360 Difference Toolset: Features

Brief descriptions of the Tools in the 360 Difference Toolset
How 360Difference Began...360Difference Features

• The 360 Difference Estimating & Preconstruction Toolset

The Background & History of 360Difference Estimating

The Estimating Modules in 360Difference is really where it all began back in the 1990s. My very first FileMaker 5 files were file called: Clients.fp5, Estimates.fp5, Labor Rates.fp5, and Materials.fp5

What I discovered I could do was I could get the UniqueKeyID for a particular Client record from the Client.fp5 file and and paste it into an indetifying field in the Estimates.fp5 file and the Estimate file would automatically lookup and then ente the Client Name, the Client Address, the Client Phone etc. into the Estimates.fp5 file without my having to copy and paste the data manually one item at a time

My original Estimates.fp5 file was setup and based on the 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. At the time each “Estimate” in my system I refered to as a “Pocket Estimate” meaning it contained a set of discreet but related tasks and materials that made up a body of work that would be done together as a whole “micro project” and number of these “Pocket Estimates” could be grouped together to create a “Job” or “Project”. On discovering and reading Max Wideman’s Comparative Glossary of Project Management Terms I learned there already was a term for these “Pocket Estimates” and it was Work Package so I adopted that term instead:

Work Package: A generic term for units of work as a sub-division of the total scope of a project. As a project progresses through the various stages, work packages will be identified at progressively lower (greater) levels of detail. At any given level the content of the work packages will be entirely contained within any given code item definition.

While an agreement or contract will contain one or more work packages, such work packages should be the responsibility of only one department, consultant, sub-consultant, contractor or trade contractor. The smallest work package should still be large enough to be a scope of work that could be competitively bid and awarded as a contract by itself. A Work Package may be further sub-divided into tasks and resources (labor and materials etc.)

I reconfigured my Estimates.fp5 so it was essentially a file that grouped and  summarized a collection of related Work Packages found in the Work_Packages.fp5 file.

(to be continued…)

 

Lead Management

Record and keep track of Leads In the Sales Pipeline and send out marketing messages via the 360Difference Program or Hubspot. 

Estimating

Estimate projects by selecting Unit Costs from a Cost Book with with precise material and labor cost data and production rate data.

Work Packages

Projects are broken down into discreet packages of work to be done called Work Packages.

Detailed Estimate Line Items

Develop Unit Costs in your 360Difference Cost & Price book with detailed Specifications and enriched detail.

360 Difference Cost & Price Book

Estimate projects by selecting Unit Costs from a Cost Book built with with precise Materials and Labor Costs and Production Rate Data.

Fully Relational Estimating Data

Most estimating programs allow you to build your own database of Direct Job Cost items but the data is more often than not flat. With 360Difference you can produce estimate items with relational depth so that your data can be updated automatically as the component cost changes.

Attached External Cost Databases

Estimate projects by selecting Unit Costs from a Cost Book with with precise material and labor cost data and production rate data.

Internal Trade Rates

With the click of a button on a screen record all the information we used to collect with paper Daily Job Report forms plus you can enter project photos, videos, receipts, invoices, notes, and PDF documents .

External Trade Rates

External Trade Rates is your library of the different Billing Rates your External Contractors (Subs) charge you.

Materials Database

A database of all the Materials your company has used or Purchased for Projects with links to the Vendors you use and organized by Catagories you the 360Difference User again creates.

Productivity Benchmarks

Productivity Benchmarks is the file where labor productivity benchmarks for common often duplicated and repeated task procedures are kept and used by the records you develop in your Internal Production Costs cost book.

Markup Sets

Markup Sets is your library of different Markup Sets. The idea is your company may keep different Markup Sets on file for different Clients, different Projects or different Unit Cost items in your 360 Difference Cost & Price Book

Requests For Proposals

Requests For Proposals aka Bid Managment allows for electronic collection of pricing information from your subcontractors and suppliers for use in you own Project Estimates

Task Catergories

In Task Categories you organize and define the Categories and SubCategoies of Tasks your company performs and define whether they are billable of not.

Purchase Orders

Create and submit Purchase Orders with all your Subcontractors and Vendors to collect their estimate/project Pricing information and to maintain and update your company’s  Unit Cost Cost Price Book catalog of items.

Contract Administration

The 360 Difference Contract Administration program module helps you organize and track contracts, create and track payment schedules, and create and track change orders too.

Change Orders

Allow anyone on your system to easily Create Change Order Requests and the have your Estimators, Project Manager, and/or Project Leaders estimate the actual Change Orders using your Unit Cost Pricebook data and have them be a part of your original Estimate or Project record.

Document & Photo Library

Unlimited storage of construction documents, transmissions, plans, photos, videos, and PDFs. 

Allowances & Product Selections

Enhance transparency, communication while managing and accelerating the process of making choices to ensure timely estimate and project  progress by giving you clients a Product Catalog to make Good-Better-Best decisions from.

• 360 Difference Project Management

Projects

Record and keep track of Leads In the Sales Pipeline and send out marketing messages via the 360Difference Program or Hubspot. 

Daily Job Report Logs

With the click of a button on a screen record all the information we used to collect with paper Daily Job Report forms plus you can enter project photos, videos, receipts, invoices, notes, and PDF documents .

Timekeeping

Your employees keep track of the time they are working on tasks and can even provide photo documentation via their iPhones, iPads, or Mac or Windows laptops in the field.

Personal Log Book

Any Users of your 360Difference System have a Personal Log Book.

To Do (Task) Lists

Individual prioritized To Do Lists and you can create and assign Task List Items  related to any workpages and assign them to employees or subs working on those projects

External Subcontractors

Track information related to your External Contractors (subcontractors) and grant them access to different modules in your system.

Suppliers (Vendors)

Track information related to your Materials Suppliers such as Invoices and Material Prices

Messaging

Message you Users within the 360Difference system  and connect to external tools like Slack to message anyone.

Customer Access

Control what you give your clients access to with their Projects by setting preferences for what you want them to have access to.

Contacts

Track any and all of your Contacts created in any other module in the system.

Requests For Information

 

Invoicing

Generate detailed invoices automatically from the Project Module or build them from scratch.

• 360 Difference General Tools

The Navigation Dashboard

A navigation dashboad to help the user quickly get anywhere in the system they want to go.

Personal Log Book

Any Users of your 360Difference System have a Personal Log Book.

Clients

Develop Unit Costs in your 360Difference Cost & Price book with detailed Specifications and enriched detail.

External Subcontractors

Track information related to your External Contractors (subcontractors) and grant them access to different modules in your system.

Suppliers (Vendors)

Track information related to your Materials Suppliers such as Invoices and Material Prices

Contacts

Track any and all of your Contacts created in any other module in the system.

Customer Access

Control what you give your clients access to with their Projects by setting preferences for what you want them to have access to.

Messaging

Message you Users within the 360Difference system  and connect to external tools like Slack to message anyone.

Requests For Information

 

Invoicing

Generate detailed invoices automatically from the Project Module or build them from scratch.

To Do (Task) Lists

Individual prioritized To Do Lists and you can create and assign Task List Items  related to any workpages and assign them to employees or subs working on those projects

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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