A new report on the software aspirations of contractors, based on analysis of thousands of inquiries from software buyers in 2014, shows that improving the accuracy of estimating is the goal driving most software shoppers, but the desire to improve doesn't align with a willingness to pay.

The desires are not surprising, considering the analysis also found that 52% of the prospective buyers currently use pen and paper to conduct estimating, takeoff, bid management and other construction processes. In 34% of the inquiries analyzed a desire to improve estimating was cited. Improving bids was cited next most often, at 22%.

The source of the report is Software Advice, a Gartner software research and advisory firm, which includes construction software among its specialty areas. The vast majority of the firms whose inquiries were analyzed are small to mid-sized firms, including 67% with revenues under $5 million. General contractors comprised the bulk of them, at 26%. Electrical contractors made up the next largest group, at 18%.

The software shoppers report that the most commonly used software they use for estimating and bidding is the spreadsheet, at 32%, followed by QuickBooks, at 19%.

But aside from estimating and bidding, firms shopping for software cited desires to improve their organizations, 20%; grow the business, 18%; improve project management and improve integrations, 14% and improve takeoff, 9%. A general desire to “modernize” drove 8% of inquiries, while dissatisfaction with a lack of features of current tools was behind inquires about new software 17% of the time.

But if desires are expansive, purses are tight. Firms making inquiries from the annual revenue range of $5 to $10 million reported a willingness to spend an average of $7,692 on software in 2014. In the $10-to-$25 million-revenue bracket the average spending cap rose to $10,861.

You can buy a lot of paper and pens for that, but not much software.