When the bidding gets tough, the tough get tech-enabled.
As construction projects get bigger and more complex, the distribution businesses that survive, thrive, and win on competitive tenders will be the ones that use project management software to optimize work and information flows, streamline bidding, and gain crucial visibility on a job once it’s been awarded.
You’ll still hear about distributors who did business on a handshake, who built their companies on the credo that their word was their bond. But if they’re still out there, they aren’t bidding on big, intricate jobs where they have to juggle dozens of subcontracts, hundreds of individual items, and multiple deliveries over a period of weeks or months. Nothing has changed about the business integrity behind that handshake. But today, a successful project depends on a series of electronic handshakes — from customer to distributor, from distributor to a network of suppliers, and across the integrated components of the distributor’s own enterprise resource planning (ERP) platform.
How Construction Projects Get Complicated
Let’s say your local education authority is building a new school. Once the tender is issued, things can get very complicated, very fast. General contractors download the tendering documents. Then they go out to multiple distributors with a list of products and components, each with its own specifications and delivery dates.
The distributor might hear from two, three, or more of the primary bidders going after the job, each of them with different, but overlapping, requirements. Technical specs, quantities and delivery dates will almost certainly vary, depending on the project design guiding each of the bids.
Each set of specifications might trigger the distributor’s extended supply chain in a slightly different way. For each of the dozen or hundred items on the schedule of components, there may be two, three, or more downstream vendors, each providing the distributor with their best price and terms of sale in the hope of winning their share of the bid.
When the offer becomes a contract, items will have to be shipped on different days, at different times, to different precise locations on a job site, sometimes in combination with orders destined for a different trade customer on the same job. The efficiency of that delivery chain will be a factor in the distributor’s final quote. Any pricing decision could spell success or disaster for any one of the general contractors who bid on it…and for the distributor’s future relationship with that bidder. The distributor’s bid has to be beautiful in style as well as substance, with seamless layout and compelling visuals that make it stand out for weary reviewers. And did we mention that this is a competitive bid, with a deadline that is timed to the minute and cast in stone? Nothing like a little bit of pressure to keep things interesting. But the distributors who welcome the challenge, rather than sinking under the weight of a complex tender call, are the ones whose project management software systems lift up and enhance their bid preparation and business processes, rather than letting them down.
The Software Your Software Could Be
The good news is that information technology has evolved to match the growing complexity of the modern bidding environment. The next time you find yourself juggling multiple transactions and undertakings against a seemingly impossible deadline, here’s what you should be able to expect from your project management system:
- An intuitive, easy-to-master dashboard
- Capacity to manage multiple bids, each with their own collection of specifications, budgets, deadlines, revisions, documents, incoming proposals from subcontractors and locations
- Robust enough functionality to get into the depth and detail of each specific bid, including stock and non-stock items, groupings of individually priced products, and product categories
- Easy, seamless editing, enabling you to adjust the details of a bid, drop images into a text file, then produce an eye-catching final product
- A bidding calendar and online document manager to help you keep track of multiple accounts and requirements
- Easy visibility on the bids your team has won, with specifications that transfer all the way through to your CRM, purchasing, warehouse management, and even proof of delivery systems when it’s time to deliver on what you promised
- Flexibility to manage change orders when — not if — they begin streaming in
- Continual access to job reports, to track the status of specific projects and capture metrics for overall operations.
If you want your bidding process to succeed, you need nothing more or less than an IT system that creates order and simplicity out of complexity. It may sound like a tall order, but it may be exactly the kind of capacity your competitor will be able to take for granted the next time you go head to head.
It’s All About the Customer
The right project management system should make your work load more manageable and your bids more successful. The system that delivers on that promise will be the one that puts customer-centricity at the heart of everything you do.
Anyone who’s made a go of it as a construction distributor has had to be responsive, adaptable, and ready to turn on a dime to meet customers’ needs. That distributor’s value to the general contractor goes beyond speed, quality, and price. (Remember the days when you could ask customers to just pick two?). What builds a winning bid into an enduring business relationship is the ability to make the customer’s life easier, becoming the conductor who pulls together an orchestra of interlocking, and sometimes competing, instruments.
You’ve come this far by understanding your business, knowing the market players, keeping up with new trends and technology, and delivering that package back to your customers as a seamless whole. But as customer expectations intensify and the market itself becomes more complex, the right project management software becomes the price of entry for any construction distributor, the key ingredient that keeps the whole operation running smoothly. That should make digital transformation one of the continuing items at the top of any distributor’s must-do list.
Kelly Squizzero is Director of Industry & Solution Strategy at Infor.