With the construction industry actively undergoing a massive digital transformation, many general contractors are at a crossroads when deciding what the best approach is to digitizing their core processes.
Do we purchase something off-the-shelf, or do we have a solution developed internally?
There are typically two camps when it comes to making this decision:
- Camp A wants a highly customized solution and feels like they’d be better off developing something internal and specific to their company
- Camp B believes an off-the-shelf solution will be cheaper in the long run because ongoing maintenance and updates will be managed by the software provider
There are benefits and downfalls to both approaches for every contractor, so the most important step when making this decision is to carefully consider both the cost and capabilities, as well as your short and long-term needs.
Short and long-term needs
When I talk to contractors about their workforce planning, the most common short-term needs are:
- Scaling beyond Excel or other manual processes
- Sharing information across the organization and improving collaboration
- Figuring out who’s doing what, who has too much work, and who has too little
With long-term needs, contractors are most often looking to:
- Fully integrate their tech stack
- Forecast project and recruitment needs months ahead
- Understand the impact of different project pursuits
Top 4 things to consider when deciding to build or buy
Since workforce planning is a complex process with many moving parts, it could wind up being very expensive to develop a solution in-house. For this reason, most contractors looking to make a switch will opt for a highly customizable third-party software solution like Bridgit Bench. With most payment structures today, third-party solutions will be a recurring cost to the organization, so be sure to set clear expectations about the value you’re looking to get out of the software.
If you’re going down the path of “build” over “buy”, be sure to count in unexpected problems, development costs, and ongoing maintenance when estimating the total cost. According to the Project Management Institute (PMI), 43% of internal IT projects wind up exceeding their initial budgets, 49% are late and 14% fail completely. This doesn’t have to be your fate, but knowing these numbers can help set more realistic time and cost estimates.
According to the Project Management Institute (PMI), 43% of internal IT projects wind up exceeding their initial budgets, 49% are late and 14% fail completely.
Time is money, but having an internal solution take longer than expected (and cost more than expected) isn’t the only consideration when deciding whether it’s best to build or buy. The first thing you’ll need to decide is – how urgent is this?
If urgency is important, you’re likely better off choosing a third-party software solution that’s already been established in construction. Bridgit Bench, for example, can have general contractors up and running with our workforce planning solution in a matter of a few weeks. We’ll take your data, help clean it up, import it, and configure everything you need to get started.
If you have the time and resources to build your own internal solution, just be prepared for it to take months instead of weeks, just to get to a minimum viable product – meaning the base functionality without many bells or whistles. You’ll then need to work with your developers (which is not cheap) to make customizations and additional functions to ensure the tool is working how you need it to.
Functionality and features
Building an internal software solution will undoubtedly have less functionality than a product developed by a third-party developer. If you have an in-house development team, however, there is some flexibility to continue adding and building out additional functionality as time goes on. The only problems, again, are the time to build, cost, and availability of your development team.
Third-party solutions might be more responsive to adding new functionality than you might think. Because they work with hundreds of companies like yours, they have access to a lot more data about use cases and how businesses use the tool. Bridgit Bench uses customer feedback to inform our software development roadmap. Last year we added over 40 features based directly on our customers’ needs, including:
Many GCs save time and effort by integrating their tech stack, thus requiring less duplicate work, chances of human error, and ensuring they have one version of the truth. How your workforce planning tool integrates with your CRM, human resources and construction project management software is something to consider during the build versus buy evaluation.
Getting integrations right can be tricky. Each of these tools has its own API and data schemas to navigate.
If you’re evaluating workforce planning software, be sure to ask about their integration offerings, what they’re capable of, and how long it takes to get connected. Bridgit Bench, for example, comes with 16 out-of-the-box, plug-and-play integrations that connect seamlessly to widely-used tools like:
Bridgit Bench also offers a free open API for custom integrations outside our standard offerings. See our full integration lineup.
Founded in 1967, GE Johnson Construction Company (ENR #166) has always been people and collaboration-oriented.
In the past, GE Johnson used an outdated, in-house database to track employees. Their workforce management tool was inflexible and frustrating to use. In addition, the IT department had to continually work on it to keep it running.
This impacted their ability to have collaborative, meaningful workforce meetings. Operations Manager Mike Dennis was quick to express his frustration with their in-house solution, “With the old clunky system, resource management meetings did not progress smoothly.”
The team migrated their people planning to Bridgit Bench over 2 years ago to simplify their data management and improve accessibility. The change has certainly had an impact on their project planning, and meetings specifically. “When we walk out of the workforce planning meeting with Bridgit Bench, everyone is clear on what is happening,” said Dennis, “The information gets put into Bridgit Bench – it’s the gospel – and we act on it that day.”
How GE Johnson has increased operational efficiency with Bridgit Bench.
So, should you build or buy?
Construction is a dynamic industry and plans are changing on a daily basis. Every general contractor has a unique approach to building, so it’s difficult to give a definitive answer. If it were up to me, every contractor would use Bridgit Bench to manage their workforce. It’s capable, flexible, and the team behind it is incredibly responsive to customer needs and feedback.
Along with the considerations listed above, I’d urge contractors that are looking for a workforce planning solution to take a look around the industry. What are your competitors using? Is there a gap in their process that’s costing them time and money? Is there an opportunity to gain a competitive advantage by investing in a third-party workforce planning solution? These insights might help give you the confidence to push forward in whichever direction you choose to go in.
If you’d like to learn more about Bridgit Bench, don’t hesitate to book some time with me or one of our experts.