...the database to put this quilt together. It kept tearing at the seams,” says Davis. Without an integrated project management and accounting system, “We weren’t getting the metrics and data to keep our finger on the pulse of the company,” he says.

In the old system, each one of those applications was a silo. “People knew how to do tricks and hide things and shift things around,” Davis says. “We got rid of or shut down 11 different applications or homegrown brews or Excel spreadsheets. Now it’s all in one ERP system, and when you post it to the database you can’t hide anything.” That feature helps executives to quickly see when managers are getting into trouble on jobs and add resources to help them. “We have a dashboard, and executives monitor the pulse of every job in real time vs. two months later, when it is too late to do anything about it,” he says.

Davis adds, “in fairness,” that other products probably also work well in similar ways. “When you go to that layer of sophisticated software, those are the kinds of benefits companies are going to get,” he says. “It really came down to the feature set and the company and culture and salespeople and what each of our teams would get out of them.”

Over the course of a year, Webcor has implemented all the CMiC modules except customer-relationship management. It brought equipment and rental management into the system last month. “It’s not like QuickBooks, where you set up and off you go, but it went very well,” he says.

Burger advises clients to consider the effort of implementation and the likelihood of successful adoption by the ultimate users—the staff— as costs and risks to weigh when selecting systems. Some companies clearly believe they need tailored Tier 1 products, but those products will require more IT support.

“It’s not a question of Tier 1 being better. That’s not relevant. [Tier 1 and Tier 2 systems] both have their pluses and minuses. The question is, which one is right for me?” Tier 1 is pushing down-market, Burger says, while some Tier 2 vendors, like Viewpoint, are using technology such as Microsoft’s “.net” development platform to enable customized features. These tools let users change the way screens display, add fields and tables and change some report-writing characteristics.

Burger says, “This raises the question, if Tier 2 is less expensive and works out of the box and takes less time to implement, why go to Tier 1?” One reason is that Tier 2 products do not have the customization layer that Tier 1 products have. “That really changes the way the software functions,” he says.

The customization layer lets programmers make changes for the client without changing the source code. It is used to build vertical ERP products for various industries. “The whole point of breaking the layers apart is that you can take advantage of new technology without having to re-engineer the customizations,” Burger explains.

Adds Burger’s partner Frost, the functionality of Tier 1 products is deeper in areas like HR, general ledger and accounts payable. Tier 1 tends to be the choice for companies dealing in international markets and currencies, as well, and for “certain companies, it’s part of the culture—‘Only purchase Tier 1,’ ” he says.

Shimmick Construction’s CFO Fairgrieve said his firm implemented Viewpoint for its ERP system two years ago. ERP is making complex jobs—like the firm’s Robert Diemer Water Treatment Plant project in Yorba Linda, Calif., a $190-million joint venture with Obayashi Corp.—manageable and the company more competitive.

“With over 600,000 hours budgeted, we need to make sure we are tracking labor productivity. We enter both labor hours and production quantities every day into the ERP system at the jobsite, which gives us real-time information and allows us to react quickly to issues as they arise,” says Fairgrieve.

Before the implementation of Viewpoint, all cost reporting was done offline in Excel, he says. Accounting and project management were two separate systems with duplicate entries. Says Fairgrieve, “All that useful data isn’t part of...