Earlier this week, I spent some time talking to Gerry Gerber, CEO of Dallas, Texas-based GerberSoftwareProducts LLC, about his Software-as-a-Service MOBILT application. Gerry spent almost 40 years in the home improvement market (or as my US friends say: “remodeling”), and has applied that experience in recent years to creating a low-cost, simple-to-use, web-based service to support procurement and delivery of residential refurbishment and extension projects.
As the name implies, the MOBILT is accessible from laptops, tablets and smartphones, and is intended to help small-medium sized businesses (SMBs) various clients, projects and – most importantly – the subcontractors they invite to bid and, if successful, to work on their projects (similar to the e-tendering systems deployed by larger firms on bigger schemes).
The project leader can create a project, upload initial drawings, photographs, specifications and other information, then invite selected trade subcontractors to express interest in bidding, and then to submit prices for their nominated work packages, allowing the project leader to quickly build up a fully-costed proposal for the client. The platform includes simple audit trail features that indicate when bidders have viewed their messages, opened files, etc. Once the client had given the project a go-ahead, the project leader can then notify all the selected participants about the schedule, etc. For those not accessing the website, email notifications and texts are also used to help keep tradespeople updated about issues needing their attention.
Clients can also access the system (but cannot access the supply chain pricing information), as can supply chain members – both to manage their bids, but also, once a project commences on-site, to communicate progress, changes, etc to the lead contractor, fellow trade contractors, etc. The system includes some simple role-based privileges (eg: coordinator, supervisor) that help determine who sees what information.
Gerry believes there is a substantial market for such an application; he believes there arever 600,000 registered US-based businesses (and probably another 150,000 unregistered ones) engaged in the remodeling [sic: US spelling] market. Even modest remodeling projects can involve management of bids from dozens of trade subcontractors, so anything that centralises and improves process control is likely to be attractive to a busy contractor engaged in multiple concurrent projects.
The system is currently priced at a competitive $99 per calendar month with no limit on the number of projects or users or the volume of information stored on the platform. Gerry is currently planning a limited Beta roll-out of MOBILT in February; various improvements to the user interface will be developed during this initial launch, and in the longer term Gerry is also looking at the potential to create MOBILT apps.
This is still a product at a relatively early stage of development, US focused, and would benefit from user interface design improvements to make it more polished and professional while retaining the ease of use vital to busy SMBs with limited time to learn new software applications. White-labelling (enabling users to apply their own company branding) would be attractive to many firms, I think, as would easy step-by-step configuration tools so users can selectively tailor the display of information to their needs.
MOBILT differs from most other SMB-oriented platforms I have looked at insofar as its main focus is on enabling and controlling online bid management not on file-sharing. I have looked at several simple stand-alone file-sharing platforms, but far fewer that focus on bid management, particularly at the SMB level. In the UK, for example, I have written about two: Darley eTender (November 2011 post) and AskTobi (January 2011 post) – the Darley system is an example of a well-designed user interface that might help guide Gerry’s development of MOBILT.
Update (20 February 2013) – Gerry has just added a new whiteboard-style video animation to the MOBILT website.