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KEEP PROJECTS ON TRACK WITH FASTTRACK SCHEDULE, JOB MANAGER, AND JOBORDER
By Mike Heck
Service businesses with 10 to 200 employees face unusual challenges in automating their billing and job-tracking processes. The three packages covered here AEC Software's FastTrack Schedule 6.01, Management Software's JobOrder 7.02, and MetaCommunications' Job Manager 1.5offer productive job-management functions without the cost and complexity of high-end vertical systems.
JobOrder 7.02, based on the ACI US 4th Dimension database, will appeal to ad agencies, design shops, consultants, and engineering firms. It handles job planning and estimating, scheduling, proposal creation, inventory management, and accounting. The software requires much attention to detail and takes some time to learn. Setting up JobOrder takes from a few hours to several days; you enter everything from sales-tax rates and work-center names to general-ledger account numbers.
Activities revolve around a job, which you initiate by creating a proposal specifying the time and material resources required. Using one of many forms, you select general work categories and enter the duration of each phase. Once a client approves your proposal and the job begins, each person records his or her daily activities using time slips. This data automatically flows to the accounting area, yielding up-to-the-moment invoices and financial listings.
JobOrder offers valuable management tools. For example, a timeline, automatically created when you turn an estimate into a job, shows underused or overbooked resources. The program also generates extensive printed forms and reports.
Job Manager 1.5 is similar to JobOrder in a variety of ways. It tracks jobs from initial order entry through invoicing; employees record time and material data, and the program can generate management reports at any time. However, Job Manager lacks JobOrder's formal estimating step, and you need a third-party application for detailed accounting. The back-end database is Microsoft SQL Server, requiring Windows NT.
Appropriate for commercial printers, publishers, and design shops, Job Manager has much going for it. The program is reliable and easy to customize, and it usually works more quickly than JobOrder. Creating a new job requires only a job number, name, and customer; forms are prefilled based on a user's log-in.
So how do you maintain discipline and consistency? Electronic job tickets track employee time, and workflow templates graphically show how each job should run through your production cycle. As a result, managers can determine just when a job entered and left each cost center and who worked on it. Version 1.5 adds the ability to track outside purchases, and gives you the option of including sales and service representatives in the workflow.
Traditional project-management software demands that users understand a lot of theory. FastTrack Schedule 6.01 produces colorful timelines without requiring knowledge of resource loading or PERT charts. Version 6.01 further simplifies scheduling by automatically linking tasks; exchanging schedules with Microsoft Project; and supporting Mac OS 8.5 features, such as folder actions.
To build a schedule, you simply position an activity bar in the timeline graph; start and finish times automatically register in the corresponding data columns. After you enter more tasks, the built-in outliner lets you arrange them in unlimited outline levels.
FastTrack Schedule doesn't recognize resources, such as people and material, but its core scheduling is quite good, and it is far easier to use than full-fledged project managers.
JobOrder is more involved and costs more per client than does Job Manager, but the former accommodates a wider range of businesses and includes accounting functions. Still, design firms and other creative businesses will find few drawbacks in Job Manager, so you should consider it first. If you simply need to keep more-accurate timetables, we recommend FastTrack Schedule.
RATING: PROS: Automatic task linking, scripting, filtering, and activity outlining; fine presentation tools. CONS: No resource management. COMPANY: AEC Software (800/346-9413, http://www.aecsoft.com ). LIST PRICE: $199.
RATING: PROS: Extensive job tracking and costing; straightforward navigation. CONS: Requires Windows NT server; no basic accounting. COMPANY: MetaCommunications (800/771-6382, http://www.jobmanager.com ). LIST PRICE: Five users, $3,699.
RATING: PROS: Customizable quotes and bids; timelines; double-entry accounting. CONS: Takes time to set up and learn; costly. COMPANY: Management Software (607/756-4150, http://www.joborder.com ). LIST PRICE: Five users, $7,840; setup and training, $250.
June 1999 page: 39