Review of Takeoff Software for Estimating Construction

So often people want to rush out and buy estimating software or takeoff software without first trying to define their internal estimating processes. Once the estimating process is clearly defined, then and only then, can you actually try to compartmentalize the process into segments. So often the segment is really quantity takeoff. Takeoff of what you may wonder? That is like the million dollar question. This article will speak about the takeoff software process which usually associated with estimating software processes. The takeoff software process can often be takeoff of materials for some folks, and to many others, the takeoff process of scoped systems to create estimates or proposals. This review or comparison will not try to explain the estimating software process but bring to you valid quantity takeoff thinking among estimators in a quest to find which product thinks the way you do. These are the opinions of the author.

I will review and compare 3 types of measuring takeoff products:

It is extremely important to note that these are ONLY measuring takeoff programs, NOT estimating programs.

1) Planswift

2) On-Screen Takeoff by On Center Software

3) Electronic Plan Takeoff Software

All three products have their strengths, however, Planswift and On-Screen Takeoff are stand-alone products and Electronic Plan Takeoff is actually dynamically integrated live with Microsoft Excel which means that it starts and finishes and saves in Excel. They all integrate with Excel, however, you will have to evaluate your thought process and decide which of the three products work-flow think along the lines of how you think. For instance, what is the first thing you do when you get a set of plans? Typically, you start flipping through the plans to see how involved the project is and what type of work do you see that is attractive for your company. Then when you decide you are going to estimate this job, more often than not, you start like 80% of companies in the world of construction estimating by opening your takeoff master template Excel spreadsheet. You rename your spreadsheet to the new job or project and off you go performing takeoff. This is where the differences are:

In Planswift, you decide what drawing you are on and then you perform the measuring of an item you want to perform takeoff on the plan. Unfortunately, that is not exactly how an estimator thinks. Planswift does give you the ability to add a type of takeoff item on the fly by naming it and then perform takeoff of it; somewhat of a very manual and slow process. They also provide you with the ability of applying a type of assembly to a takeoff to aggregate quantities of items in that assembly. Not quite the way an estimator thinks. It forces you to jump to different screens which slows down the process. Typically, the main start of anyone’s takeoff process, or some may think of it as a checklist approach, is to start with your own spreadsheet of YOUR items. Those items can be material items or can be scoped assembly system items. Either way, by starting with a master spreadsheet say in Excel for example, many estimators think of this as a risk reducer, not to forget things they normally takeoff. Being that Planswift is a stand-alone takeoff program, it typically saves your takeoff images in Planswift instead of your estimate in Excel, if Excel is your estimating system. If you are using Excel, you have to manually save your takeoff measurement numbers in Excel and your takeoff images in Planswift or elsewhere, just not in Excel where the takeoff quantity resides. Again, if you want to integrate with Excel, they force you to either export or import takeoff items from Excel rather than being dynamically integrated live to Excel. They do however have the ability to dump the measured quantity from Planswift into any Excel spreadsheet or Word document. The main purpose or the primary focus of this program is measuring, therefore it does a good job at that function. Most of the other functions require you to jump around different screens, and essentially, you loose your thought of where you are. There are some features that attempt to address the estimating process, however, there are many features that are missing for Planswift to be a full fledged estimating system; it is NOT one. Planswift does integrate with the leading estimating system Sage Timberline, but the integration is weak. Since Timberline’s power is in assembly takeoff and where most estimators reside in Timberline, Planswift does not give the estimator the ability to add quantities of miscellaneous Timberline items or one-time items that need to added on the fly to an assembly while they are in Planswift at the Timberline interview screen, and while being in the measuring phase. Planswift does allow the deleting of assembly generated items as well adjusting assembly item quantities in a different screen. Again, to perform all that, you are forced to jump around to different screens. No assembly is ever perfect in any estimating system since project conditions are always uniquely different, therefore, having to add items to an assembly is extremely important. That adding of items and associated quantities is an absolute requirement any estimator typically has to do during the takeoff measuring and estimating phase; something that Planswift struggles with as related to Timberline Estimating. Planswift does allow the direct send of measurements to Timberline Estimating items and assemblies while in Timberline Estimating, just as you would do with the old digitizer measuring boards. Training, support and maintenance are extra for Planswift. On-Screen Takeoff by On Center Software, and Planswift charge their annual maintenance and support fees per license (mandatory) which costs the end user more expense annually especially if a customer has more than one license.

