In the past, it was hard to convince the seasoned remodeler that he would need to embrace computer technology in order to survive. “I'm a hammer & nails kind of guy” and “I do just fine with my books and my ‘stick-method' of writing estimates and contracts” were some of the things we heard. Our responses were a little more to the point: Do you want to stay in business? Do you want to make a profit? We believe if you don't use computer technology you will soon work for someone who does.

What Do We Have? The computer industry has greatly evolved. Hardware and software are incredibly sophisticated. We have desktop computers, laptops, handhelds, and pocket PCs. E-mail communication has made huge strides; video e-mail and Blackberrys are showing up at companies of all sizes As software becomes more sophisticated, more business functions are computerized. This means small companies who make the investment of money and time can compete with the big guys. Computers have created an atmosphere of efficiency. You can now depend on them to help you save time and focus on other areas of the company.

Marketing. Advances in e-mail and database management mean your sales leads are no longer written on a file card and stuffed in your pocket. They are instead captured and archived for future sales efforts and marketing campaigns. Consistent database marketing does a lot to end “feast or famine” sales volume.

Estimating. Estimating software combined with current cost databases can knock out estimates in one-third of the time it once took. Also, once an estimate is created with the software, less time is required for revisions. By using estimate templates, you can take a past estimate or contract and keep it for future use. Assemblies with minor changes can be developed very quickly.

Design. Numerous software programs meet a wide range of needs and skill levels. Sophisticated architectural drawing programs will interface with estimating programs to create estimates and material lists. Simple programs such as 3D Home let you show before and after sketches of the project, making it easy for the customer to understand the process. Once the customer can visualize the project, you have something tangible to sell.

Research. The Internet provides an enormous, sometimes overwhelming, amount of information about products, pricing, training, and trends. Many chat rooms have sprung up over the past few years. Here, you can exchange ideas and seek advice from remodelers with the same interests and focus.

Production. One of the most exciting areas of innovation is outside of the traditional office. The lead carpenter can now keep in touch with his crew on site and off, one-on-one or conferencing with several workers at the same time. Through Nextel and camera phones, the lead can make critical decisions in a demanding environment. Progress can be documented electronically so that office staff and management are aware of project progress and problems.

Accounting. Use an accounting software package and you will rarely have a financial surprise. Integrating several software programs and databases gives you a daily read on expenses for comparison with estimated costs. A simple job cost report can be run; this was a tedious and sometimes overwhelming task in the past. A draw schedule is easy to develop, maintain, and enforce.

What's Ahead? The electronic office is here to stay. Schedules will be more flexible, and the traditional office will have a new look. Telecommuting will be more easily accomplished and effective as the speed and security of electronic data moving through the Internet improves. In the paperless, electronic world, security and retrievability will be the challenge.

The only way to be successful in the technology world is to offer training to all of the people in your company and reward those who learn to use it. The future will demand it for your company. — Walt Stoeppelwerth is a publisher of management and estimating information for professional remodelers. 800.638.8292;;