About 360 Difference: How It All Began

The History & Evolution of 360Difference and Descriptions of the Tools in the 360 Difference Toolset
How 360Difference Began...360Difference Features

How 360 Difference Began…

TurtleSoft's MacNail Program

A Screen from TurtleSofts Excel Based MacNail Program (circa 1990s)

It wasn’t until December of 1991 I got my first Macintosh. I bought Microsoft Office and a construction estimating program by Turtle Creek Software called MacNail (JLC-Taking Care of Business: Macintosh Style! /1/1989) which was based on MS Excel. I was fortunate in a sense in that ski racing one night in ’92 I fell and really dislocated and separated my shoulder so I was forced in a way to really learn how to use a computer and I learned to hack at my MacNail program to make it work the way I wanted it to and add up and apply makeup according to my preferred method that of Activity/Capacity Based Markup so my interest in getting to know coding was born.

Some time in those early 1990’s I also became exposed to an Apple program called HyperCard and started to learn how to build small applications that acutally did something. like work out the calculations  for the stairs and railings we were building back them and building lists of the materials we bought and used.

I had some kind of form making program that after building Excel Based versions of some forms I purchased from Walt Stoeppelwerth’s HomeTech company  years earlier in my paper based management era called the Specifications/Requisitions Form 131 Suite that helped me better organize my project estimating and production better  “hack” and “hacking” to mean going into software and making changes and modifications to it to make it work to suit your own purposes.

Specifications/Requisitions Form 131 Suite

Back in the mid 1980s to help organize and track my paper based estimating and job control processes I used this system of forms I bought from HomeTech. Then in the 1990s once I became a profiecint Excel user I built some Excel Based versions of the same forms.

Cover Sheet

Form 131 Spec/Req

Summary

And Then In The Early 1990s Along Came FileMaker…

FileMaker-An-Apple-Subsidiary IconI don’t recall the name of the program anymore but I bought a Macintosh application for making forms and used it to makes some forms I used in the business at the time. More importantly that program became discontinued and when it did they offered an upgrade to a program called FileMaker Pro 2 and I began to explore using it (and another Macintosh database program I bought, ProVUE’s Panorama) to recreate the Specifications/Requisitions form system I had been using for years and I discovered these database programs were great for building lists of stuff. I love lists. Still do. And they were great for searching through the data they contained and sorting and organizing it. Yeah,… I could do that in Excel but not with the speed and ease of a database program.

Then in December of 1995 FileMaker upgraded thier program from FileMaker Pro 2 to FileMaker Pro 3 and introduced what for me was a earthshaking change. The program now worked with a relational database structure. What that meant was when I was working in my file called Estimates I could enter “Client #33” into the  Client field in the program and it would then automatically populate the Client Name, Client Address, Client Phone, etc. fields in the Estimate with information from my Client Contacts file. I could enter the ID# for a particular building Material in my Materials database and it would automatically enter the Material Description, Material Cost, Prefered Material Supplier, Sale Tax for that Material into my Estimate. Likewise I could do the same with Labor. I could enter “Carpenter A” into a field and it would enter what it Cost to have a “Carpenter A” perform that task. And I also then kept a database of Tasks with how much time those Tasks too per Unit and I could look and use that data too. This was all very similar to Excel’s LOOKUP function but a whole lot faster and easier to use and perhaps even more importantly, easier to setup and maintain programatically.

Then in 1997 or somewhere around that time I learned that Dennis Kulva the guy who began his career in the business as Turtle Creek Carpentry in 1972 before developing MacNail was going to develop the next generation of his software to be called Goldenseal in C++ and I was impressed! A tradesperson turned computer programmer! I had poked my nose into learning C++ but at the time it was just more than I wanted to take on and I had just discovered this kool tool for for building my own applications called FileMaker which hid most of the intense programming from me and let me focus on my software’s business logic and interface appearance.

I was off to the races with FileMaker Pro as my horse.

 

What Came Next?

The Problems As I Saw Them Back Then…

• Data Entry Transcription Took Too Much Effort and Was Prone To Error…

The late 1990s was still in the era of faxes and I hated getting faxes. What I hated was getting faxes and then having to transcribe and digitize the information from the fax into a format I could use in my own digital Word and Excel documents. The idea I came up with was to build an estimate form in FileMaker (and one in Excel too) that I could give to my subcontractors to use and then they could click on a button which would then send me the information in digital form that I could then use.

The Simple Estimate Worksheet.