On Center’s On-Screen Takeoff is the Grand Daddy of software takeoff products due to the fact that it has been around the longest. On Center recognizes that On-Screen Takeoff is primarily a measuring program. That is why they have a separate estimating program named QuickBid for those who want an estimating program. On Center does not try to trick you into thinking it is an estimating system. In On-Screen Takeoff, you also decide what drawing you are on and then you perform the measuring of the plan. BUT, before you start, you can load a master set styles of things you typically takeoff or measure from your own library. That process seems to be less complicated than that of Planswift. On-Screen Takeoff does give you the ability to add a type of takeoff item on the fly by naming it and then performing takeoff of it; somewhat of a manual and slow process as well. The program does come with many features that are primarily focused on simple measuring to advanced measuring issues all with attention to detail regarding easy navigation for the takeoff process. On Center does a very good job at that. However, there seems to be a disconnect of thought from an Excel spreadsheet items you may use for estimating and/or proposals. The integration to Microsoft Excel is not a dynamic live link, more like an after thought in my opinion. Yes, you can establish links to named styles to cells or ranges in Excel, somewhat rigid. But the question you will have to ask yourself, which will happen more often than not is: What do you do when you need to add things on the fly during takeoff and in an Excel spreadsheet? Again there will be manual associations you will have to establish with Excel which is another major slowdown. You have to manually save your takeoff measurement numbers in Excel and your takeoff images in On-Screen or anywhere you decide, except the takeoff images will not be saved in Excel where the takeoff quantity resides. This type of situation arises when a takeoff program is a stand-alone program. On Center’s On-Screen Takeoff has the best integration with the most widely used estimating system in the USA: Sage Timberline Estimating. It basically mimics the same interview process as you would do with the old digitizer measuring boards. By working directly with Timberline, On-Screen Takeoff allows the estimator to perform takeoff of a Timberline variable question and immediately returns back directly with the takeoff quantity in a Timberline assembly at the variable question. By virtue of this process, On-Screen Takeoff allows the estimator to continue his/her Timberline interview process in Sage Timberline Estimating by reviewing/massaging generated quantities, or adding items in a Timberline assembly as the estimator see fit. That workflow process gives full control to the estimator, good job On Center. Training, support and maintenance are extra for On-Screen Takeoff. On-Screen Takeoff by On Center Software, and Planswift charge their annual maintenance and support fees per license (mandatory) which costs the end user more expense annually especially if a customer has more than one license.

This next system is ONLY if your estimating system or proposal generator is Microsoft Excel. Electronic Plan Takeoff Software is a plug-in for Excel. You start your spreadsheet, you perform the measuring takeoff, you may even add some more items on the fly all the while you are in the measuring phase in the Electronic Plan Takeoff program. When you are done, even if you added items on the fly, they automatically appear in your Excel spreadsheet. Excel is the control of everything. Your project is started in Excel, your takeoff is saved in Excel, the estimate or proposal is/can be produced there in Excel; one program, one place. Many takeoff programs interface with Excel somehow, but only Electronic Plan Takeoff is live linked with Excel, meaning all your Excel spreadsheet descriptions appear in the measuring takeoff program so you always know where you are in Excel. That is a huge difference in comparison to Planswift and On-Screen Takeoff. You can even change a description of a takeoff item in Electronic Plan Takeoff and it is automatically changed live, in your Excel spreadsheet. When you talk about the estimating and takeoff phase you must keep processes cleans and easy and this program does just that. There is no getting lost in this program. Just like the other reviewed programs above, the central focus of this program is takeoff measuring, and it does a GREAT job at that. The navigation within the program is really simple and easy. It is not made to work with other estimating systems, but there is a version that allows the direct send of measurements to any Microsoft Windows program awaiting a keyboard entry, just as you would do with digitizer measuring boards. There is also a version that works with digitizer boards as well. If you use Microsoft Excel for estimating, or takeoffs, or proposals, then this Electronic Plan Takeoff program for Excel would be your best choice. The integration to Excel is unmatched in Electronic Plan Takeoff compared to Planswift or On-Screen Takeoff. What is quite different in Electronic Plan Takeoff is that training, support, and maintenance are INCLUDED with a purchase, whereas training, support and maintenance are extra for Planswift and On-Screen Takeoff. Moreover, annual support and maintenance for Electronic Plan Takeoff year two and beyond is a low fee per company per year, instead of per license. On-Screen Takeoff by On Center Software, and Planswift charge their annual maintenance and support fees per license (mandatory) which costs the end user more expense annually especially if a customer has more than one license.

Microsoft and Excel are registered trademarks of Microsoft Corporation. Planswift is the registered trademark of Tech Unlimited, Inc. On-Screen Takeoff and QuickBid are registered trademarks of On Center Software, Inc. Sage Timberline Office, Sage Timberline Estimating are registered trademarks of Sage Software, Inc.

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Choosing the Right SDLC For Your Project

Choosing the right SDLC (Software Development Lifecycle) methodology for your project is as important to the success of the project as the implementation of any project management best practices. Choose the wrong software methodology and you will add time to the development cycle. Adding extra time to the development cycle will increase your budget and very likely prevent you from delivering the project on time.

Choosing the wrong methodology can also hamper your effective management of the project and may also interfere with the delivery of some of the project’s goals and objectives. Software development methodologies are another tool in the development shop’s tool inventory, much like your project management best practices are tools in your project manager’s tool kit. You wouldn’t choose a chainsaw to finish the edges on your kitchen cabinet doors because you know you wouldn’t get the results you want. Choose your software methodology carefully to avoid spoiling your project results.

I realize that not every project manager can choose the software methodology they will use on every project. Your organization may have invested heavily in the software methodology and supporting tools used to develop their software. There’s not much you can do in this case. Your organization won’t look favorably on a request to cast aside a methodology and tools they’ve spent thousands of dollars on because you recommend a different methodology for your project. We’ll give you some tips on how to tailor some of the methodologies to better fit with your project requirements later in this article. In the meantime, before your organization invests in software development methodologies you, or your PMO, ought to be consulted so that at least a majority of projects are benefited from a good fit.

This article won’t cover every SDLC out there but we will attempt to cover the most popular ones.

Scrum

Scrum is a name rather than an acronym (which is why I haven’t capitalized the letters), although some users have created acronyms, and is commonly used together with agile software development. Scrum is typically chosen because of its iterative nature and its ability to deliver working software quickly. It is chosen to develop new products for those reasons. There is typically no role for a project manager in this methodology, the 3 key roles are: the scrum master (replacing the project manager), the product owner, and the team who design and build the system. There is only one role that you would be asked to play if your organization is committed to using this methodology, scrum master. If you should determine that this would actually be the best methodology for your project, you’ll have to re-examine your role as project manager. You can either identify a suitable scrum master and return to the bench, or fill the role of scrum master.

