Large construction projects require a plethora of plans, designs, purchase orders, permits, bids and requests for information. They also involve constant communication among builders and a small army of architects, engineers, contractors, suppliers and others.
E-Builder, based in Plantation, has developed cloud-based software for construction program management that makes it simpler for builders and developers to efficiently manage the enormous complexity of major construction projects, and helps reduce costs.
The company’s Web-based system allows its clients — mostly builders and developers of multiple projects — to see and manage every detail of a project. It also permits other players, such as subcontractors and engineers, to view their particular section of a project and immediately communicate with each other via desktop computers, tablets or smartphones.
“We’re using the Internet to improve the construction process,” said Ron Antevy, e-Builder’s president and CEO, a civil engineer who runs the company with his brother, co-founder Jon Antevy, an architect and expert in construction program management. The brothers grew up in a family of construction contractors and were well aware of the problems facing the sector.
“E-Builder helps builders and developers manage their projects,” Ron said. “We provide accountability and transparency and can avoid cost overruns,” he added. The company says its system — which does away with the heaps of paper plans and documents typically needed in construction projects — can save clients 1 percent to 4 percent on costs (and sometimes more), a critical selling point for builders with multi-million dollar projects in an industry plagued by cost overruns.
E-Builder Enterprise, the company’s main product, creates an online, collaborative environment for each project team, providing a complete database of all project information. It can identify costly bottlenecks and cost overruns and provides visibility of all priority items, such as deadlines, requests for information, inspections, equipment problems.
Many construction-related documents today are created virtually and can be easily entered into the e-Builder site for each client. Any paper documents are scanned and entered into the system.
“Construction has so many moving parts,” Ron said. “Specifications need to be changed, questions need to be answered and any delays can increase costs … we can track this, we can connect all these things with e-Builder.”
An e-Builder client who manages 20 projects can log on to a special website and will see an initial dashboard listing all the projects, workflow, critical and pending items, a calendar of upcoming event/deadlines and other information. Other pages provide an overview of all pending and completed work, as well as sums budgeted and spent for each project in real time. The developer can focus on any individual project and drill down for details on anything from bidding to permits to changes in work plans.
Working with paper documents is cumbersome. These documents can get lost and information is often out of date by the time it’s available, Ron said. “If an executive has to meet with the board and report on how multiple projects are progressing, it could take a month to get the information. With e-Builder, the data is immediately available.”
In addition, bidding requires dozens of multi-page sets of documents that have to be copied and sent out. With its virtual system, these packets can be emailed, saving on copying costs and courier fees.
One example of how e-Builder increased efficiency was on construction of the Staples Center Arena in Los Angeles, Jon Antevy said. “The arena builders had about 1,000 requests for information. They were using faxes and were going crazy. It took them 21 days to get a response to their questions. We brought that down to 6.5 days,” saving them a lot of money.
In 1994 Jon, who was always interested in “gadgets and tech,” made a connection between the construction industry and the Internet, which at that time was just becoming popular. This idea led to e-Builder, which he set up in 1995.
Jon had earned his degree in architecture, worked for several companies as a pre-construction service specialist and decided to get a master’s degree in construction management, focusing on multimedia and Internet applications. He turned his master’s thesis at the University of Florida into a business plan.
Jon wanted to solve two issues: Getting all the information generated on a project — contracts, documents, plans — into one place and finding a way to more efficiently handle the changes, questions and other problems that always occur on a project. He realized this could be done by putting all the project information on a website so that everyone involved could collaborate online.
“At the time, nobody knew what I was talking about,” Jon said. “People didn’t know much about the Internet or websites.”
Jon saw an article in ENR Magazine, an influential publication for the construction, building and engineering sectors, about another Florida company that had developed a website that was essentially an online brochure. He called the writer and told him about e-Builder. Jon’s parents gave him some money to travel to New York City for the magazine interview, and the subsequent article sparked some interest among construction companies.
Jon started promoting his idea by traveling around the country, meeting with construction groups and talking about the Internet’s potential for the industry.
E-Builder’s first client arrived in 1996. Executives at the Washington Urban Sanitary Commission in Baltimore heard one of Jon’s presentations and used the software on a wastewater treatment plant project. “The commission is still our client,” Jon said.
For the first years, Jon worked hard to sign up more customers. “I did zero advertising. I did more presentations and one trade show – with a single tabletop,” he said. “It was all word of mouth.”
Ron Antevy, who at the time was an executive at Waste Management, joined his brother at e-Builder in 1998. “I sell and Ron manages.”
E-Builder was an early adapter of cloud computing, or outsourced servers. “We got the idea of using AT&T servers from Walmart soon after we got started,” Jon said.
In 2000, e-Builder sold McGraw-Hill, the owner of ENR, a minority share in the company.
Today, e-Builder has about 300 clients in the United State and overseas. Most are what Ron calls “serial builders,” local or state governments, health and educational systems that simultaneously manage multiple projects in new construction, upgrades, expansion and repair work. Some 30,000 users access e-Builder sites each month, and e-Builder customers currently are managing $125 billion in projects.
The company had revenue of more than $20 million last year and has zero debt, Ron said. It logged revenue growth of 40 percent per year between 2010 and 2012 and is expecting a 35 percent increase this year. It has about 100 employees and expects to add more than 20 percent to its workforce each year.
One of e-Builder’s clients is Phoenix-based Banner Health, a large, nonprofit healthcare system with operations in seven states that has worked with the Florida firm for over six years.
“We were running a multi-billion dollar construction program with spreadsheets,” said Kip Edwards, Banner’s vice president of development and construction. “We didn’t have a good project management system in place and our priority was to get one.” Banner currently has a program covering over 200 small and large projects.
Banner chose e-Builder after reviewing more than a dozen companies. “They had the right combination of capacity and sophistication,” Edwards said.
“Before, we had massive distributions of giant drawings on paper,” Edwards said. “Three-inch thick stacks of paper would move all over the country for me to sign. People make changes in the project, have questions. With e-Builder, I can oversee 200 projects, route work electronically, track movements and approve it all online. ”