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Monday, August 14, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Interface

Building software for those who build

What: Dexter + Chaney

What it does: The Seattle company develops software for the construction industry.

Background: Mark Dexter and John Chaney left Arthur Andersen in 1981 to start a software company. At the time, only large companies used computers, but the consultants figured that small- and medium-sized companies would want to use them soon.

Progression: They started to develop their first product, Forefront, in 1984, meanwhile supporting the firm by selling hardware and software to small companies, explaining how to use them.

"In many cases, they were the first computers people had used back then. We had to teach them how to turn them on and off," Dexter said.

It wasn't until 1986 that the two started to sell Forefront.

Flash-forward: Today, the company has 86 employees and 1,000 customers, and had $14.2 million in revenue last year. Combined, the company's customers employ 93,000 people, write 10 million checks a year and have $17.8 billion in revenues.

Bits and bytes: The software has come a long way since it was developed. It's grown from about five components to more than 30.

Main components: The project-management feature allows contractors to keep a project on track and identify problems as early as possible. The financial-management feature helps the company keep on budget. The document-management feature allows a company to eliminate paper by scanning documents into the system, where multiple people can approve them.

Next up: The company is working on two or three new components right now. One is a dashboard, which would allow an executive to see visually what's happening every day. Another is a scheduling service that allows companies to better assign their equipment and resources to projects.

Secret to success: Dexter said the reason they've been able to stay in business for so long is they listen to the customer. A users conference each year lets each customer list 10 things they'd want the software to do.

Dexter compares it to a house. An architect built it, but you live in it. "Of course, the person who lives in the house knows it better than the architect," Dexter said.

— Tricia Duryee

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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