Scrum suits software development projects where its important for the project to deliver working software quickly. Scrum is an iterative methodology and uses cycles called sprints, to build a working system. Requirements are captured in a “backlog” and a set of requirements is chosen with the help of the product manager. Requirements are chosen based on 2 criteria: the requirement takes priority over others left in the backlog and the set of requirements chosen will build a functioning system.

During the sprint, which can last from 2 to 4 weeks maximum, no changes can be made to the requirements in the sprint. This is one of the reasons that a project manager isn’t necessary for this methodology. There is no need for requirements management because no changes are allowed to the requirements under development. All changes must occur in the requirements set in the backlog.

Scrum will be suitable for software development projects where the product is a new software product. By new I mean that it is new to the organization undertaking the project, not in general. The methodology was developed to address a need for a method to build software when its necessary to learn on the fly, not all requirements are known to the organization and the focus is on delivering a working prototype quickly to demonstrate capabilities. You need to be careful when choosing requirements to deliver in each sprint to ensure that the set developed builds a software system that is capable of demonstrating the feature set supporting the requirements included.

You also need to ensure that these requirements are well known and understood as no changes are allowed once the sprint starts. This means that any changes to the requirements must come through a new set of requirements in the backlog making changes to these requirements very expensive.

This methodology divides stakeholders into 2 groups: pigs and chickens. The inventors of this methodology chose this analogy based on the story of the pig and the chicken – it goes something like this. A pig and a chicken were walking down the road one morning and happened to notice some poor children who looked like they hadn’t eaten for days. The compassionate chicken said to the pig: “Why don’t we make those children a breakfast of ham and eggs?” The pig said: “I’m not happy with your suggestion. You’re just involved in making the breakfast, I’m totally committed!” The point to this is the product owner, scrum master, and team are all in the “pig” group. All others are in the “chicken” group. You will be in the “chicken” group if you choose the Scrum methodology as a project manager.

Waterfall

Waterfall methodology calls for each phase of the development cycle to be repeated once only. Requirements will be gathered and translated into functional specifications once, functional specifications will be translated to design once, designs will be built into software components once and the components will be tested once. The advantage of this methodology is its focus. You can concentrate the effort of all your analysts on producing functional specifications during one period rather than have the effort dispersed throughout the entire project. Focusing your resources in this way also reduces the window during which resources will be required. Programmers will not be engaged until all the functional specifications have been written and approved.

The disadvantage of this approach is its inability to teach the project team anything during the project. A key difference between the waterfall approach and an iterative methodology, such as Scrum or RUP, is the opportunity to learn lessons from the current iteration which will improve the team’s effectiveness with the next iteration. The waterfall methodology is an ideal methodology to use when the project team has built software systems very similar to the one your project is to deliver and has nothing to learn from development that would improve their performance. A good example of a project which would benefit from the waterfall methodology is a project to add functionality to a system the project team built in the not too distant past. Another example of an environment that is well suited to the waterfall methodology is a program to maintain a software system where a project is scheduled for specific periods to enhance the system. For example, an order and configuration software system which is enhanced every 4 months.

The waterfall methodology does not lend itself particularly well to projects where the requirements are not clearly understood at the outset. Iterative approaches allow the product owners or user community to examine the result of building a sub-set of requirements. Exercising the sub-set of requirements in the iteration’s build may cause the product owners or user community to re-examine those requirements or requirements to be built. You won’t have that opportunity with the waterfall method so you need to be certain of your requirements before you begin the build phase. Interpreting requirements into functionality is not the only aspect of development that can benefit from an iterative approach. Designing the system and building it can also benefit from doing these activities iteratively. You should use the waterfall method when your team is familiar with the system being developed and the tools used to develop it. You should avoid using it when developing a system for the first time or using a completely new set of tools to develop the system.

RUP

The Rational Unified Process, or RUP, combines an iterative approach with use cases to govern system development. RUP is a methodology supported by IBM and IBM provides tools (e.g. Rational Rose) that support the methodology. RUP divides the project into 4 phases:

1. Inception phase – produces requirements, business case, and high level use cases

2.Elaboration phase – produces refined use cases, architecture, a refined risk list, a refined business case, and a project plan

3. Construction phase – produces the system

4. Transition phase – transitions the system from development to production

RUP also defines 9 disciplines: 6 engineering disciplines, and 3 supporting disciplines: Configuration and Change Management, Project Management, and environment so is intended to work hand in hand with project management best practices.

Iteration is not limited to a specific project phase – it may even be used to govern the inception phase, but is most applicable to the construction phase. The project manager is responsible for an overall project plan which defines the deliverables for each phase, and a detailed iteration plan which manages the deliverables and tasks belonging to each phase. The purpose of the iterations is to better identify risks and mitigate them.

RUP is essentially a cross between Scrum and waterfall in that it only applies an iterative approach to project phases where the most benefit can be derived from it. RUP also emphasizes the architecture of the system being built. The strengths of RUP are its adaptability to different types of projects. You could simulate some of the aspects of a Scrum method by making all 4 phases iterative, or you could simulate the waterfall method by choosing to avoid iterations altogether. RUP will be especially useful to you when you have some familiarity with the technology but need the help of Use Cases to help clarify your requirements. Use Cases can be combined with storyboarding when you are developing a software system with a user interface to simulate the interaction between the user and the system. Avoid using RUP where your team is very familiar with the technology and the system being developed and your product owners and users don’t need use cases to help clarify their requirements.

