As we head into a new year, now might be a great time to consider how you can make your company more efficient.
In this episode of The Dirt, we hear from Matt Desmond, president of Agtek Development, who walks us through his company’s takeoff and modeling software. It’s designed to help contractors submit accurate bids, removing all the guesswork, so they can be more profitable – as well as not lose money because of inaccurate estimates.
The software, which is available in a variety of short- and long-term subscription options or can be bought outright, is designed to be accurate, quick and simple to use. The modeling system assists in determining the right amount of dirt to move and will let you know in real-time if your project is on budget. It can also be incorporated into your GPS machine control systems.
Desmond says the software is geared toward contractors of all sizes and has been used on everything from garages and driveways to $1 billion-plus projects.
So if you’re considering a leap into new software for bidding and/or project modeling or still not sure if it’s right for you, check out this episode of The Dirt to become better informed on one of the options available to help you take your business to the next level.
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In This Episode:
00:00 - Intro: Why You Should Use Takeoff and Modeling Software
01:15 - How Does Software Help You Make Better Bids?
03:05 - How Software Can Make Your Project More Efficient
04:05 - What Kind of Companies Should Use Agtek Software?
07:13 - What Kind of Inputs Does the Software Need?
10:11 - How Can You Buy Agtek Software?
11:48 - Outro: Why the Construction Industry Needs Good Software
Bryan Furnace (00:00):
Hi everybody. Welcome back to Equipment World. You are watching the Dirt. I'm your host Bryan, and today we're here to talk about software again. And I know we talk about software a lot, but it's because the industry is changing. And if you haven't engaged in some sort of takeoff software or modeling software, now is a really good time to start considering going down that path. Here to talk about this with us today is Matt Desmond with AGTEK. They're a company that focuses on takeoff software, and modeling, and drones, and all of the scary stuff that we tend to shy away from in the industry. So without further ado, here's Matt.
So my first question I've got to put on the hat of the old school dirt operator. Why on earth do I need to change what I've been doing, and get into all this technology and fanciness? Why shouldn't I just stick with what I've traditionally been doing?
Matt Desmond (00:54):
Probably the reason people will be listening is because they've had a bad bid, or something's going wrong. So really it's about finding more efficient ways of doing things and trying to mitigate risk and protect the business so that you don't have a bad bid. And that's what we try and help customers do is help contractors bid more accurately and more professionally.
Bryan Furnace (01:14):
So what capabilities does modeling software and take off software give you over the more traditional methods of calculating costs for a bid?
Matt Desmond (01:21):
So, what we really try and do is understand all of the length area count and volume required to get work done, which is what you're going to do with a highlighter, and getting your pens out, and figuring out exactly what needs to be done. But we do it in a way that allows you to get a really good understanding of everything and really, really accurately and really, really quickly, so that you don't miss anything out, or you're not making too many assumptions about how much dirt needs to be moved between two surfaces. So we can do a lot of stuff that's very, very visual, and gives you a lot of confidence in the accuracy of the outputs that you have.
And we also create a lot of tools that allow you to do value engineering so you can see how you could do it a little bit differently that might be more efficient for yourself to bid the work cheaper, or in a more efficient way to get the project done a little bit quicker. All of those tools will help in the pre-bid side. We also have a lot of tools to try and find where the errors might be in the project, where you've got some busts, so you can see them before the bid. We introduced a new product recently called Underground where we're looking at utility detection. We read in a whole lot of plans for historic data that we had, and we were finding that on 80% of plans we're finding a bust in pipes being designed that they're going to hit one another.
Bryan Furnace (02:34):
Matt Desmond (02:35):
If you just take that as an example, when you get out there and find that you got two pipes that are going to smash into one another, and then you have to fix it in the field, that's a pretty big expense. You're going to look at five or 10K per time that you come across that. If you can figure that out before you get started, then there's cost savings to be made. And the same thing with figuring out dirt volumes where you've got busts, or where you've got opportunities to do it a little bit differently. So that's really the takeoff side, really having that good understanding of all your cost quantities. But then the other side of it is getting the work done. So from that we can turn the takeoff into models that can go directly to machine control systems or can be laid out in traditional measures. But really the takeoff forms the scorecard so it tells you what you're measuring against.
