A Closer Look at How PCL Is Leveraging STACK Construction Technologies


STACK Construction Technologies in late September of 2023 announced a strategic partnership with PCL Construction, the Edmonton, Alberta-based global $8 billion general contractor. PCL delivers building, civil and industrial projects from 32 offices through multiple project delivery systems including engineer-procure-construct (EPC), public-private partnerships, construction management at risk, design-build and integrated project delivery.

STACK will provide takeoff software to about 300 estimators in PCL’s preconstruction department. IRONPROS caught up with STACK CEO Phillip Ogilby and representatives of PCL on this development, the implications for preconstruction at PCL and what it means for STACK’s approach to the market going forward.

Initially, PCL and STACK say the estimating software will be used by about 300 estimators in PCL’s preconstruction department. IRONPROS caught up with STACK and PCL in the wake of the announcement to explore how software targeting subcontractors found a home with a major general and what PCL’s plans are for the software.

Expansion Beyond Subcontractors and Estimating

In an earlier IRONPROS deep dive, we explored how STACK had grown beyond its initial footprint in takeoff and estimating into later project phases inlcuding field collaboration and construction management. This expansion was due in part to acquisitions, which also helps STACK expand its footprint beyond subcontracting to serve major generals like PCL.

While STACK Construction Technologies has focused largely on meeting the needs of subcontractors, the two acquisitions will expand the customer base beyond this core.

“SmartUse and K-Ops as well, were both, at the time of time of the acquisition, focused on generals,” STACK CEO Phillip Ogilby said at the time. “We will not ignore that sector, and are also seeing tremendous value with the owner market with the combination of SmartUse and K-Ops. We will continue to build everything through the lens of the subcontractor. We will not do what Procore or Autodesk do, which is primarily focus on generals.”

STACK, PCL and Homegrown Preconstruction Software

“It's exciting for us,” Ogilby said in the days following the PCL announcement. “I was the founder of a company called iSqFt in my younger days, which is now a big part of ConstructConnect. I remember in those days, when you've got a great solution, it's not enough just to have a great solution in the market. You'll get some, some early adopters that hopefully then down the road lead to some, some big recognizable names that carry a lot of weight. And we've got some big logos, you know, companies like CentiMark, and a number of big suppliers that have been using STACK now for some time. But this is our first big, general contractor logo that I think is really going to resonate with folks across the industry.”

While many construction software startups early on claim customer relationships with major general contractors, the footprint in that contractor may be small, or may primarily consist of a trial or beta project. But for STACK, with its early focus on subs, PCL is a full-blown customer in a net new demographic.

“GCs have not been our focus,” Ogilby said. “They continue, frankly, to not be our focus from a marketing standpoint. But lots of GCs are realizing, ‘Gee whiz, the software I'm using was written in the ‘90s and it's 2023. We should move on and join the New World.’ So we're seeing a lot of that and PCL is just a big recognizable logo that we're excited about.

Integrating with Homegrown Estimating Software

While PCL’s preconstruction is standardizing on STACK for takeoffs, they will rely on homegrown estimating software. The STACK takeoff solution will be integrated with this solution through application programming interfaces (APIs).

“I think the API was very instrumental in helping us win this deal and it's helping us win lots of large deals with companies that realize it's important not just to have the data, but to have the data integrated in my other solutions,” Ogilby said.

According to PCL Senior Relationship Manager for Business Technology Kevin Sundquist, the business is planning the STACK integration with new internally-developed estimating software after a thorough review of estimating software on the market.

“In addition to looking at takeoff tools, we also did a market scan on estimating solutions,” Sundquist said. “We did the same due diligence on estimating solutions that we did on takeoff tools. We looked at the market, we scanned the market, we shortlisted we piloted. We did hands-on pilots. And all of that ran down to a recommendation and you know, get by guys like PCL Preconstruction Manager Brad Ens, who do it on a day-to-day basis, to redevelop our internal system … We really kind of discovered that we couldn't buy some of the key features that we had kind of we had developed in our solutions over the years.”

In the course of redeveloping their internal estimating tool, modernization was a major priority.

“The gotcha was our solutions were dated for sure,” Sundquist said. “Our app was written 25 years ago, it was Excel based and it was starting to show its age. So that really prompted the decision to move forward.”

PCL has the capacity to create their own software as Sundquist said they have created 12-15 cloud applications to date.

“When we decided to rewrite our estimating system, we chose to do that in the cloud with modern standards, which has a lot to do with Phil's point about their API feature,” Sundquist said. “It was important to be able to work with a takeoff tool that we let us create tighter integration use cases, and drive some efficiencies into our process that way. So we've written the first cut of that integration. We're just in the testing phase and are probably four to six months out from having a real good sense of where the value proposition of that is. But we've invested the effort because we think there's a good value proposition there. So anyway, that's where we're at.”

Takeoff Software for Major and Small Projects

One key factor in selecting STACK for takeoff was, according to Ens, the ability to handle smaller projects without burning an inordinate amount of time on project set-up.

“When we decided to take it upon ourselves to update our estimating software, we found out there were some limitations with the takeoff software that we were using, as far as the integration between our new cloud based estimating program and the takeoff solution that we're using,” Ens said. “That really kicked off the search for a new takeoff software, which led us down lots of roads, lots of negotiations and lots of testing. We’re a company that has districts all over North America. And we sampled from as much diverse estimating experiences as we could, because we have a very diverse business model. We don't just do civil work, we don't just do major projects. We don't just do high rises or residential, we do it all. So finding that one stop shop for takeoff solutions was challenging.”

Paradoxically, the fact that STACK is designed for self-performing contractors was also appealing, according to Ens.

“One of the biggest reasons why we ended up with STACK is that they really were targeting the subcontractor market, and tailor their solutions to that. We have a really bottoms-up estimating culture at PCL, so we will estimate everything from roofing, the doors .. We perform a lot of structure work. So we're used to taking it off like a sub trade would take it off. So it felt very comfortable for us. One of our big things about our estimating software search was that we wanted a solution that gave us flexibility with our different business units across the country. We found that, that our own internal estimating software was really the only solution to that, but STACK fit really well into that solution as well.”

Combining STACK for takeoffs with homegrown estimating according to Ens created a combination of consistency and flexibility.

“The majority of our time we spend estimating in on in-and-out projects,” Ens said. “So we don't want a solution that's based on mega project estimating. So we felt that this really felt to fit both of those. Those buckets really well.”

For these simple “in-and-out” projects, Ens stressed that getting into takeoff software to quickly measure floors or walls is important.

“These are special projects where we want to get in, we want to measure how much floor is in this in this thing and get out,” Ens said. “And when we looked at some of the other solutions, it's pretty arduous setting up a project. So we wanted something that we could set something up quickly get some drawings in there, measure it out and get on with our lives, and that's a big part of our business. But on the other hand, you know, the next week we'll be estimating a billion-dollar cancer center, so we need that structure.”

STACK will also help PCL build structure into their processes by capturing insights that can be re-used on subsequent projects.

“We have created committees internally to use STACK as a basis to build that repeatability, something we have not really had before as far as creating assemblies, and a PCL database of assembly products,” Ens said. “And now that it integrates with our estimating software, we can cut out a bunch of steps like cost coding materials. When we bring in information from our takeoff and build an assembly properly, we can pre-populated it with a bunch of information that down the road if the project goes will help us quite a bit.”

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