The first commercial spreadsheets, called VisiCalc, came about in 1978 on an Apple II computer. A huge improvement from number mapping on a blackboard, VisiCalc allowed professionals to manipulate and organize numbers based on underlying formulas. The 1980s brought Lotus 1-2-3 onto the scene with basic database options and faster computing, referencing and graphing integration. In the early 1990s, Microsoft Excel finally overtook Lotus and has since been the preferred spreadsheet application.
When the only alternative was a piece of grid paper, the ability to reference and calculate quantity, cost and item cells in spreadsheets soon became invaluable to estimators and other construction professionals. The proliferation of the Internet and PCs in the construction workplace introduced a range of technology solutions in the 2000s, including all the functionalities of spreadsheets along with dynamic, real-time collaboration and imaging capabilities.
However, more than 52 percent of commercial construction companies still use static Excel spreadsheets to transfer data between processes and departments, according to the 2012 Construction Technology Integration Report. The main reasons for resisting newer, better technologies include convenience, efficiency and fear of the unknown.
The Convenience of Spreadsheets
Being one of the longest surviving computer applications—next to notepads and web browsers—spreadsheet applications are programs familiar to all generations of employees. Additionally, historical estimates, budgeting projections and bid project distribution lists produced before modern day construction management, accounting and estimating software often are archived in spreadsheet files. Plus, spreadsheet programs are almost always pre-installed on staff computers, making them incrementally “free” for employees to use.
The Efficiency of Spreadsheets
Because employees typically are comfortable with spreadsheets, they don’t require extensive training. The exact opposite can be said for trying to introduce new solutions such as estimating or bid software. Perceived cost and implementation time of new technology often outweighs the future cost savings.
The Fear of Anything but Spreadsheets
Spreadsheets are predictable, mainly because they are static repositories of information that can’t be touched by a cloud service provider or tapped into by any other solution. Their old-school reliability has become a safe zone where anything outside of a spreadsheet is corruptible and shareable beyond control. Most construction software packages look nothing like…