And so if you don't have a scorecard at the start, you can't really tell whether you're on track or not. And so the other side of the business for us is really getting work done profitably. So measuring against the original plan, and finding if you're under budget, over budget, ahead of time, behind time, as you're going so you can sort of make changes along the way rather than having to wait until you've run out of time, and run out of money, and then you still got half the project left to do. It's nice to know what changes you can make midstream. So we try and provide tools to make both of those things happen, get work in the door and get it done efficiently.
Bryan Furnace (03:48):
I mean just at my initial gut check, I feel like that's far more efficient than Excel. I think we've taken a big step up here.
Matt Desmond (03:57):
Yeah, that's right. I mean Excel does a great job, and you can do some wonderful things in Excel, but yeah, it has its limitation.
Bryan Furnace (04:04):
So I guess my next question for you is this sounds really involved, not only from just an education standpoint and training standpoint, but it also sounds very involved from the things that you're going to need to make this work. So at what point in a contractor's business, does this make sense? Is this something that's going to apply to some of your smaller guys who are doing some small commercial jobs? Or are we really talking large companies that are doing heavy civil projects? At what level do you need to be for this to really make sense?
Matt Desmond (04:33):
I would say it should apply to all contractors, but it depends on how you go about using the software or getting into the software. So there's lots of different ways to do that. So we've got lots and lots of really small guys, that's I'd say the bread and butter of our organization is the smaller to mid-size contractor. But we have all of the big contractors in the US use our solutions as well, like the Granites, and the Kiewits, and the Skanskas. So I think I read recently that the biggest job bid with our software is probably 1.4 billion. But there's plenty and plenty of work that's done with really, really small single lot subdivisions, or little garages, or little retail stores. So we'd cover the full gamut and lots of companies, it's one of the first purchases they make because the last thing you'd want to do is go out by yourself and the first bid that you get you-
Bryan Furnace (05:20):
Matt Desmond (05:21):
Yeah, exactly. You've bid it wrong, you've taken it off by hand, you've become the low bidder and then you go to bed thinking, "What did I miss?"
Bryan Furnace (05:29):
Matt Desmond (05:31):
So I would say really the size doesn't really matter. The earlier the better in terms of the company lifecycle. But you do need to have somebody that's going to sit down and use the tool. Tool that we have at AGTEK is a bit different from other tools. I think a lot of tools in the industry, they promote and market themselves as being built by engineers, for engineers. That's the opposite to what we are. Our tagline is dirt simple solutions and we try and make everything as dirt simple as possible, and build it for the contractor to be able to use. Or what we'd say is a generalist.
So contractors are really good at solving problems and they have a lot of different problems to solve and they use a lot of different tools to do it. They're not all day every day going to be sitting in front of their computer screen learning it like the back of their hands. So we build our workflows with the contractor in mind. And so if you can do it 10 different ways, we'll find one most efficient way to do it and teach you how to do it that way and hide all the complexity of the rest of the stuff. Whereas a lot of the other engineering tools are, if you can do it 10 ways, let's give you 13 ways to do it.
Bryan Furnace (06:32):
Yeah, it's we're going to give you the whole thing and overwhelm you, and make it totally useless.
Matt Desmond (06:36):
Exactly. But then for the really, really small guys that still might not be the right approach, I mean you might not have time to train, or a person that can even start to learn the software. But you can still get the benefit of using the software. There's a lot of services out there, use our software or use similar software to get take off and model's built. So that's another way to really get started is start by using a service, and if you like the outputs and the products that they give you, as you grow, then you can work into it yourself by doing part of it yourself, outsourcing some of it, or then fully insourcing it.
Bryan Furnace (07:11):
So that's kind of my next question is, what are you guys really needing as far as inputs for the software? Is this something where I have to go and get into a drone? Is this something where I have to engage with an engineering firm? Can I use existing prints that I've already got? How do you baby step into this?
Matt Desmond (08:46):
So we'll take whatever you got. So really our software, we consider it like a melting pot where we all put in whatever data that you have. Quite often at the pre-bid stage it starts with a PDF. So we'll just take that PDF, and we've got a lot of tools to be able to reverse engineer that PDF back into a full 3D representation. Nearly everything that we see these days is a vector PDF, and we can automatically extract all of that line work and rebuild a model really, really fast from that. But if you've only got a printed out PDF, a Raster image, we can go back and digitize that like the old days. And that that's where AGTEK came from. We started with digitizing paper plans on digitizing boards. And at pre-bid, quite often that's all that you'll get from the engineer. They don't want to hand you out the CAD data at that time.
