What is the Actual Return on Investment for Builterra?

Over the last year, we have been selling Builterra into both public and private Civil engineering groups throughout Canada and the USA.  No matter the region or group involved, the Return on Investment (ROI) involves several groups of people all working on the same projects.  The ROI seems hard to fathom when inspectors are asked use mobile technology for the first time, CAD people are asked to do more and be more meticulous in their design modeling standards and bid preparation staff are looking to make a database perform like a word processor.  Not unlike the Building Information Model (BIM) movement, the value of Builterra is found when all users are aware of the part they play in the digital workflow and benefits are found throughout the organization.

For the purposes of this ROI statement, let’s assume that each group has been fully trained, understands their specific role, can perform the tasks asked of them with an understanding that they can no longer work as an independent part of an inherently collaborative process.

Builterra is designed to work independently from a macro level in four (4) distinct categories:

  • Design Quantity Takeoff and Cost Estimating
  • Bid Preparation and Cost Estimating
  • Field Inspection and Contract Quantity Progress Tracking
  • Progress Tracking and Progress Payment Certification

Builterra “Pilot Projects” usually happen in one or more of these major workflow categories.  The ROI for each workflow category is plainly listed for those looking to see where Builterra can help. Each one will plainly outline where Builterra SAVES TIME, MAKES MONEY and LOWERS RISK on any one project.

Design Quantity Takeoff and Cost Estimating

  1. CAD Quantities – Design Connect for AutoCAD can capture and upload 20% to 60% of the bid items for ANY size project is under 30 minutes. Pipe networks, granular and pavement areas, watermain appurtenances, landscape, electrical and roadway curbing, fencing and line paint are just some of the easy object types that can be used by design connect to automate the bid item population.  Manual takeoff may take hours if not days based on every design stage estimate.  For the ROI let’s suggest 8hrs takeoff vs Real-time scan using Builterra.
  2. CAD Design Cost Estimating – Having design Connect accurately quantify the design elements quickly is valuable. Having it then query costs in YOUR database for each item means that the designer can make informed decisions about Cost to Build rather than just Design considerations.  Private and Public-Sector owners can be informed throughout the design process regarding costs based on requests made during design.  What’s the ACTUAL cost difference of the earthworks & lot servicing (sewer & water) if we graded the road and lots using Option A? vs Option B?  This is what matters to an owner paying the bills.  How much is this ability worth to you as a consultant? For the ROI let’s suggest 4hrs estimating per takeoff vs Real-time scan using Builterra.
  3. CAD Quantity Risk Management – CAD design in 2018 should be 100% as far as counting and standardization. If CAD standards enable Design Connect counting, then quantity takeoffs are 100% accurate vs manual counting.  Missed a Manhole? Headwall? 1050mm dia Pipe? Section of Erosion Fence? Maybe a temp access road?  So far with 5 missing items, we are over $30,000 in change orders if not captured after bid was prepared.  For the ROI let’s suggest 2hrs checking per takeoff vs Real-time scan using Builterra.

