The Electronic Planroom

Charles Mahaffey

April 2006

The popularity of electronic Web-based plan rooms is increasing at a very rapid rate. There are many benefits when you use or subscribe to an electronic plan service:

• You don’t have to drive across town to pick up the plans.
• It greatly reduces the need for paper production.
• It reduces your need for plan storage at your office.
• You can easily archive the plan and the takeoff for an indefinite period of time.
• With your plans stored electronically, you become better organized.
• You are able to view the plans online before you make a commitment to bid.
• You are able to view and evaluate a number of different jobs to bid at the same time.
• Electronic plans will provide a means to takeoff the project on your computer.
• If you use the electronic takeoff, your accuracy is increased substantially.
• In most cases you will not have to pay for each electronic plan that you use.
• It will also eliminate the need for fax notification, postage and courier services.
• You can perform estimates anywhere if you use a laptop with takeoff software.

If you have not used or have not been exposed to an electronic plan room, I will explain how it works: The general contractors will subscribe to one of the electronic plan room providers. When a project they are going to bid is ready to bid, they will submit the plan to the electronic plan service to post on their Web site. The GC will then notify you by e-mail about the project on which they would like you to bid.

With the e-mail notification of the bid sent to you, it will provide a job name, a bid date and time. You will also be provided a Web site address that will take you to a specific job or list of jobs, and you will usually be given a password that will allow you to access the plans and specifications.

The plan rooms are usually divided into public and private sectors. The private plan room is an electronic plan room that is set up for the exclusive use of one GC. Typically, the private plan room is used for the GC’s negotiated projects.

The bid notification for the projects in the private plan room is usually sent to the general contractor’s preferred subcontractors. You will be provided a Web address and a password that will allow you to view and download the plans from this site.

The public plan room is just what the name implies. This is an area that has many projects available to bid. The plans for these jobs can be viewed and downloaded by anyone who has a subscription to the plan service. If you are a subcontractor that bids a lot of public work, you need to subscribe to an electronic plan service that offers the largest selection of public jobs available for bid in your geographic area.

What else should you consider?

• Evaluate and decide which plan service suits your particular need (and budget).
• Retain the most up-to-date computer hardware.
• Although this is not a requirement, consider purchasing the largest computer monitors you can afford.
• Most importantly, purchase electronic takeoff software.

I know of an electronic plan service that allows its subscribers to purchase basic takeoff software at an affordable price. Also, there are a few software companies that have a more advanced type of takeoff software that will provide many of the "bells and whistles” that the basic software does not provide.

Electronic plans in conjunction with computer based estimating software will save you money, time and space, increase productivity, minimize errors and provide very accurate estimates.

What are you waiting for?

About the Author
Charles Mahaffey is president of Accuest, LLC, Marietta, Ga. Accuest provides estimating and consulting services for commercial drywall subcontractors.