How industry collaboration shaped our software
Today, I want to tell you how industry collaboration made AppliCad Software the strongest tool in the roofing and cladding software market. In our 30 years of software development for the roofing and cladding industry, we have been challenged by many clients who have come to us and asked if we could solve a particular problem for them, or make a specific task quicker, easier or both. Many of the ideas have been quite fanciful, but every single suggestion has impacted our thinking and adjusted our view of what is possible.
When I look back, the whole reason we are in this business is not that we woke up one morning and said ‘Let’s make software for roofing!’ No, the start was way more subtle than that. We had a very competent 3D CAD program that was looking for problems to solve – all we had to do was match a problem with a solution. It all started when I was asked by a sales guy if we could extract areas from a 3D model of the roof shape that we created in the CAD program. “Of course, we can!” “Can you print it?” “Yes!”, which wasn’t precisely right then, as we had yet to write routines to extract the roof area from the model and then print a report in a form that was useful.
I was promised that if we could create such a report (and we did), the customer would invest in 12 copies of our software (which they didn’t!). This sounds a bit rough, but the fact is they invested in two licenses of software and to this day, the two estimators still do all the work for the 12 sales reps. We count this as a great success, and that is what got us started in the roofing and cladding industry, where we now have our software in 148 countries.
I would be delighted to say that every single one of these industry requests has been a raging success, but that is not true. Many people invest in software hoping for magic to happen – but it doesn’t. The initial effort to implement new technology is often not understood, and buyer’s remorse kicks in. We keep track of the results of our customers’ initiatives and way too many people install software, do NOT do any modules of the recommended training course (even though it is provided for free as part of the initial investment) and then the software just sits on the PC as a short cut button, lost among the 100’s of other shortcuts on the users’ desktop.
Technology that works for your business must be adequately implemented, and useful technology that has deep functionality for advancing a business is usually more than a dinky app for your cell phone. Our software effectively replaces about five other applications that you might consider. A program that does the work of five other programs deserves to be understood as then, and only then, does the business get the full benefit. Develop an implementation plan and then execute the plan. If you have no clue about where to start, contact us, and we will guide you. After so many years, we have a few tips we can share.
Just like those who shared their ideas with us – like the guys who wanted a roof area report that started all of this, there have been some fantastic developments, unique to us that came about just because a problem was identified and questions asked about ‘how can we solve this’?
An early break-through development happened when we collaborated with the research team at Bluescope Steel under the leadership of a visionary scientist, the late Graeme Stark. Graeme and his team asked if we could figure out a way to integrate an idea they had for reducing waste on steel roofing, thus making steel more competitive in the market place. The challenge was to reduce the typical waste on a steel roof system from about 12-15% to less than 5%. This was when Linear Nesting and Angle Cut were born. This groundbreaking process looked at every piece of metal on the roof, compared it with every other piece and wherever a cut matched another piece, they were ‘nested’ – one cut gave us two panels and zero waste.
Then a machine was designed and built to take the cutting list for the whole job, cut and mark the panels as they came out of the machine and sorted into bundles. This was achieved over 15 years ago and turns out job lots all day, every day with an average waste of less than 2%. Job done.
Another collaboration was when a truss design company saw that we developed a 3D model of a roof to extract roof cover material lists and labour costs and they then remodelled the same roof to design the truss frame – one of us was doing the same job all over again each time. What a waste of effort! So, we developed a method to exchange the roof geometry between systems that recognized roof features such as the ridges, hips and valleys and labelled them as such. The Roof Exchange Format (RXF) was born. Various subsets of this have been devised, and instead of a regular text file, an XML format variation (eXtensible Markup Language) of our RXF file was developed that has become the default standard for data exchange between many involved in the roofing and cladding industry. The XML file provides for additional information such as data source and address etc.
Another collaboration we were involved in that has had such a great impact on the roofing industry was with Eagleview Technologies. I and the publisher of Roofer’s Coffeeshop, Vicki Sharples, met with a couple of visionary entrepreneurs in a meeting room at Bally’s Hotel in Las Vegas to discuss an idea they had to use aerial imagery from satellites to develop a roof estimate for reroofing and the storm chasers. That seemed like a great idea, and many challenges were discussed and suggestions made. The rest, as they say, is history. Eagleview has made a huge difference to the roofing and insurance market with their quantity reports, and they even produce an RXF and an XML file format so that the model data they create can be used by advanced programs such as AppliCad.
Our collaborations continue with the latest project integrating 3D building model data into our program from a company called Hover. The Hover process requires a consumer to take a few pictures around their property and submit those via the Hover portal for them to process into a 3D representation of the structure so that advanced programs such as AppliCad can the apply their magic to generate precise material and labour take-offs and detailed client quotations and sales orders. The 3D model data is in the XML format and imports a complete and accurate 3D model into our program instantly.
Further examples of how collaboration benefits the industry and makes roofers more competitive and reduces prices for the consumer is the recently launched roll forming machine from New Tech Machinery (NTM). The NTM Control System allows AppliCad to model a roof from architects plans, or import 3D model data from Eagleview or Hover as an XML file; generate a panel layout on the roof model and taking account of all the installation allowances, create a cutting list that may be input directly to the NTM controller removing transcription errors and increasing efficiency.
All these processes enable our customers to improve efficiency, reduce errors and improve their profit margins while still delivering a better, more cost-effective product to their retail customers. It all comes from people getting together to work on finding mutually beneficial solutions to improve the way things are done – constant process improvement through collaboration – where 1+1=3!
Do you have a problem you need to solve in roofing and cladding estimation? Contact me, and we will see what we can make happen together!
Ray Smith, Founder and CEO AppliCad Software