RUP is one of those methodologies that your organization is very likely to have invested heavily in. If that’s your situation, you probably don’t have the authority to select another methodology but you can tailor RUP to suit your project. Use iterations to eliminate risks and unknowns that stem from your team’s unfamiliarity with the technology or the system, or eliminate iterations where you would otherwise use the waterfall method.

JAD

Joint Application Development, or JAD, is another methodology developed by IBM. It’s main focus is on the capture and interpretation of requirements but can be used to manage that phase in other methodologies such as waterfall. JAD gathers participants in a room to articulate and clarify requirements for the system. The project manager is required for the workshop to provide background information on the project’s goals, objectives, and system requirements. The workshop also requires a facilitator, a scribe to capture requirements, participants who contribute requirements, and members of the development team whose purpose is to observe.

JAD can be used to quickly clarify and refine requirements because all the players are gathered in one room. Your developers can avert misunderstandings or ambiguities in requirements by questioning the participants. This method can be used with just about any software methodology. Avoid using it where the organization’s needs are not clearly understood or on large, complex projects.

RAD

RAD is an acronym for Rapid Application Development uses an iterative approach and prototyping to speed application development. Prototyping begins by building the data models and business process models that will define the software application. The prototypes are used to verify and refine the business and data models in an iterative cycle until a data model and software design are refined enough to begin construction.

The purpose of RAD is to enable development teams to create and deploy software systems in a relatively short period of time. It does this in part by replacing the traditional methods of requirements gathering, analysis, and design with prototyping and modeling, the prototyping and modeling allow the team to prove the application components faster than traditional methods such as waterfall. The advantage of this method is it facilitates rapid development by eliminating design overhead. It’s disadvantage is that in eliminating design overhead it also eliminates much of the safety net which prevents requirements from being improperly interpreted or missed altogether.

RAD is suitable for projects where the requirements are fairly well known in advance and the data is either an industry or business standard, or already in existence in the organization. It is also suitable for a small development team, or a project where the system can be broken down into individual applications that require small teams. RAD is not suitable for large, complex projects or projects where the requirements are not well understood.

LSD

Lean Software Development, or LSD, applies the principles of waste reduction from the manufacturing world to the business of developing software. The goal of LSD is to produce software in 1/3 the time, on 1/3 the budget, and with 1/3 the defects of comparable methods. Lean does this by applying 7 principles to the endeavor of software development:

1. Eliminate waste

2. Amplify Learning (both technical and business)

3. Decide on requirements as late as possible

4. Deliver as fast as possible

5. Empower the team

6. Build integrity

7. See the whole

Although Lean Manufacturing has been around for some time, its application to the process of developing software is relatively new so I wouldn’t call it a mature process.

LSD would be a suitable method to use where you have a subject matter expert in the method who has some practical experience in applying lean methods to a software development project. “Amplified” learning implies that your development team has a depth of knowledge in the software tools provided, and also a breadth of knowledge that includes an understanding of the business needs of the client. LSD would be suitable for a project where the development team has these attributes.

LSD depends on a quick turnaround and the late finalization of requirements to eliminate the majority of change requests, so will not be suitable for a project where a delayed finalization of requirements will have a poor chance of eliminating change requests, or the size and complexity of the system being developed would prevent a quick turnaround.

Extreme Programming (XP)

Extreme programming places emphasis on an ability to accommodate changes to requirements throughout the development cycle and testing so that the code produced is of a high degree of quality and has a low failure rate in the field. XP requires the developers to write concise, clear, and simple code to solve problems. This code is then thoroughly tested by unit tests to ensure that the code works exactly as the programmer intends and acceptance tests to ensure that the code meets the customer’s needs. These tests are accumulated so that all new code passes through them and the chances for a failure in the field are reduced.

XP requires the development team to listen carefully to the needs and requirements of the customer. Ambiguities will be clarified by asking questions and providing feedback to the customer which clarifies the requirements. This ability implies a certain degree of familiarity with the customer’s business; the team will be less likely to understand the customer’s needs if they don’t understand their business.

The intent of XP is to enhance coding, testing, and listening to the point where there is less dependency on design. At some point it is expected that the system will become sufficiently complex so that it needs a design. The intent of the design is not to ensure that the coding will be tight, but that the various components will fit together and function smoothly.

XP would be a suitable software development method where the development team is knowledgeable about the customers business and have the tools to conduct the level of testing required for this method. Tools would include automated unit testing and reporting tools, issue capture and tracking tools, and multiple test platforms. Developers who are also business analysts and can translate a requirement directly to code are a necessity because design is more architectural than detail. This skill is also required as developers implement changes directly into the software.

XP won’t be suitable where the development team does not possess business analysis experience and where testing is done by a quality assurance team rather than by the development team. The method can work for large complex projects as well as simple smaller ones.

There is no law that states you must choose one or the other of these methodologies for your software project. The list I’ve given you here is not a totally comprehensive list and some methodologies don’t appear on it (e.g. Agile) so if you feel that there is some other methodology that will better suit your project, run with it. You should also look at combining some of the features of each of these methods to custom make a methodology for your project. For example, the desire to eliminate waste from the process of developing software is applicable to any method you choose and there is likely waste that could be eliminated in any development shop.