Bid Preparation & Cost Estimating

  1. Standardizing Bid Preparation Items and Specs – like any other corporate initiative, standardization is a good thing, but implementation of a new standard way of doing things means that people have to change. Change is tough and looking beyond your own role in the process makes standardizing seem counter-productive at first.  Having the same bid items with unique item codes and descriptions makes a large group overall more productive when everyone finally conforms to a new system.  At first, bid preparation may seem slower than using Excel copies of an old project, but as the user learns to navigate the system and make the catalog their own, they will see that putting the bid item list together is as productive as excel.  The accelerator with Builterra is the ability to link specifications and documents to individual items in the bid list.  This is where, manual compilation of specific specifications falls down when competing with a database entry linked to the spec and documents. Whatever time you spend preparing specifications and details to match the bid items is now reduced to minutes.  For the ROI, let’s suggest it takes between 6 and 8 hrs to create a tender bid list using Builterra and Excel respectively.  For traditional methods add 2hrs to check table and item enumeration formatting, gather specs & details, print out the bid to paper and courier to bidders.  This is a lot more than 2 hours but maybe you will have to print it even if Builterra is used.  Again, the ROI in Builterra is found in all the details of bid preparation and streamlining the process of building a bid items list, auto-attaching specs and details, digitally packaging the supporting documents is huge in a busy firm or municipal procurement department.
  2. Cost Estimating – as the bid list gets generated, real-time comparison of past unit prices and project related properties are performed instantly. There is no possible way a human doing past project research on costs could compete with a Builterra Cost Estimate Query.  Whatever time you spend preparing cost estimating is now reduced to minutes.  For the ROI let’s suggest 4hrs cost estimating per bid vs Real-time scan using Builterra.
  3. Bid Analysis – upon receiving bids from contractors, you will need to compare them section by section, item by item. Using Builterra, bids are submitted as Excel (no special software required by contractor) and unit pricing is fully captured for future cost estimating.  Bids costs are compared instantly and results exported to excel.  This task is common for all owners or engineers doing the bid analysis, what would take hours is not in minutes without errors.  Unit pricing from all are also not submitted into the Builterra system.  This alone, means summer students doing historic cost entry is now history at your firm or department.  For the ROI let’s suggest 2hrs to create a combined bid pricing spreadsheet, vs Real-time scan using Builterra.

Field Inspection & Contract Quantity Progress Tracking

  1. Mobile Inspection Data & Photos – when it comes to the ROI using a mobile device to collect pictures of project construction there is no argument. Just the process of snapping pictures and sending it to the Builterra servers directly will save inspectors time who are still downloading images from a camera/phone to a PC hard drives manually, then saving in a file-based folder system with zero meta-data.  Adding meta-data like user captions and other details is a huge bonus to any images collected.  Adding geolocation and additional image markups makes each image valuable years down the road when you need to understand “what happened” during construction you were managing the inspection work.  Some may not like that it takes a few extra seconds/minutes (vs a pen and notepad) to add this extra data during the observation stage, but the impact to the process to generate a report(s), summarize quantities for payment and even search photos years later is undeniable when it comes to time savings and value of the data with attached details and captions.  If you have to download images each day to a PC Hard-drive/Server, then file it, this might take 15min of your day.  Over a 20 day month, this means just organizing the images takes 5 hours a month, Builterra does it in real-time.
  2. Inspection Reporting – as discussed, some may think that the mobile data collection is not as fast as a pen w a field book. Depending on your skills with a mobile device, you might be right!  Practice does make perfect and mobile technology is here to stay in the modern world. The major benefit of digital data collection is the ability to transmit small bits a data and images from inexpensive tablets connected to the cellular or wifi networks found everywhere.  This data is saved under the online Builterra project and can be accessed by internal staff or external consultants 24/7 once it’s been submitted.  In real-time, viewing data and images, downloading reports and making decisions in real-time are possible while the staff are still onsite.  Just monitoring the data collection from the office means that a project manager can coordinate efforts in the field and communicate with owners.  This is priceless if an owner is on the phone looking for answers and you can provide them with a few clicks using the web portal.  However, sticking with the ROI theme, we can state that generating a single daily progress report manually takes between 15min and 1hr depending on number of details and photos.  Builterra does it in real-time – 0 seconds.  If you have to create a single daily report every day for 20 days a month, you will save between 5-20 hrs per month in just reporting time.
  3. Contract Quantity Tracking – the number one value of Builterra over every other mobile inspection app on the market is it’s inherent ability to access awarded contract bid items for progress payment reporting. This real-time access to the contract quantity, the amount built to-date and the amount observed or inspected make Builterra mobile app invaluable to field staff monitoring progress.  As discussed previously, adding item quantities to a field book would mean that the inspector has a photographic memory and can memorize every pay item in the contract, what the original quantity approved was and if they are over the allocated materials being brought in.  Possible?  Mobile and Web technology connected to an integrated database means that this is what computers are good at.  If the inspector can provide the proper item quantities, and submit them throughout the day using an app, knowing overall quantities and knowing when a change order might be required, this is a huge benefit to everyone working on the project.  From an ROI perspective, let’s suggest that quantities are transcribed from field book to Excel at end of day, week, month…this might take anywhere from 15min to 1 hour per day depending on how many hands it goes through.  Builterra is real-time, zero effort or at best equal to adding it to a notepad.  This means over 20 days, savings of between 5hrs and 20 hrs per month.  Starting to see a trend in digital workflow efficiency?  Not to mention, the poor project manager held hostage by poor information from the field, and having to communicate change orders and delays back to the owner.  How much time is this saving? Or is the value in keeping a client happy and getting paid for your consulting work? You decide.

