, they could see what workarounds were used, how I expected the software to work, and this would help them to reconfigure the software to function how a user imagines it should be used versus how the developers intend it to be used.

Since I had previously been told workarounds were bad, surprisingly I was now told by the software developers that workarounds are some of the best tools to improve and develop software.  Too often, a developer creates programs to run how they see fit, and then the users are trained how to use the program a certain way.

If you want to be an industry leader with a user-friendly software package, you need a lot of input, and a team very much open to change.

We’ve been developing STRUCTURE contractor/construction accounting software for 32 years.  We’ve made the obvious changes, like going from a hardware-based system to a software-based systems when our customers started using PC’s in the early 1980’s, and then switching from a UNIX to a Windows-based operating system, and then making changes to stay compatible with each new version of Windows.

We’ve enhanced our software to work with various printers over the years, and expanded to make it compatible with Word, Excel, Abobe PDF, and Outlook E-Mail.

We work to make it faster, take up less memory space, and be more efficient gathering, reading, and storing data.

But the really important part, the part that separates us a leader in the construction industry, is that we constantly work to enhance the appearance and user-friendliness of the package.

To make STRUCTURE more user-friendly, we rely on our users. 

Our support group logs all of the calls and e-mails they receive, and these are studied by the development team, who in turn look for trends, whether they be problems, bugs, or instances where users need help completing a certain task.

If multiple users are calling to seek help completing a certain task, than we need to make it easier.  If multiple users have the same problem, than we need to fix it.  If our customers are asking to do something the software isn’t designed to do, than we need to change it.  And we do.

Every 18 months or so, we release a new version of STRUCTURE.  During those 18 months, our programmers and developers are hard at work addressing every aspect of usability, appearance, and efficiency of our software package.

We hold user-group meetings and super-user-group meetings with customers who have used STRUCTURE for years, are considered extremely heavy users, or have pushed STRUCTURE to its limits and beyond, and we seek their input. 

Because we service a variety of contractors, whose businesses run in a variety of different ways, we seek input from each type of industry.  When we consider making a change, we run it by our super-users to see what they think.

And we look for workarounds.  Because if our customers are finding different ways to get what they need than what we intended, than perhaps we should make that workaround a core to our system.

When a customer calls our support line, they don’t get transferred to an overseas call center.

Likewise, when we need to develop, enhance, or change our software, we don’t subcontract the work out to an overseas programming company.

Our support team works a few steps away from our development team and our programmers.  When we discuss how to improve our software, it is a round table discussion.  It’s been this way for 32 years and counting, and it will continue to be this way.

Change isn’t always easy, but if you aren’t willing to accept change as a natural order of doing business, than you will fail.  We know this, and because of this, we rely heavily on our team to adopt  change to keep us competitive, efficient, and user-friendly.  And we know our customers wouldn’t expect any less.

If you are not already a STRUCTURE user, take a few minutes to view a demonstration.