Software keeps jobs organized

WHILE the recent software trend has focused on Internet-based solutions for HVAC and plumbing contractors, there are still some "traditional" PC-based products that can streamline various daily tasks and provide help in managing everyday project management details. Below are two programs that are worth considering. Details 3.0 (Windows 200/98/ 95/NT 4.0, single user: $299 ESP, network server versions

WHILE the recent software trend has focused on Internet-based solutions for HVAC and plumbing contractors, there are still some "traditional" PC-based products that can streamline various daily tasks and provide help in managing everyday project management details.

Below are two programs that are worth considering.

Details 3.0 (Windows 200/98/ 95/NT 4.0, single user: $299 ESP, network server versions available, AEC Software, www.aecsoft.com, 800/ 346-9413) is a project information management application that provides an organizational framework to track and document date, time and status dependent data.

The software uses centralized databases to allow project members to communicate project details to others. Users decide what types of information to track, and then define fields for them, effectively creating a customized database.

Working with the program is like working with a database that has specific project management-oriented fields. Part of the strength of the program is that the centrally located project information can be accessed for display or distribution in a variety of ways to suit user needs.

Sporting a graphical point-and-click interface, the program features several dozen QuickStart templates of preformatted fields, forms (displaying all the information about a single record) and reports (displaying collections of records).

For example, submittal logs can track the status of proposals, submittals, designs or any item that passes through an approval process. Project logs track activities, start and finish dates and durations. A work calendar calculates task and approval durations in work hours, work days or standard time units and can take into account holidays, vacations and other non-work time. Templates track punch lists, shop drawings, project phases, equipment, files/documents, transmittals, RFIs, RFQs, RFPs and contracts.

Among report elements is a timeline graph that automatically converts key deadlines into milestones and bars drawn along a timeline. Capable of displaying units in hours, days, weeks, months, quarters or years, the timeline uses colored task bars, positioned horizontally, in a Gantt chart. Graph bars consist of a start point, bar and end point.

When a project log is used in conjunction with a timeline graph, the logs can also serve as a basic scheduling tool. If users prefer, they can create electronic replicas of their own traditional paper forms, using logos, graphics and borders and add custom fields.

Reports are stored as separate editable "views" of the data. The program user can show all fields in the report or just selected fields. Using drag-and-drop regrouping, the user can change the fields to any order desired.

Unlike traditional databases that create static reports, the program's Report Generator will, whenever the user sets search and sort criteria, constantly update the reports with the most up-to-date information.

With full import and export features, the software allows easy exchange of information with other databases, spreadsheets and word processors.

VirtualBoss Construction Management Software ($295 for single workstation license, additional licenses for multi-workstation networks available at discounts, VirtualBoss Development Co., www.virtualboss.net, 888/827-5397) is job scheduling and task management software for contractors that creates easy-to-generate paper trails.

Running under Windows 95/98/ ME/NT/2000, the application tracks tasks. If the computer is fax-enabled, it can systematically fax work orders and entire schedules. VirtualBoss was developed to integrate with Symantac's WinFax Pro, permitting the user to fax all recipients at once with a couple of mouse clicks, which, notes the developer, could be particularly helpful if working around a customer's schedule.

The program can create, fax or print out punch lists for one worker, a whole project or all workers on all jobs, and then follow up any punch-list item with a work order. Contact management capabilities include storage of and access to names, phone numbers and addresses of customers, suppliers, contractors and others in a virtual address book, as well as directions to every jobsite, and special jobsite instructions.

Users can produce either formal work orders or to-do lists that not only can clarify the forthcoming work for the company's own employees but also can help justify payments or serve to document work awaiting action by other trades.

Because data for an application is stored in a central location within the program, techs or other employees with access to a network computer can view schedules, work orders or contact information at any time.

Version 4.0, due out early in the first quarter of 2001, will include e-mail notification via an interface with Outlook Express (a widely used free e-mail program), customizable Gantt charting for scheduling and exporting of task details to Microsoft Excel, where the data can be saved as an HTML document.

The Feldmans write about computer use for the construction industry and produce customized newsletters for various businesses. They can be reached by e-mail at [email protected] or tel. 914/238-6272.