This focus report on practice management software solutions exhibited and shown at AIA22 this year will run through the various solutions and companies. This is a topic that as noted yesterday confronts the reality that not many architecture and engineering firms do not use such software, to begin with, and perhaps they should. So why is that? We will explore that question later. For now, let’s look at the various solutions shown at AIA22.
Practice Management Apps
Planifi emerged just a few years ago. In 2016 they announced their Planifi Project Visualizer solution. As the name implies, the software aims to give AE firms leaders and managers the ability to visualize the answers to such questions as what staff resources are overworked versus those that need more assignments? What’s coming up? And what is due across all projects?
Planifi got off to a good start with some noteworthy architecture firms, including Robert A. M. Stern Architects (RAMSA). A published case study is here for those inclined.
Planifi as an app works with three major areas (tabs in the UI) — Plan, Manage, and Forecast. Planifi features a drag and drop interface to add resources to your project as you plan and manage your portfolio of projects. Project summary details include fee, plan vs actual, and EAC. Planifi features color-coding for visual identity and configurable filters for searching within the app. The Forecast tab empowers firms with firm-wide analytics and performance metrics like utilization and profitability. Planifi features Microsoft Outlook integration so design professionals can see when things are due, what their budget hours are and where they stand against those budgets. Planifi is a Windows application. You can learn more here.
FactorAE (or Factor Architecture & Engineering) is another firm practice management software with a focus on serving all firm sizes from small to enterprise. It includes project planning and project management features, time and expense tracking, resource scheduling, detailed invoicing, and QuickBooks integration. Importantly, it also features A/E specific metrics or KPIs (key performance indicators).
FactorAE is cloud-based meaning you access it through a web browser. The company also offers a consulting add-on with A/E industry financial experts firm Stambaugh Ness. To learn more visit this link here.
BigTime Software is the third practice management application and also new to Architosh. This Chicago-based company has been around since 2002 (so 20 years) and has nearly 100 employees. The company doesn’t just serve A/E professionals but also accounting, consulting, legal, IT services, marketing and creative, and government contracting sectors. The architecture and engineering sector is just one of many.
BigTime has been accelerating over the past decade and specifically in 2019 closed a USD 14 million growth equity investment, after its USD 4 million Series A financing round in 2011. Then in 2022, the company announced a USD 100 million strategic growth investment round from Vista Equity Partners. BigTime is suddenly a very significant software firm and one to watch for serving the AEC market.
BigTime’s flagship product is a SaaS (cloud-based) product. BigTime includes all of these features: time and expense tracking, project management, review and approvals, resource management, billing and invoicing, reporting and analytics, and payment processing. Those are core features in most of these solutions. But BigTime also features DCAA compliance, has a mobile app version, and finally has integrations with leading SaaS tools. Which tools? Slack and Jira for managing processes and projects; GSuite and Excel for connection to business apps and documents; QuickBooks, Sage Intacct, and Lacerte for accounting and finances; SalesForce for customer relationship management; HubSpot for marketing; and finally Zapier for other integrations.
BigTime features reports and analytics to help customers gain real-time insights to the health of their firms. In terms of project management, it starts with planning and assigning resources. As projects proceed BigTime allows for views of projected versus actual hours. Major tasks or minor ones can each get their own assigned hour, fee, and expense budgets. Also for project management, BigTime supports Gantt charts, complete with dependencies, milestones, and critical paths. To learn more visit here.
BQE is home to the former ArchiOffice, which way back was actually built on the FileMaker relational database platform. FileMaker is long been in the rearview mirror as is the old name and BQE’s CORE is so much more powerful than in the old days. BQE CORE is a cloud-based (online) SaaS application. Like others on this page, CORE addresses project planning, resources (staff), project monitoring, billing and invoicing, and many other features like reporting and KPI monitoring. It also features integrations and works with Google, Dropbox, Box, OneDrive, and seamless integrations with QuickBooks and QuickBook’s chief rival these days, Xero. Unlike the apps listed above, BQE CORE features a Marketplace for partner apps like Transaction via Stripe, LawPay, ClientPay, CPACharge, Microsoft BI, Office 365 and more.
All of these solutions require an essential ingredient and this is all employees’ time. They must record their time on what projects and doing what activities. But some activities are marked unbillable because they do not pertain to say one specific client or part of the client services or deliverables. Unbillable Time is a key KPI for firms to monitor because this is recording levels of efficiency and alignment within the firm. Maximum efficiency would yield minimum total time on unbillable activities. IT support within the firm, for example, is unbillable time. To learn more about BQE CORE visit them online here.
Another new company to Architosh and to AIA presence this year was Unanet. This Virginia, based SaaS software company has over 350 employees and 3,200 customers and rising. They also had a rather large booth at AIA22. Just like BigTime Software, they focus on the same market segments ranging from A/E firms, government contractors, and professional service firms (creatives, marketing, law, etc). They also focus on construction professionals, thereby creating solutions for the entire AEC industry. In this space they list significant large construction companies as customers, including Skanska, Gilbane, Haskell, and others. They also have an offering called Unanet CRM by Cosential, aimed at proposal generation to win the business.
Unanet ERP AE is the software package purpose-built for architects and engineering firms. It handles time and expense tracking, project management, analytics and reporting, financials and payroll, and additionally prospect management. In the software industry, ERP stands for “enterprise resource planning.”
The project managing module enables resource planning, task management, earned value management, online bill review, work orders, and reporting and analytics. Users can track ETC, percent complete, earned value. It also supports the tracking of change orders with built-in approvals and supports budget creation, and schedules. Unamet features full Gantt chart views with support for milestones, critical path, and progress features.
A note about “work orders.” In Unanet AE the concept of work orders is similar to Kanban, whereby a visual system used for project management (a Kanban board) streamlines to-dos with predefined information like project, phase, job title, labor codes, billing status, etc,. Employees simply view their open work orders (which are visual cards in the Kanban method) and enter status updates. Unanet appears to be a very in-depth practice management software system and worth large practices, in particular, looking into.
Anthem Software wasn’t a company we were impressed with. Despite being at AIA22, the company’s focus is very broad and doesn’t really compare to the solutions mentioned above. Therefore, we are leaving them out of this article. Deltek, however, is an older name in the business and has SaaS-based solutions that are very established.
Deltek has two major platforms for AEC businesses. They don’t make a product specifically just for architects but the entire AEC sector. Ajera SaaS seems oriented at growing firms and implies small to medium companies in the A/E sector. Vantagepoint is also a cloud-based solution and is mature with a roster of larger A/E firms using this solution. Deltek Vantagepoint features CRM and pipeline management to help firms continue keeping the work coming in and growing.
The sheer volume of practice management solutions at AIA22 was a bit of a surprise but a welcome one. While many of the solutions above impress us in various ways, FactorAE was one that stood out for its sole focus on the A/E industry and affordable pricing, and concentrated set of features backed with consulting add-on options. We honored FactorAE a BEST of SHOW award for this year’s AIA22. You can read more here.