Progress Tracking and Progress Payment Certification

  1. Progress Dashboard – communication from field to office is sometimes tough when the inspector rarely comes to office during the busy season. Quantities inspected each day are important bits of information that project managers rely on to track dollars spent vs dollars yet to be spent.  Overage on certain bid sections, completion of certain items before the contract budget is spent on those items means money can be re-routed elsewhere.  As data flows on one or more projects, project managers and contract administrators need good solid data to manage progress and the client owner.  This simple concept of displaying bid section progress metrics means that each day or week, decisions can be made without calling people or waiting on reports done the old fashion way.  The ROI on progress tracking might be simply making decisions faster and more informed.  What is that equate to each day during a fast paced project lifecycle?  Let’s estimate 30min to 2hrs per day calling inspectors about various project progress statuses? Saving project managers between 10hrs and 40hrs a month…huge ROI just for digitally tracking the quantities throughout the day.
  2. Progress on Each Bid Section & Each Item – ever try and drill into a specific bid item to see the past quantities and current period quantities and extended payment totals? Excel does not have an ability to look at multiple monthly spreadsheets and detect errors, mis-matches and other data entry bugs that haunt the monthly quantity carry overs from past periods.  It’s not a database and no amounting of scripting will save you if the wires get crossed.  How about looking at a single item quantity number and understanding how it came to be that number?  Who collected that data, when and where there any approvals in place from the contractor or contract administrator in charge?  Excel won’t do this for you.  This is a huge ROI for those asking questions months or years down the road at payments made or owed to a contractor.  This could simply save you the research time each month, estimate 15 min per progress certificate, totaling 5hrs a month just checking numbers with daily reports. Or it could be that the contractor is looking to be paid for 10,000 cu/m of environmentally impacted cut material at $80 per cu/m extra and on top of the agreed contract amount because the inspector didn’t record properly, didn’t get quantities approved by the contractor at the time and the information was late getting to the project manager preparing the month end totals.  Calling an owner about an $80,000 unaccounted for cost extra (real or not) is not going to get you another project
  3. Progress Certification – generating the month end quantity details report is a painful exercise for project managers or the admin who have to transcribe field notes, excel or word documents at the end of each month. This is in some firms an entire position(s) at a consulting firm.  What if the number is incorrect? What if you need to ask someone about a quantity that looks “weird”, but it’s late in the month and the reports are just being compiled now?  What about when the quantity details are submitted and they don’t match the contractor expectation or their progress tracking?  Delays cost money, contractors not getting paid due to delayed reporting or conflicts causes everyone involved pain each month.  Then the month’s run into each other and more time is lost…it’s a cycle that is totally managed with Builterra.  Whatever time and money or value you put on streamlining the Progress Payment Details reporting, now you can save it.  The ROI on this could be a full time person doing data entry – maybe $5K a month, or maybe it’s 1hr per day for a Project Manager?  Saving 20hrs a month just on progress quantity details reporting and payment certification.


Based on the 4 main digital categories, each having at minimum 3 separate workflows, totaling 12 full ROI scenarios, a fully implemented Builterra has a huge ROI on the organization – big or small.

Summary of ROI

Leveling Up Your Standard Bid Item List


Over the last year we have been doing many onsite meetings showing how our Builterra cloud and mobile platform manages the data workflow from design take-offs to progress payment reporting.  Part of the process involves the creation of a standardized Bid Item Catalog to streamline bid table preparation and cost estimating.  We normally discuss the value of having enhanced bid item properties to enable very accurate cost estimating.  Builterra allows the user to enhance the standardized bid item properties (like a GIS system) to allow designers to connect directly with the design model object or CAD Entity and streamline quantity extraction direct to the bid item list.

