After years of working in the electrical industry, most experienced contractors have committed at least a few magic numbers to memory, one of which is undoubtedly the contingency percentage they typically build into a bid to account for the unexpected. Whether they pad a project by 5%, 10%, or more, Bala Cynwyd, Pa.-based software vendor Primavera Systems' goal is to put as much of that fluff factor back into contractors' pockets as possible.

That's what it plans to do with Primavera Contractor, a new single-project planning and scheduling program launched in September and built for the construction industry. For small to mid-size contractors and subcontractors who want an effective scheduling tool but are hesitant to fork over $4,000 for P3e/c, the company's server- and Web-based management system, Contractor offers an affordable alternative for one-eighth the price.

The program allows contractors and subcontractors to share information. The entire project team can work on a consolidated master schedule by providing status reports and change notifications. Information is updated over the phone or via e-mail file attachments that import into the program. As a result, productivity is increased through improved scheduling of crews, material deliveries, and equipment availability.

To create a more affordable desktop project management program, Primavera used P3e/c as a template and scaled back certain features yet preserved the platform, interface, and many of the basic features and menus. “We kept the capabilities in the system so an electrical contractor can create a resource-loaded schedule,” says John Kunzier, Primavera product manager. “But it doesn't just do scheduling. It does cost loading, budgeting, and a number of other project management features.”

CH2M Hill, an international engineering and construction firm in Englewood, Colo., uses high- and low-end software to maximize communications and collaboration between its customers and colleagues. Saied Kartam, global technology leader for planning and scheduling/regional manager, southwest project planning and control at CH2M Hill, says the firm plans to use Primavera Contractor on smaller projects but more frequently to maximize communications with its subs. “If it's one of our subcontractors like an electrical, they're typically not going to want to invest in a $4,000 license just to develop a 15-activity schedule,” he says. “Although Contractor doesn't have all of the powerful features, at least it has the same exact platform as P3e/c. When a vendor or a sub develops a schedule in this program, we'll be able to take it and integrate it with our master schedule.”

Although he admits that all of his firm's vendors and subs aren't immediately jumping onto the software collaboration bandwagon, Kartam believes they should. “Our company has definitely embraced Web-based collaboration tools, and we are encouraging our vendors and subs to buy the enterprise solution,” he says. However, if they cannot afford it, then they can get [the scaled down version], which still allows them to integrate information into our master schedule.”

In Kartam's experience, Contractor fills in the gaps of the overall Web-based collaboration system. “Before, we didn't really know how to address these small parties, off-site folks, or those that just couldn't afford the enterprise solution,” he says. “Now we're no longer dealing with apples and oranges. We don't have two different schedules that don't talk to each other.”

Realizing that many contractors are leery of sophisticated software tools, often perceiving them as convoluted and complicated, Kunzier maintains this product will help them prevent delays and stay competitive. “Regardless of the type of project, it all comes down to whether or not you've planned correctly,” he says. “If you do it wrong, you've got to bring the crew back in and rework. Then guess what? You just ate up all of the fluff you built into the project, and there goes your bottom line.”

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Software Features at a Glance

  • Built-in project templates, views, and graphics make scheduling and communication of project status available in a standard format.

  • Import/Export Wizard allows subcontractors to e-mail entire updated project schedules to the general contractor for incorporation into the master schedule.

  • Forecast data allows subcontractors and the home office to see how cost or resource allocations will affect the overall budget and project delivery.