The evolution of construction software has seen technology companies increasingly seek feedback from their would-be contractor customers in order to fine-tune products so that they are as useful as possible and address what contractors really need.
However, in the mid-1990s, when Michael Wright, a principal at Orlando, Florida-based contracting firm T&G Constructors, started developing his own software to meet his company’s needs, it was more of a one-way street, with contractors being offered financial and construction management solutions that forced them mostly to work with whatever that vendor offered.
Today, Wright’s RedTeam Software, which currently consists of financial and project management solutions, is getting ready to introduce another feature called Team Player, which allows subcontractor collaboration on projects being managed on the RedTeam platform. It will also include a construction billing feature that allows subcontractors to submit their monthly billing requests electronically according to the terms of the contract without miscalculations and with up-to-date change order information.
"We look at things from the view of a contractor ... what it's like to have that set of books audited and what it's like to resolve a construction dispute."
CEO, RedTeam Software
Meanwhile, the company is growing and integrating with other popular productivity software like Autodesk BIM 360 while still tailoring its products so that they help contractors do what they do every day. Construction Dive caught up with Wright to discuss what it's like to be a contractor that also develops its own software.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.
CONSTRUCTION DIVE: When did you decide to start development of your own software solutions?
WRIGHT: My frustration with [popular products like Sage and Prolog] was that they were built more or less as back-office applications, designed so that it was more about data entry than the actual construction process itself.
What people say and do on a jobsite is very meaningful, and we needed to be able to document that. So, we started writing software initially to track daily reports and try to memorialize whatever our commitments were with our clients.
Over time, we did more and more in the software we wrote, and, ultimately my project teams preferred using it rather than anything we could buy outside.
When and how did you decide to offer the software to other contractors?
WRIGHT: My partners and I spun it off as a separate business right before the recession, so it wasn’t a great time to sell software to contractors. But we still had to maintain the application because it was critical to running our construction business.
Once the recession was over, we started formally marketing the application around 2012, and we’ve been growing 100% year over year since.
What need did RedTeam fulfill that other software solutions didn’t?
WRIGHT: Contract formation. If you think about how traditional construction [enterprise resource planning, or ERP] systems work, contract documents are created offline and then … the accounting department types in the value of those contracts, and that’s pretty much it.
RedTeam was designed to actually create and negotiate and memorialize those contracts, which makes it somewhat unique in the marketplace. RedTeam is built around contracts, so everything … is designed to capture all the interactions among the parties — to document the formation of the agreements and then create all the contract documents.
Now that you’ve got all the contract documents on a single platform, there are lots of additional things you can do — approve payment to subcontractors, send bills to owners or anything else that emanates from the contract documents themselves.
What has been the biggest shift in construction technology between the time you started developing RedTeam in the 1990s to today?
WRIGHT: The acceptance of internet applications. We started off as web software, which was pretty novel at the time, because very few people were doing that. Lots of people had never heard of the internet in the mid-90s. It was the "cloud" before [what's commonly referred to now as cloud computing existed].
Prior to the recession, it was a struggle to get contractors’ attention, and there was a lot of angst about this notion that the software would be running on a web server somewhere. During the recession, Facebook, smartphones and applications that run just on the internet became accepted. So, by the time we came out of the recession, it was not only expected, but preferred, that solutions be cloud-based.
Where do you think other software companies err when they try to develop contractor solutions?
WRIGHT: The mistake I think a lot of software companies make is they ask those people that are experiencing the pain, "How do I solve that?" Once you cross that line, now you're getting somebody to step outside of their zone of expertise, and they're just going make up the best they can.
I think that we take the pain information, and we look at it with a lens. And that lens has in it my 23 years of commercial construction experience. We have a lot of people on our team that have personal commercial construction experience as well.
So, we look at things from the view of a contractor — not just what it's like to be building in the field but what it's like in the office, what it's like to have that set of books audited and what it's like to resolve a construction dispute. And so all those different perspectives come to bear when we look at a challenge that a contractor is experiencing.