Be careful to choose a methodology that is a good fit for your team, stakeholders, and customer as well as your project. Bringing in a new development methodology that your team will struggle to learn at the same time they are trying to meet tight deadlines is not a good idea. On the other hand, if you have the latitude you may want to begin learning a new method with your project.

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Advantages and Disadvantages of Professional Shopping Cart Software

Advantages & Disadvantages of professional shopping cart software As e-Commerce is becoming a regular technique in the business industry it appears that more and more software development firms are developing professional shopping cart software to be released in the market. There is currently a huge range of free shopping cart software that has been released, and it seems that most e-Commerce website owners prefer these free systems over paid for professional shopping cart software. In this article we are going to look at the advantages and disadvantages of professional shopping cart software.

Advantages

• Even though you will have to pay for the solution, you get a cart package that has been fully developed, tested and used in the real working world by other e-Commerce websites. If the solution is used by a popular website service then the chances are it has been under more than enough testing to be deemed ready for use.

• Professional shopping cart software will be supported by the people who developed it. A lot of free solutions out there are simply developed and then discontinued as the freelance developers move onto their next project. Support is essential if you are going to want upgrades as mentioned in our next point.

• As the system is supported, the development team are likely to fix any bugs that may occur and provide patches and security fixes. This means the shopping cart software will only get better as time goes on and furthermore improve your e-Commerce website.

• Your site is likely to be more secure when using a professional software solution as in most cases the it developed house private content management systems. This improves security as public content management systems such as WordPress are constantly under threat from hackers as they try to compromise the free source code.

• Another huge advantage of using professionally developed software in e-Commerce is that they will already support a huge range of different payment options for your customers. There are various carts – that only offer PayPal for payment by standard, and it can take a very long time to find plug-ins or figure out how to add other methods yourself. With professional software you can save time and possibly money as it is all included.

Disadvantages

• Your e-Commerce venture might be a small time project and professional cart does cost money which you may not have. In this case you may have to make do with a free shopping cart solution. The good part of conducting business online is that after you have made profit with the free system you can reinvest your money to buy a professional package.

• You trust the developers to do everything they promise to ensure the best experience. It might be slightly difficult to use at first and you might have to spend some time getting used to the bespoke system. You also have to understand that you are vulnerable until patches are made if a security flaw is found.

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Mortgage Loan Origination Software – 10 Functions of Mortgage Banking

Regardless of a mortgage lending organizations’ size, mortgage loan software, data security solutions and automation tools and services should be able to assist with mortgage loan automation requirements. In today’s chaotic mortgage lending environment origination and document security systems need to be easily configured to emphasize a company’s special needs and increase efficiencies across all aspects of the loan origination process, allowing lenders to increase quality and productivity.

Technology-driven automation is the key to succeeding in the increasingly complex, deeply scrutinized mortgage industry. Web-based (Software-as-a-Service), Enterprise mortgage software that supports the ten primary functions in mortgage banking will provide lenders with the necessary competitive advantages to succeed in today’s mortgage industry.

Ten Primary Functions in Mortgage Banking

  1. Mortgage Web site design, implementation, and hosting to provide product, service, loan status, and company information to mortgage customers and business partners
  2. Online loan applications for gathering information from borrowers and business partners that issue loan terms, disclosures, and underwriting conditions
  3. Loan origination software for managing loan data, borrower data, property data, general status reporting, and calculations
  4. Interface systems to send and receive data from real estate service providers, such as credit reports, flood determinations, automated underwriting, fraud detection, and closing documents
  5. Internal automated underwriting system that is simple enough for originators and sophisticated enough for underwriting portfolio loan products
  6. Document generation for applications, upfront disclosures, business processes, and closing documents
  7. Integrated imaging that is used from loan origination to investor delivery and for file archiving
  8. Interest rate and fee generation along with program qualification guidelines
  9. Secondary marketing data tools to track loan revenue and investor relationships, including warehouse line management and interim servicing to complete the back-office system
  10. Reporting such as loan delivery, year-end fee reporting, and HMDA reporting for loan application disposition

Web-Based, enterprise mortgage software that supports the ten primary functions of mortgage banking simplifies compliance, maximizes operational efficiencies, and increases profitability.

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Top 4 Benefits of Demand Planning Software

In today’s dynamically changing business environment, organizations have to be agile and quick in responding to market changes and internal factors to minimize losses and leverage opportunities. Demand Planning Software is essential to gauge customer demand and market changes in real time and pass on the information to the supply chain. It creates the perfect balance between market demand and supply. However, these are not the only benefits that a demand planning software offers. It has many other benefits and some of them are listed here.

It Helps in Accurate Revenue Forecasting: A good demand planning software help in accurate revenue forecasting by correctly analyzing the market demand and forecast results based on that. Without proper information and software to process that information, organizations bring products by guessing the customer’s demand. Some even take sub-par data that has not been properly processed to reach conclusions. Being a result of guesswork, this information or data does not always deliver favorable results. This software helps in analyzing data properly and then forecasting the revenue accordingly.

It Assists in Aligning Inventory Levels: When there is a huge demand in the market, a business can lose out on the opportunity of fulfilling it on its own if it not prepared with the right inventory. By knowing about the possible future rise or fall in the demand for a product, they can align the inventory levels to make sure that they reap the benefits and their customers are satisfied.

