A University of Waikato computer science project has led to the development of a software programme that could be a boon for builders.
Fifth-year Waikato computer science and law student Taylor Wilton, in conjunction with Waikato Homes, has launched Encompass, a programme to make the process known as back-costing much quicker and more straightforward.
It started with a group of third-year computer science students made up of Wilton, Tyler Burbage, Andrew Adamson, Jackest Gong and Luke Lovegrove.
Lovegrove’s sister Jade and her husband Mark, owners of Waikato Homes, wanted to improve their tracking systems and get more detail about the cost of materials used in their builds.
“There was no software that tracked their expenses at a granular level, so we were tasked with creating a prototype,” Wilton said.
“Typically at the end of a build, admin staff sit down with an Excel spreadsheet for a couple of days and try to come up with a number for how much they’ve spent and to find out the areas where they under or overspent compared with the original quote. We worked to develop a more accurate program to reduce the time taken to come up with the actual spend,” he said.
We looked around for similar products and couldn’t find any that get down to the line-item-level tracking. Ours is filling a much-needed niche.
At the end of the build you might have 30 different bills from the same supplier. Our system generates a unique order number for the builders and they’ll open up their website or their phone, they’ll press a button and get a number and give that to the supplier, so when the building office staff come to tabulate everything at the end it’s all nice and neat and easy to track.”
Once the group’s project had finished, Wilton worked with Waikato Homes to finalise the product, fix bugs, and then went through the legal aspects of setting up an incorporated company.
Jade Lovegrove says Waikato Homes has been working with Encompass as development partners for more than a year. “Our business has grown in that time,” she says. “And because of that growth it would now be much harder to run the business without Encompass.”
Wilton says the beauty is in the detail. “We looked around for similar products and couldn’t find any that get down to the line-item-level tracking. Ours is filling a much-needed niche.”
There have been challenges in development; the biggest technical one was to create a bespoke piece of software for every supplier Waikato Homes uses. The programme currently supports more than 60 suppliers in the Hamilton-Waikato region and they’re looking to expand that. “And whenever a supplier changes their invoicing system, we have to accommodate that.”
The non-technical challenges are often harder, Wilton says. “I’m not a natural salesperson, so I find it very difficult to cold call people, but it’s got to be done. It may be tricky to write code, but you know there’s a right answer. Selling isn’t like that.”
The Encompass program meis currently being trialled by another Waikato building company.