The FileMaker Pro 4 Developer Edition had a feature that allowed me to build standalone versions of the program that had a built-in FileMaker engine. I then gave away copies of a version of the program I created called The Simple Estimate Worksheet to my subcontractors. That way many of them who still were “Legal Pad Estimating” with a pencil and a calculator could start to adopt computerized estimating and perhaps more importantly, at least to me, they could provide me with thier quotes for projects in digital format that I could easily import into my “Master System” to use in our project estimates within a few minutes of getting the data rather than having to transcribe thier data from a fax.  SO NO MORE TRANSCRIBING OF FAXES! It was right around that time that I unplugged my fax modem and started to tell everyone “Our fax machine is down. Can you email me your quote or maybe use our application to send us your pricing?”

The other big plus we got out of our subs using The Simple Estimate Worksheet was it brought them into the Unit Cost Estimating world. Most, a super majority of our subs were in the EyeBall Guesstimate camp and a few were still doing “Stick” estimates (attaching a cost to every last single piece of lumber in an estimate rather than grouping them in repeatable assemblies or unit costs). I thought if you brought a sub into a job through a door on the north side of the house he would give you one estimate and if you brought him in a day later through a door on the south side of the house he would give you another quote for the same project but it would be $5,000 different. Getting them to use the software put them on the road to consistent pricing we could count on.

Development of 360Difference didn’t stop with The Simple Estimate Worksheet and 360Difference evolved into a customizable ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) tool. One of the first customization projects came in 2006 with a NGO called JumpStart International that at the time was working with local communities in distressed areas such as Afganistan Iraq Haiti and Gaza co-ordinationg their efforts to rebuild destoyed homes school and infrastructure.

From the start 360Difference was about time-saving automation of workflows.

• The Markup Pricing Methodolgy Problem Solved

Annotated Estimate Woorksheet

The Problem

A problem I discovered early on was most application and Excel Estimating worsheets only allowed me to apply a Markup to the Sum of the Projects Direct Job Costs and not apply Markups to Labor Materials Subcontractors separatly as I wanted to using a Activity/Capacity Based Markup method.

PROJECT PRICE = (Labor_Cost + Materials_Cost + Subcontractors_Cost) x Blanket_Across_The_Board_Markup

The method (formula) I wanted to be able to use, a Activity/Capacity Based Markup method, looks like this:

PROJECT PRICE = (Labor_Cost x Labor_Markup) + (Materials_Cost x Materials_Markup) + (Subcontractors_Cost x Subcontractors Markup) = PROJECT PRICE

For more on Activity/Capacity Based Markup start with

The way I solved the problem was to build a table in my 360Difference system for MarkupSets. A 360Difference user can then select what group of Marku valuses they want to user for the default value in an Estimate and/or theycan also apply different MarkupSet values on a line item basis for cases where that particular line item has an intrinsic value all its own or different department within a Users company may need to use a different Markup Rate.

From the start 360Difference was about getting the most robust pricing methodology in place

• The Best Documentation Wins!

It was 1999 and I was a witness in a hearing about who was responsible for creating the conditions that  lead to an $11,000 error on a project in NYC. I walked into the hearing with tons of print outs of project related documents and photos I had posted on my company website along with meticulously kept digital timekeeping records and won the hearing going away like Secretariat at the Belmont

One of the first tools I had built with FileMaker Pro was a personal Timekeeping application that not only recorded my Start and Finish times for particular activities but also allowed me to attach files to those Time Event records such as photos, plans, drawing and memos etc.  Eventually a few years later with the introduction of Container Fields in which you could store a multitude of file types.

From the start 360Difference was about Collecting Data & Documentation.

2005 — 360Difference Gets Its Name

One night in January of 2005 I was driving home to Katonah after visiting a friend in Kingston NY and the conversations with her that evening and a lecture we had attended really had my mind all worked up and I’m not sure exactly what train of thought it came from but in regard to the estimating of building and remodeling projects I thought “Always use the Standard Unit Cost in your Costbook and then estimate what makes that line item different for that particular project” and then thought the name 360Difference would be a good one to use for my software. The “360” part comes from a tidbit I picked up from my friend Bob Kovacs (now VP of Preconstruction of Preconstruction at Evans General Contractors in Alpharetta, GA)

Consider not only the cubic foot, cubic yard, lineal foot, square foot, pound or ton but all of the complicating conditions encountered in putting the materials in place. —from Richardson Engineering Services General Construction Estimating Standards.

I then launced the website for my software I would call 360Difference. Back in the late 1990s while I was developing a software tool I called The Simple Estimate Worksheet.

The Building & Remodeling ERP Landscape Changes in the Early 2000s

2001 — Buildnet Burns Out And Dies…

Founded in 1989 and after a little over a decade in business and raising hundreds of millions in investment capital BuildNet dies. 

2005 — CoConstruct Appears On The Scene

The summer of 2005 CoConstruct appears on the scene.

2006 — BuilderTrend Appears On The Scene

The summer of 2006 BuilderTrend appears on the scene offering “A better Building Experience”.

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