This all sounds wonderful in the perfect world of Building Information Modeling (BIM) and Geographic Information Systems (GIS) asset management.  Builterra was designed from the ground up to handle this requirement, hence bridging the gap between BIM and GIS during contract administration and project delivery.

As we grow and meet new engineers and owners, we get to understand how they are currently building their bids and tenders, specifically for infrastructure (Road, Sewer, Water) projects from Halifax to Vancouver. Recently, we have been meeting new customers in the USA, and it turns out that they do the exact same process as the civil engineers and public/private owners do here in Canada! From land development to municipal infrastructure to utility construction, unit-based bid lists and cost estimating from submitted construction companies is a process no different south of the border.


the Technology Gap between design and as-built GIS data submission. This is what we call the “contract administration” process at civil engineering firms throughout the US and Canada.

“BIM-Like” Object Data Enhancement for AutoCAD 2D-3D Entities

As discussed, part of the process of implementation requires us here at Builterra to build standard bid item catalogs for both private and public clients.  This implementation process requires us to have the client send us historic master bid lists or old projects that we can glean for past item information.  Land development engineers really understand the concept of BIM and GIS and are open to tweaking their historic item lists to ease the data extraction process using our Builterra Design Connect extension for AutoCAD Civil 3D.  The “Property Set” styles feature now available in AutoCAD Civil 3D 2017/2018 makes adding enhanced properties to any AutoCAD entity simple and easy for any user.  It seems that Autodesk finally understood that the powerful AutoCAD Map 3D class definition workflow was just too much for the average firm to manage or implement.

From first glance, it seems like we are all set and can finally bring enhanced intelligence to the CAD objects designers create all day long.  No longer held hostage by layering alone, we can associate true custom properties to any 2D or 3D object.  Even the Autodesk Navisworks Manage product can list attached object properties for 3D visual inspection and information display.

Typical DOT style bid list showing item code, description, unit type and average unit pricing. Cost Estimates are based on the unique item code, and possibly a project location.

Challenge: Integrating BIM Workflow to Legacy Bid Item Lists

For public owners, like State, County, City and Towns, they already have standard bid item catalogs and 20 years of legacy data to support cost estimating and bid preparation.  This is a workflow where Excel is the tool of choice and standard lists are reviewed and released to the engineers who need them for bid preparation.  The standardized bid item consists of just three (3) properties: Unique Item Code, Description and Unit Type.

The lists are large and, in most cases, have tens of entries for what we in the BIM world could consider the same object.  If you take a typical precast sewer pipe, we can envision over 10 diameters, at least 3 material types, 4 class types as a minimum that would require over 120 unique items to allow for accurate bidding and cost estimating.  This does not even cover, depth of pipe range, bedding type, or if it’s in rock or not.  You see where we are going with this conversation?

Bottom line here is that upon review of every published State DOT Bid List, the current bid list(s) posted online do not support the BIM philosophy beyond design for the sole purpose of bid preparation and accurate cost estimating.

Introducing Bid Item Catalog “Levels”

In keeping with the BIM concepts and guidelines that outline “Level” requirements for real value in BIM construction management and integrated project delivery, we need a similar terminology for our industry and technology niche in the infrastructure project delivery world.

Here at Builterra, we create a lot of standard catalogs and bid templates for every kind of client.  We see a lot of variation in standards.  From very standardized text-based lists like a State DOT, to weird and wonderful excel files from contractors, to “PDF Bid Tabs from the last 4 jobs we did”, we get to help organize this so our clients can start day 1 with bid preparation.

This is our internal method of classifying a list of bid items, so we can deliver consistently for every client.

Level 1 Catalog

As discussed, most of our public-sector clients fall into this category.  Years of bid data with unique item codes, descriptions and unit type.  This is also where all the Builterra competition falls into.  Cost estimating is derived from item code search or key description matching.  Builterra had to step back and deliver a “Level 1” bid preparation system to accommodate this large market sector.  With real-time search, drag n drop into any user defined pay item section table, this is an easy way to get into standardized bid preparation.

