{SAW} Software Mill


Sage X3 Construction is following a roadmap that will keep it on the cutting edge of capital project management solutions.

By Tim O’Connor

Version 2.0 of the Sage X3 Construction (X3FC), developed by {SAW} Software Mill, which is the construction vertical module for the Sage X3 ERP platform, went live at the end of September and made several improvements to how users report and access project information. The methods for managing Job Cards and Work Packages were rebuilt from scratch to make them easier to use, increase their capabilities and more accurately track information. “We’ve enhanced the functionality around the execution of Job Cards and Work Packages to make it easier for a smaller team to facilitate a project,” says Chris Wiener, CEO of {SAW} Software Mill.

The module already empowered contractors with an integrated capital project management solution capable of capturing extensive financial and project data throughout a project’s lifespan. Project teams and administrators can access real-time data and key performance indicators through dashboard reports that have been personalized to their roles. The latest release, however, takes those features to the next level by creating even more awareness of a project’s status through its reporting structure.

In version 1.25, which launched last March, clients could set up Job Cards that tracked progress on a defined task and the associated costs and schedule. These Job Cards did not report partial completion, which lead to under reporting of progress in certain circumstances. Now all Job Cards are transactional, calculating and reporting fractional progress with each activity update providing better understanding into the true amount of work performed.

Similarly, the creation of Work Packages – grouping of resources such as labor, materials and equipment needed to complete a task – was enriched in X3FC version 2.0. “Our development of an abstracted Bill of Quantities (BoQ) layer now drives our Work Packages from a labor, material and equipment perspective, and finally allows for the development of an integrated estimating package,” says Abel Lineberger, Sage X3 Construction Development Project Manager. “Work packages address specific Bill of Materials (BoMs) from the BoQ allowing decomposition of the BoQ down to actual works, and reporting of progress in a consistent manner.” The new BoQ layer provides for unspecified material selection, which allows for engineering/material specification in parallel to material approval, as well as allowing for vender/product substitution without impacting on the scheduling of the works. Users can develop templates that can be reused to set up multiple Work Packages, saving time and ensuring consistency as they plan out the entire construction project.

Although Job Cards and Work Packages saw the largest changes in version 2.0, several other aspects of X3FC continue to see refinement. Following the update, the module can better track labor and material costs and the management, billing, payment and reporting of subcontractor work was streamlined. Landing pages – which provide brief summaries of the project – were also expanded so they could be individualized for different roles such as project manager or scheduler depending on who was accessing X3FC.

The added functionality, greater accessibility and more intuitive design of X3FC have solidified its place as an innovative and leading management platform. “We feel, especially with the release of version 2.0, we are now the premier solution focused specifically on the construction vertical,” says Robert Rock, Sales and Marketing Manager for {SAW} Software Mill.

Customer Input

The added features of version 2.0 and the continuous improvements to version 1.x in its first year are only the beginning of a long journey to expanding functionality. Customer feedback plays a key part of that process. A business partner advisory committee made up of existing and potential users as well as channel partners was established to evaluate the system and recommend changes through surveys and discussions on workflow and features.

The results of these discussions have been and will continue to be incorporated into near term releases to ensure X3FC stays at the cutting edge of technology. For example, contractor experiences have been invaluable in tweaking the module to better deliver repeatability between jobs. “The feedback we’ve had from companies utilizing the system to date is that Work Breakdown Structure level integration, cost-code management, schedule management, and cost-control mechanisms can be consistently applied and that makes it easier for them to monitor and control projects,” Wiener says.

The initial wave of customer responses has informed many improvements to the module, particularly when it comes to ease-of-use. In version 2.0, significant effort was placed on improving customer access to information, decision making, and execution of those decisions. “The least number of clicks to do something is the paradigm we’re trying to follow,” Wiener says.

Ease-of-use is fundamental to the philosophy of X3FC, from the simplicity of its menu navigation to the breadth of devices on which it can run. Sage X3 ERP, and therefore X3FC, is a web-native solution, meaning anything that can load an HTML5-compatible browser can access the system. It’s an agnostic solution that supports BYOD (bring your own device), allowing users to use their smartphones for data input and/or to pull up reports on a tablet. “That capability now exists without having to go through the [provider] to supply and/or provision their unique devices for that,” Wiener points out.

By allowing customers to use their existing devices, Sage X3 Construction avoids the dreaded double device situation into which many ERP systems force their users. Project managers don’t need to worry about carrying separate work and home phones on their belts, reducing the number of devices they must monitor.

The flexibility in devices also improves the quality of reporting. Because everyone from top-level management to the subcontractors completing the work can be granted access to X3FC no matter where they are, data is updated in real time across all the client’s projects. “We’re creating a broader access to the outputs of the system,” Wiener says. This free flow of information provides stakeholders with the most accurate data with which to make decisions for individual job sites and the company as a whole.

The solution is specifically designed to support, capture, and present current and historical data thanks to the capabilities of modern industry-standard relational databases. Because X3FC is a native addition to the Sage X3 ERP platform, it benefits from the platform’s inherent flexibility and transparency allowing for the development of individualized company reports as well as ad hoc project or entity level analyses. Targeted reporting to address or discover specific project issues, can be generated by the customer’s internal staff through the industry standard Crystal Reports, and SQL Reporting tools.

