Over the past decade the business model of software companies providing information systems to construction-related businesses has evolved significantly. Traditionally, implementing a comprehensive software system has been a service-intensive task, requiring significant accounting, technical and management experience on the part of the provider, and a serious commitment of both time and money on the part of the client. Often contractors had a close and long-term business relationship with a local provider of software and various training, support, and IT services. These relationships were critical to the success of the implementation and ongoing support of the software systems.

Now that this market has stabilized, and the technology matured, some software companies have attempted to take over the provision of these services and support, often outsourcing these services to foreign countries. This tactic has met with mixed success, since their employees were seldom equipped with the necessary communications, industry knowledge and technical skills. Recently, flush with cash and short on new customers, software companies decided that the best way to stabilize and increase their market share would be by acquisition. No company has more aggressively pursued this strategy than Viewpoint, a leading construction software vendor in Portland, Oregon.

One of Viewpoint’s early acquisitions was Construction Imaging Systems (CIS), a provider of document management, invoice routing, and other systems to hundreds of construction companies. While at first CIS customers hoped for improvements in software and support from Viewpoint, it wasn’t long before Viewpoint decided to “sunset” this program. Customers were left with the choice of continuing to use an unsupported system with no updates, and purchasing expensive new software from Viewpoint to replace their CIS system. Several other companies acquired by Viewpoint met similar fates.

More recent acquisitions by Viewpoint included Dexter-Chaney and Maxwell Systems, two of Viewpoint’s most significant competitors. Again, customers hoped that Viewpoint would provide additional features and better support for their existing systems, but soon it became clear that this was not their intent at all. Customers using Maxwell’s American Contractor package were told that their system would no longer be supported, but that they would qualify for “a special deal” on a much more expensive system.

Then, customers using Maxwell’s Management Suite, a comprehensive and high-end system with a large customer base, were told that this product is also going to be discontinued, but that they too would qualify for a “special deal” on more expensive software, along with (costly) assistance in the tremendous task of implementing the new system and providing training for dozens of employees who were perfectly content with their existing system.

Now that Viewpoint is part of https://www.trimble.com/ , the long-term future of the Dexter-Chaney software, and Maxwell ProContractor, is unclear. For the time being, however, these programs continue to be supported.

It would not have been that difficult for Viewpoint to continue maintaining their existing systems for years to come, instead of implementing a policy of “forced obsolescence.” Customers could then move to more sophisticated platforms at their own pace; both Sage and Infor (Viewpoint’s biggest competitors) seem to have taken that route. Both Infor and Sage now offer upgrade paths to cloud-based systems, as well as enhancements and support for their existing product lines.

After the Trimble acquisition, most large/mid-sized construction-related businesses will be using software from one of three companies: Trimble (Viewpoint, ProContractor, etc.); Sage (Timberline, MasterBuilder, MAS*90, etc.); or Infor (Starbuilder, TCM, Infor/Construction, etc.). Smaller companies will continue to use Intuit (Quickbooks), or one of the newer general purpose accounting systems. A few outliers, like Bluegrass, Accu-build, Foundation, and others, mostly small, one-product family-owned companies, may find it difficult to compete, and may be hoping to sell their company to one of their much larger competitors.

At D. Miller Associates, we believe that as long as your software system meets your needs, and is built around a technically viable platform like SQL/Server, no one should force you into moving your company to a new software system.