But it's enough, and that's what you're going to bid with traditionally. It's what you're going to do your highlighter work with. But if you've got the CAD data, we can read that in. We can make use of that. If you've got a drone that you use to capture the existing conditions, we can read that data in. So we'll take what you have and we'll be able to get you a really, really accurate professional bid from that information. What we typically say is send us your data. So our typical process when we're working with a new contractor is we'll work up the job that you have. So we'll get your data and solve your problem, and show you how our software can be used in your environment, and then take it from there. And if you like what you see, then obviously then it's the time to get in and start using it really on a job.
Bryan Furnace (10:11):
I guess my final question for you is, can you baby step into this? Or is this something where I'm going to engage with you guys, and I'm going for the full suite, I get everything? Or can I just come in and say, "Hey, I'm only interested in the takeoff portion of the software. I'm only interested in the modeling portion of the software"? How does that work?
Matt Desmond (10:28):
We do have different modules. So the core module that we really sell is around earthwork takeoff, so figuring out the earthwork quantities. So that would be the starting point. We do have modules that look after materials elements, so all of the paving and flat work. We have another module that looks after all the underground utilities, but not everybody either performs their underground utilities or really cares about how those quantities are subbed out. We have another module that looks after hall analysis and tracking, but you can baby step into it with the earthwork being the foundational block, and then everything bolting on around that.
Bryan Furnace (11:03):
Gotcha. And I lied, that wasn't my final question. I have one more for you. Is this a subscription-based model? Or is this something where I'm going to purchase the software one time, and I own the software? How are you guys set up?
Matt Desmond (11:13):
Yeah, we do both. So we strive to make it as flexible to get into the software as we can be. So we have monthly subscription, quarterly subscriptions, annual subscriptions, three year subscriptions, or you can buy the software. So it really depends on how you want to go into it, how you want to cash flow your business. Some people like OpEx rather than CapEx. Some people are opposite way around. Some people like short term, dip your toe in the water, not much risk to get started, and then you can change your mind quickly. Other people are like, "No, this is it. We're we're going to stick with it, and we're going to stick with it for a long time."
Bryan Furnace (11:45):
Well Matt, thank you for all the information. Our industry is so far behind, technologically, and there's so many guys out there that the mention of this whole software is scary. And then you see all of the colorful pictures with all of the wire diagrams on them, and it's just even scarier, and they totally write it off. And it's nice to see companies that are coming alongside the industry and going, "No, we can absolutely walk you through this. We can bring you into the 21st century and make you far more profitable and far more efficient."
Matt Desmond (12:16):
Yeah, I would say we're all about trying to leverage the contractor's current skills. So give us a call and we'll work with your data and show you how we can do it. There's no smoke and mirrors. We're going to show you exactly on your data how you can get going. And it's not that hard, but that built by engineer for engineer is not what we're about.
Bryan Furnace (12:36):
Yeah. And that's what our industry needs. We are not ... I always affectionately call us the dumb dirt guys, because we're really smart in the dirt, but when it comes to technology, that's a different story.
Matt Desmond (12:48):
Well, there's a lot of good tech going on, there's some pretty interesting stuff that we're moving fast now, I think.
Bryan Furnace (12:54):
I agree, especially as the younger generations are starting to come along too, and kind of bolster some of the old timers in the industry that have actually adopted the technology. I do really feel like we've kind of hit this tipping point to where technology's really starting to take off in this industry and that's exciting to see.
Matt Desmond (13:09):
Yeah, it really is. And I think part of that is really trying to build it for the industry rather than trying to shoehorn in something that's made for somebody else into construction that doesn't really work.
Bryan Furnace (13:19):
Absolutely. Well, thanks again, Matt. I appreciate the time.
Matt Desmond (13:22):
Thanks very much, Bryan.
Bryan Furnace (13:23):
Thank you again for Matt coming on the show to speak with us about modeling software. As you can see, it does tend to sound scary, but when you really get into it, especially with a good piece of software, it's not that bad. And the benefits far outweigh the cons. To be able to accurately do your takeoffs without kind of holding your thumb in the air, and hoping the wind's blowing in the right direction, that's huge. We all know that moving extra material costs a significant amount of money. We need to go into these bids knowing full well what we're getting ourselves into. So as always, I hope this has been helpful. I hope it will help your business grow. Thanks for watching and we'll catch you on the next episode of The Dirt.