This allows for the real-time consumption and application of historical lessons learned from captured past performance, and true “apples-to-apples” comparisons across both live and past construction projects through a variety of custom metrics. In addition, because it is an industry standard platform, Sage X3 Data Migration and Analytics, and other 3rd party business intelligence and reporting tools can be utilized to consume, analyze and report. This allows for the generation of corporate wide or project specific KPIs and analyses as required.

With all those eyes looking into the system, it’s important to segment what every person sees so that they are only receiving the information relevant to their role. Extensive detail is useful for a project manager, but those higher up on the management tree need a wider view of the company’s operations. As the platform goes up the organizational chart, information defaults to summary data, although managers can still drill down into individual project performance when necessary. “Where ever you are in the operations of the company, you are seeing the data that is relevant to you,” Wiener says.

Creating a Roadmap

Armed with detailed feedback from real-world users, X3FC’s creators have drawn a five-year roadmap to guide ongoing feature development. Wiener says that proactive approach separates X3FC from other platforms that tend to be more reactionary.

Many of the legacy enterprise management systems still in use today have not kept pace with the kind of real-time data collection and dissemination X3FC offers. Often times, creators are no longer actively developing new features or updates and, in some cases, it has fallen to third-party developers to maintain these near end-of-life platforms.

“It’s a short-term fix that doesn’t solve the root problems,” Wiener says. Without proper development support, legacy systems can’t keep pace with where the construction industry is headed in terms of logistics and material supply. The X3FC module, however, is developed in-house by a growing team that understands the underlying logic of the system and is capable of creating the new features demanded by its partners that fit seamlessly into its overall performance.

The X3FC roadmap includes advancing the 3-D modeling common in construction today with 4-D modeling, a way of viewing a building rendering over time in accordance with construction progress. Eventually, the roadmap will take the concept even further with 5-D modeling technologies such as Microsoft’s mixed-reality HoloLens could make those plans a reality. “Being able to look at a construction project in that manner allows you to take on a different perspective,” Wiener says. (5-D BIM, an acronym for 5-D building information modeling, is a term used in the CAD and construction industries, and refers to the intelligent linking of individual 3-D CAD components or assemblies with schedule [time - 4-D BIM] constraints and then with cost–related information.)

Each stop on the X3FC roadmap was selected because of its value to the client. Another stop on the development roadmap, where the company believes it can reduce complexity, is the management of vehicle and equipment assets. “We’re working to create the next-generation of asset management,” Wiener says. “We know what the problems are in the industry and we’re setting up the tools to solve those problems long term. If you have construction assets, watch this space.”

Revolutionizing Construction

An extensive and feature-rich roadmap is only possible because the flexibility and infrastructure of Sage X3 ERP made it the ideal platform for a module hyper-focused on the construction industry. “We want to revolutionize construction,” Wiener states. “That’s a big paradigm for us.”

The Sage X3 ERP system was originally developed for manufacturing but its powerful capabilities led to its adoption in other verticals. Although they appear to have vast differences, Wiener argues that construction is really just a form of discrete manufacturing. Like manufacturing, construction is about creating a process to build and deliver a defined product by a specific date – only on a much larger scale. “We were really able to leverage that from a project concept,” Wiener explains.

Because they share many of the same building blocks, Wiener believes the construction industry can learn from how manufacturing companies implemented ERPs. Manufacturing’s earlier adoption of the technology led to an industry-wide realization that there was a need to step back and review how ERP systems could support operations. Investing in processes led to numerous advancements within manufacturing, from how companies view their manufacturing lifecycles to organizing the shop floor. Wiener says the construction industry is now ready for the same kind of information technology revolution. “Construction as an industry didn’t have the tools to do that 20 years ago,” he contends. “They do today.”

Expanding Capabilities

The challenge X3FC solves is in the repeatability and consistency of setting up a task and carrying it from one job to the next. Historically, every construction project started from the ground up, not only in terms of the physical building but also in the processes, resources and roles that must be defined. X3FC simplifies that startup phase by enabling contractors to pull Job Cards, Work Packages, permission levels and the planning structure from past jobs into new projects.

By replicating those tools, X3FC leverages its power and flexibility to quickly scale up a project while eliminating the most cumbersome elements. “If you have complex business processes and/or reporting and costing structures, you want to ensure they are consistently applied,” Wiener says.

When X3FC launched earlier this year it was geared toward addressing the risks and complexity faced by mid-tier and large construction firms. Because large-scale projects on the $100-million level have larger teams and often have contract specific requirements, it made sense to start there before catering to smaller contractors in which project managers manage several simultaneous jobs. “Scaling up gets really hard if you build for the smaller market and then try to add complexity,” Wiener explains.

But Wiener believes the consistency and repeatability offered by the module are the keys to helping $5 million to $15 million-a-year builders grow their portfolios. The next version of X3FC, which is expected to launch early to middle of next year, will further improve its ease-of-use, flexibility and multi-project overview functionality for contractors of any size.

With its rapidly expanding capabilities, X3FC is creating a new standard for best practice solutions in construction and other applications. While EVM, CPM, Cash Flow Modelling, and BOQ, Job Card, and Work Package Management, are not new concepts, they have historically relied on external systems such as spreadsheets which required intensive manual calculations and potentially allowed for data manipulation; X3FC homogenizes the data acquisition, collection, storage, analysis and reporting into a single point of truth on a highly available and accessible platform. “We’re making sure we are ready for the industry, so when they do adopt the solution they can really fly,” Wiener says. 

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