First Function, Database – In 1981 BC (before computers), I went to work as a junior estimator at a small shop that did their estimating by hand. This was a big step back for me as I had been estimating on the Estimatic System. With this system, we would give each of our takeoff items a ten digit code, enter them on a teletype and send them to a mainframe computer in Denver. A little later, they would send back the completed price sheets for the project.
So I had to go backwards, and start estimating by hand. It was horrible! I was exploding the assemblies into their component parts, writing the components on paper pricing sheets, going to the Trade Service book and copying prices to the price sheets, and copying labor units from our “secret” labor manual. Then we had to multiply and total all those numbers. We had paper tape calculators that went through a roll of paper for every estimate. We must have had 200 rolls of calculator paper in the office supply cabinet. Oh, and don’t forget the ink ribbons. We would run them until you could barely see the imprint on the paper, and then fight installing a new one and end up with ink all over our hands.
The estimating database on a personal computer was the end of that nightmare. All of the prices and labor were already in the system, so all I had to do was hit the print button and wait for my finished pricing sheets to come out of the printer. If there was a change, just enter it into the computer and hit print again. The database saved an immense amount of time because the material prices and labor units did not have to be hand written and calculated.
There are three things you will have to do with any estimating database you purchase. The first is learn what’s in it. Modern estimating databases can be huge, and are getting bigger. Learning what is in your database is well worth the time, as that knowledge will deliver the maximum benefit you can get from your estimating system. The second is maintaning your prices and labor units. The prices can be easily maintained by subscribing to a price updating service. The labor is a little more difficult.
Most of these database systems ship with multiple columns of labor units. There is usually a “competitive” column, and several columns for more difficult installations. You can not assume that any of these labor columns will work for you. Make sure that the labor units you use work with the history you have for the installations you are estimating.
The third thing you need to do is make the database yours. Add material and assemblies that are missing. Fine tune the pricing and labor. Most databases have a number of ways to sort your estimates, such as by cost codes for your accounting system. The cost codes can be edited to match your requirements.
The database is your friend. Set it up well, take care of it, and it will take care of you.