It Enhances the Profitability for a Product: If there is low demand for a product, a company may or may not decide to carry on with it. However, if it is bound to bring bigger profit margins despite low sales, it is worth investing time and money in. Using the Demand Planning Software, businesses can find out how to enhance the profitability of a product.

It Allows for Re-planning Based on Given Data: It is important to keep an eye on the market during the production and marketing lifecycle of a product. And the simple reason behind it is the need to re-plan or alter strategies to get maximum attention and beat the competition. By looking at the changes, decision makers can make amendments to the approach as well as the strategy to meet their business goals.

Their cloud platform mPower supports various aspects of businesses such as demand planning, retail planning, business integration management, supply chain planning, etc. The platform’s design allows business to do smart resource management and make intelligent business decisions.

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Advantages and Disadvantages of Biometric Time and Attendance Software

First of all let me ask you what you understand by time and attendance software? Have you ever been asked to log in as soon as you enter office and the main gate of the office has a Biometric machine that takes in your finger prints and allows you to enter the office premise? Yes, these are the time and attendance software being installed in a company.

Biometrics consists of methods for uniquely identifying a person (human being) by his/her physical or behavioral traits. There are many biometric software available in market for such purpose and their use is widely known. One such use is Biometric time and attendance management software.

Those days are gone when we had to punch in cards or sign into a register to tell the other person that we are present. Just as paper checking has been changed from manual to computerized, identifying a person and letting him in your office has been changed from manual to biometrics.

There are many benefits of having such methodology in your office. Such as:

• Accurate timing: When a person looks at his watch and enters the time there is a slight chance that he may see the wrong timing and write. Whereas with biometric time and attendance software there is no possibility of such mistake. The user does not need to see or check the time, it automatically gets logged in.

• Less error: There is no scope of human error here.

• Profit to company: If it’s accurate and correct the company will definitely gain from it.

As everything has a good and bad side this too has its disadvantages, such as:

• Extra cost to company: Biometric software and machine cost a lot more, so installing such software need a good investment money wise.

• Extra management: Remember when every employee is logging his own timing when he comes or leaves; there is no extra management here. But, if you are putting a machine there has to be taken some care of it.

Biometrics time and management software is really helpful when creating payrolls for employees. Once a definite timing has been registered you don’t need to think twice before creating the employees pay.

Many homes are also using such kind of software to have a safe and secure home. Biometric software is really helpful when you need security in your home as well as in office. There are many companies all over the world providing such biometric time and attendance software. You just need to keep an eye on the technologies and websites that are providing you these.

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Advantages and Disadvantages of Biometric Time and Attendance Software

First of all let me ask you what you understand by time and attendance software? Have you ever been asked to log in as soon as you enter office and the main gate of the office has a Biometric machine that takes in your finger prints and allows you to enter the office premise? Yes, these are the time and attendance software being installed in a company.

Biometrics consists of methods for uniquely identifying a person (human being) by his/her physical or behavioral traits. There are many biometric software available in market for such purpose and their use is widely known. One such use is Biometric time and attendance management software.

Those days are gone when we had to punch in cards or sign into a register to tell the other person that we are present. Just as paper checking has been changed from manual to computerized, identifying a person and letting him in your office has been changed from manual to biometrics.

There are many benefits of having such methodology in your office. Such as:

• Accurate timing: When a person looks at his watch and enters the time there is a slight chance that he may see the wrong timing and write. Whereas with biometric time and attendance software there is no possibility of such mistake. The user does not need to see or check the time, it automatically gets logged in.

• Less error: There is no scope of human error here.

• Profit to company: If it’s accurate and correct the company will definitely gain from it.

As everything has a good and bad side this too has its disadvantages, such as:

• Extra cost to company: Biometric software and machine cost a lot more, so installing such software need a good investment money wise.

• Extra management: Remember when every employee is logging his own timing when he comes or leaves; there is no extra management here. But, if you are putting a machine there has to be taken some care of it.

Biometrics time and management software is really helpful when creating payrolls for employees. Once a definite timing has been registered you don’t need to think twice before creating the employees pay.

Many homes are also using such kind of software to have a safe and secure home. Biometric software is really helpful when you need security in your home as well as in office. There are many companies all over the world providing such biometric time and attendance software. You just need to keep an eye on the technologies and websites that are providing you these.

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Build Your Own Tree House – Pros and Cons, Fasteners and Hardware

Tree houses are fun, bonding activities you can do with your friends or family, and can provide a unique and ideal hangout spot surrounded by Mother nature. One of the biggest differences in my opinion, between tree houses and other on-ground add-ons you can build on your property, is the fact that a house up in the trees sways – to varying degrees depending on the height and size of the Tree and branches – and so can add a unique and soothing feel.

There are several prerequisites that must be met before this particular project would be considered feasible for you. The first ones are also the most obvious:

  1. Do you have a suitable tree with your property on which you can construct your tree house? This question may be ambiguous to some, as what kind of tree exactly is considered suitable? Well, this depends largely on the size of the structure in question, as well as the expected load – number of people, furnishings, etc. The larger your tree house is, the larger your tree needs to be.
  2. How are you with heights? Now is not a good time to kid yourself or anyone else if you happen to be abnormally scared of heights! We're all scared of heights to varying degrees, but if you lack the courage or ability to comfortably work at the needed height, this project may not be for you. Granted, it can be built relatively low to the ground as well and still be called a "tree house" – in which case, this may not apply.

Now that we have those out of the way, we can get into the other aspects of building. When compared with a structure on the ground, a tree house may somehow seem like a simpler project due to the fact that some of us have grown up "throwing" little makeshift tree houses up here and there. However, it's important to remember that any halfway decent structure, whether on the ground or up in a tree, requires careful planning and implementation of standard safety code.