This is a Level 1 Bid list from CalTrans. This is a good example where itemcode is unique, the description varies based on changing diameter, material and class. Depending on how many item properties there are, an individual item can have over 100+ minor variations all with a unique item code.

Level 2 Catalog

This is a slightly enhanced bid item catalog allows for additional item properties for the purposes of design quantity takeoffs and enhanced cost estimating.  This catalog design would in fact support a workflow from CAD or model-based design to first populate the enhanced item properties, then search for the unique item code and description.  Every DOT catalog could be augmented with Level 2 bid item properties to support data extraction from drawings.  The item code and description are extracted from the standard catalog based on object property search.  Therefore, if item code is found based on design object property search, then cost estimating from historic data can be achieved just like the Level 1 system.

This is the CalTrans Bid List imported into Builterra Standard Catalog. Note that by adding the actual Diameter, Material and Class properties to the Section 65: Concrete Pipe catalog section table, we can now use this catalog for Level 3 costs estimating and Level 4 quantity takeoff using the Builterra Design Connect extension for AutoCAD Civil3D.

Level 3 Catalog

This is a full-blown parameter-based Catalog framework with unique bid item properties which also has Item Code and Description but does not depend on them for building a complex description.  The description of the item can be created solely based on the user defined item property selection.  As in our example above, that same precast pipe with over 120 combinations can come down to a single line item in the catalog.  The changing design parameters of the item result in the item description being written using user defined parameter values and displayed in the project bid list looking like a human wrote it.  In Builterra system this is a property in the Pay Item Table definition called the “Long Description”. The Long Description looks a lot like AutoCAD Civil3D style editor, where the item description is exclusively built from embedded property attributes within a common string.

This is a specific Pay Item Table Definition that would allow the bid description to be written directly from design object properties combined with any user defined data entry. This enables the engineer to have maximum flexibility for bid item cost estimating and search. This framework supports BIM data models or GIS Data export equally without any changes to the Builterra platform.

Level 4 Catalog

Eventually, this is where we need to be to leverage BIM for Infrastructure when it comes to bid preparation and cost estimating.  At this level, both BIM and GIS workflows can be supported given that the bid items are “parameterized”, bid section tables are created and assigned to CAD objects and layers and automated quantity takeoff is a supported workflow in the design group.

In fact, based on either object design properties, attached property set data, block attributes, or any other available object property, we can literally build the “description” of the bid item from design drawings and models.  Builterra was design for this Level of Catalog over 4 years ago in order to handle the industry movement to BIM and eventual submission of constructed items to GIS asset management.  It’s not by coincidence that Builterra can do this.  The problem with introducing a Level 4 concept into a Level 1 client is that they might not even be aware of BIM or the benefits of model-based design.

AutoCAD Civil 3D is connected to the Builterra Project Bid using Builterra Design Connect, Items are automatically selected using pre-configured object-layer filters, object properties are used to write the item description automatically. Cost Estimating is performed on historic data with same item properties like diameter, material and class.


Thanks for sticking with me during this technical write up.  It’s pretty dry stuff when we discuss BIM for Infrastructure without any rendered images and beautiful 3D animations.  Builterra was built to bridge this gap between design and as-built GIS.  Providing a great way to prepare bids and tenders, inspect awarded bid items and produce progress reports and certificates was a solution that contract administration staff love.  Connecting those same bid items with design objects means that data created in model-based design software has a new destination greater than a roll of drawings or a 3D clash detection model.

We have truly integrated aspects of the project and contract management currently performed with disconnected Excel files and made into a single cloud-based database that handles any kind of project type or size.  The bid preparation piece of the puzzle needs to be discussed and resolved if we are ever to consider BIM for civil infrastructure processes beyond design.  I hope that this short paper has introduced you to the challenge and made you aware of the possible solutions using the Builterra Platform.

Please email me directly at jlyons@builterra.com if you would like to discuss how Builterra can help your organization standardize its contract administration processes.



  • Quantity Take-offs
  • Real-time Cost Estimating
  • Bid Preparation
  • Bid Analysis
  • Bid Awarding
  • Mobile Field Inspection
  • Progress Reporting
  • Payment Certification
  • CAD Integration
  • BIM Support


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