Here are some other questions you should ask yourself before concluding the planning stage:

  1. What will I use the tree house for? Depending on your answer, you may want a roof and walls, or you may find it unnecessary. In either case, a rail and / or walls at least a meter high is recommended for safety.
  2. How long do I want it to last? You may think that the answer to this question is obvious, but you should understand that the lifespan of your tree house depends heavily on the materials you use and the quality and number of layers of your protective stain. Tree houses, by virtue of their definition, stand within and under the canopy of the tree in which they are built. Because of this, they are more susceptible to premature rot due to the prolonged shade and humid nature of their environment. The fallen leaves and branches scattered across the deck also serve as decay-accelerators unless they are regularly swept off.

Foundation and Floor-shape

One of the unique beauties of a tree house is the fact that you can simply build around the various branches leaving them exposed within your tree house, enhancing the "natural" atmosphere. As with an on-ground structure, you should start with building your base and floor. You may face complications with the shape of your floor due to the limitations of suitable branches to base off of.

Because of this, there's a possibility you may have to set up for a non-square shape. This may be what you want, or this may be a problem for you. In any case, you should understand that there are some restrictions placed upon you by the particular tree you're working with. All branches used for a foundation should be able to single-handedly carry several hundred pounds, and more if you're expecting higher traffic.

Tree Wood Density and Fastener Quality

Large tree houses that weigh more than the collective weight of their occupants should be carefully designed , as various factors such as the hardness of the tree and fastener quality and design come more into play. Wood will compress where the fasteners connect to the tree to varying degrees based on the hardness of the tree in question, causing a sinking of the tree house.

Professional-grade Tree house Fasteners – Are they Necessary?

There are various tree house fasteners available on the market today specially manufactured for their unique needs. However, the question invariably arises as to how necessary these customized bolts and brackets are in comparison to normal ones found in home centers due to their price. They often cost between one and several hundred dollars each!

The first thing to bear in mind when contemplating the pros and cons of these rather pricey pieces of hardware is that trees are living organizations, and are still growing, moving, and changing shape. Therefore, your tree house and the hardware on which it is mounted must accommodate this movement. Simply bolting the beams into the tree's branches results in a fixed attachment that will force the tree to either pull the screw through the beam or try to grow around the beam.

The first of the two will result in a sudden and dangerous failure , while the second will result in an unhealthy and unnatural growth around the beam, potentially causing disease and decay to set in. Custom bolts and brackets are made with a certain allowance for tree growth, with a section of the bolt that is embedded deep in the tree's heartwood and a large shank that allows axial movement coupled with a female part that is attached to the beam.

So to answer the question of whether these expensive custom parts are necessary, the short answer is yes, and no. Yes, if you lack the know-how to find parts that will accomplish the same purpose as the professional parts do, and no, if you do, and do not require your tree house to last for fifty years. Home centers sell bolts and hardware with large diameters and lengths which can be used, but the entire shank can not be threaded.

The half or so that is embedded into the tree must be threaded, but the reminder that acts as the cushion to compensate for tree-growth must be smooth. You also need a female piece that fits around the smooth shank that has a bracket that can be screwed into your beam. This female bracket then has the freedom to slide along the axis of the smooth bolt shank as the tree grows in girth. All parts should be stainless steel as well – others may corrode to failure.

Obviously, the big tree house building companies would disagree with the above opinion, and the ideal is to buy these parts. I'm just offering an alternative for those who do not have a large budget but still want to construct a safe and environmentally-friendly tree house. There is also a chance you will not be able to find hardware that meets the criteria, leaving you with no other choice.

The professional criterion when it comes to fastening your tree house to your tree seems to be "perch, do not pin". I agree whole-heartedly with this principle and any alternative I save above should not contradict this. But not everyone looking to build a tree house is willing to spend tens of thousands of dollars, so, your budget is a primary factor in determining the quality as well as what kind you would build.

In any case, it should be a safe and fun place to accommodate whatever activities you envision. Taking into consideration the damage inflicted on the tree as well as future complications that may arrise such as those mentioned above when planning, is simply the responsible and consider course of action.

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Why Architectural Drafting Is Common in Architectural Design

For architectural design projects, while there is the emphasis on using 3D models and architectural BIM modeling, the time-tested practice of using architectural drafting and 2D technical drawings is still commonplace in the AEC industry. Architectural drafting has evolved from the drawing board to computer-aided design and drafting (CAD) software programs. Drafting practices help to provide architectural construction drawings that include the technical details of architectural, structural and electrical elements required for the construction of a building. To understand the stage at which architectural drafting takes place, the workflow of a building design lifecycle must be considered.

The basic workflow of an architectural design project starts with the architect creating a conceptual plan which is usually modelled into architectural 3D models and rendered as photorealistic images for marketing and presentation to clients and customers.

Once the conceptual design is approved by the client, the design is then progressed into more detail and shared with other parties such as structural and MEP engineers. The way in which the design is progressed for the ‘design development’ phase by an architect lends itself to two options, either to develop a 3D model with more detail and then create subsequent sheets and details using a 3D tool such as Revit or AutoCAD, or as is still commonplace, to develop the concept design in 2D using more traditional methods. From the conceptual plans provided by architects and engineers, a drafter can convert these designs using CAD software programs to create technical drawings.

Architectural drafting is the process of creating technical drawings which include the floor plan, sections, elevations, detailed drawings and other documents in a construction drawing set (CD Set), which are typically required for the construction of a building.

The difference between Architectural Drafting and Modelling

Architectural drafting refers to creating 2D technical drawings and architectural construction drawings which are mainly used by contractors and consultants on site. Architectural 3D modelling refers to creating 3D models and renders of photorealistic images which are mainly used to present the architectural design for marketing purposes and then progressed from there to create the 2D technical drawings, in effect feeling like an extra stage (the 3D modelling element). The main software used for drafting, to create 2D technical drawings is AutoCAD while modellers use Revit and ArchiCAD to create 3D models and rendered images. Architectural draftsmen need to have basic 2D and 3D software knowledge such as AutoCAD and knowledge of technical codes and drafting guidelines specified by organisations such as American National Standards Institute (ANSI), American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME), American Design Drafting Association (ADDA), Public Works Government Services Canada (PWGSC), National Institute of Building Sciences (NIBS), BSI British Standards Institute and Standards Australia Code AS1100. Architectural modellers need to have a deeper understanding of architectural, building and construction concepts and experience with 3D software programs such as Revit and ArchiCAD.

Why Architectural Drafting is still Common in Architectural Design Practices

Architectural 3D models are preferred by architects and designers because they provide a 3D perspective of the conceptual plan of the building; it makes management of project data easier and allows for design changes on the go. However, construction companies that require technical specifications of the architectural project prefer 2D technical drawings and architectural construction drawings because they provide accurate details required for construction, most of the resources involved in construction understand 2D drawings, there are no issues with compatibility of software as compared to when using 3D models and it is a suitable solution to meet the budgetary requirements of a construction project. Some of the reasons why architectural drafting is preferable by several construction companies include:

• Suitable as per construction requirements – In some building projects, 2D technical drawings or architectural CAD drawings are sufficient to complete construction, where additional information that 3D models provide is not required. A construction drawing set (CD set) includes all the floor plans, elevations, sections and detailed drawings required for construction. Technical codes, symbols and other additional information such as the type of material are provided in technical drawings. Therefore, construction companies find 2D technical drawings sufficient to successfully complete construction.

• Availability of technical resources – Not all companies have technical resources to deliver 3D models. While drafting teams are qualified to work on AutoCAD to deliver 2D technical drawings, they may not be qualified to work on Revit to deliver 3D models. In the construction industry, the availability of drafting teams who can provide 2D technical drawings is ample compared to companies that provide 3D modelling services.

• Availability of software – The adoption of new software and practices is gradual and slow in the construction industry. The software used in building projects varies from country to country. Some countries use ArchiCAD and AutoCAD Architecture instead of Revit, therefore leading to the incompatibility of project data. 2D technical drawings in AutoCAD are widely used and compatible making it a preferred option to Revit 3D models.

• Suitable as per cost and budgetary requirements – In most cases, construction companies do not find the need to invest more in 3D models, when drafting solutions provide detailed technical drawings which are sufficient and relevant enough for construction. There is also the added investment in resources that are competent enough to understand and implement architectural 3d models on-site.

While architectural 3D modelling and BIM modelling provide design-related information typically required for architects and designers in the design stage of the building project lifecycle, architectural drafting provides technical drawings that are not just about aesthetics but about high-performance detailing of construction elements. Architectural CAD drawings specifically communicate the design intent and help in the construction of buildings which companies find relevantly sufficient over 3D models. Even as construction companies will need to eventually evolve to combining the use of 2D technical drawings and architectural 3D models until then, the time-tested practice of using architectural drafting and drawing solutions in construction is here to stay.

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How Useful is CAD Software to Engineers and Architects?

The emergence of advanced technology has made people today dependent on machines. Using computers and software, for example, is a very common illustration of this. Computer experts are coming up with more and more software to make more and more jobs easier.

A more specific illustration of this can be found in the modern approach towards engineering and architecture. These days, professionals in these fields use CAD computer software which is a program that allows them to create designs faster, easier and with more accurate measurements. Aside from the convenience that CAD software brings, it also helps put architects and engineers ahead of their competitors. CAD, which can render designs that are two-dimensional or three dimensional, stands for Computer Aided Design and has been in use since 1982.

So how does CAD computer software work? And what does it do exactly to help engineers and architects? The program is actually multifaceted in the sense that there are many ways it can help. To make CAD work will require, however, a careful study of its features and the many ways it can be used. It is rather a complex yet flexible and highly functional program.

This article will not be enough to discuss the various ways that CAD works but pinpointing its advantages could give some very good ideas. One great advantage of CAD computer software is its easy-to-use tools in the creation and alteration of designs. Obviously, this is so much better than the old fashioned way of using a pencil and eraser directly on paper. This method of designing is obviously so much easier and engineers and architects simply have more time to finish other tasks. In other words, high productivity is going to be the main end result of using CAD.

Before the design is actually printed on paper, CAD also allows both the design professional and the client to preview what has been finished so far. Any alterations can be made simply by manipulating the drawing through the use of the software. With CAD, it is so much easier to spot errors because the designs can be rendered exactly as they would be in reality. Hence, modifications can be done even before printing, thus, allowing one to save.

With the tough competition that everyone has to face these days, it is wise to take advantage of new technologies that can help put them ahead in the race. While traditional methods hold a significant part in the history of design, advanced tools such as CAD software should only be welcomed as man’s way of furthering development in a field of expertise that he himself has created long ago.

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