Software is effective for contractors when it saves time and effort, boosts efficiency, or increases accountability. Popular categories include scheduling, project management, specifying, and lighting analysis. The current software solutions listed below could help streamline the tasks they address.

Milestones Professional 2000 scheduling/tracking PC-based software (KIDASA Software, Inc.) features click-and-drag scheduling (by week, month, or year, with duration shown in minutes, hours, days, and weeks) and the ability to easily share project information across the Internet or an intranet. Compatible with other Windows applications, any schedule can be embedded in other Windows documents, with any changes on the Milestones schedule automatically updated on those schedules as well. To help analyze progress, a baseline scheduling feature shows how the original schedule compares to the actual schedule. An earned value graphics report, with columns, for example, for Budget, Percent Complete, Earned Value, and Remaining Budget, could serve nicely as documentation for progress reports and payment justification backup.

Forefront Construction Management Software (Dexter + Chaney) is a single-entry network solution, optimized for Windows NT, specifically developed for electrical contractors. With up to 26 modules available, core modules typically include accounting, purchasing, service, inventory, and equipment. A Document Imaging capability, fully integrated with accounting, allows users to store, in a “virtual filing cabinet,” a variety of original documents associated with a project—invoices, time cards, contracts, customer billing, etc.—and facilitates instant retrieval for onscreen viewing, e-mailing, faxing, and printout.

When working as a sub on a large project, you may soon find that the project originator mandates participation in Web-enabled project management over the Internet. This type of across-the-board solution—essentially a project extranet open to any signed-on participant who has a Web browser—can be very effective as a primary way data about a project is transmitted. e-Builder is an entry in this category. Providing an Internet-based set of communication, collaboration, and service tools for instant exchange of project information, the solution effectively functions as a central data warehouse, through which a user can, for example, submit a request for information, attach a drawing, and copy appropriate project members for comment and review. e-Builder has real-time online redlining of CAD drawings and other documents so that, without extensive photocopying and messengering, everyone can be on the same page for virtual job meetings and decision-making. Upon completion, all data can be stored on a CD-ROM.

Increasingly, electrical product manufacturers offer software that helps speed the spec’ing process. Some are PC-based; others originate on the Web. Generally, the software is free for the asking or downloading. The information typically includes part numbers and specification details and could also feature prices, CAD or CAD-like drawings, calculations for determining quantities or dimensions, installation instructions, and Code requirements.

Panduit offers product information online, at www.specifiertools.com, which includes spec sheets and technical drawings as well as a Bill of Materials developer, which can help ensure that no parts needed are left unordered. The site also has a surface raceway wire fill calculator that, once the user inputs the number of cables of a particular diameter (including the conductor and the insulation), suggests specific raceway, taking into account the 60 percent and 40 percent fill rate. The software is suitable for both high- and low-voltage installations. Panduit also offers a boilerplate specification for its voice/data products, which a user could cut and paste into any document.

GS Metals’ FlexTray Interactive Product Selector, on CD-ROM, helps users design a layout system for cable support. A dedicated solution for those using FlexTray, the software facilitates product selection and will create a Bill of Materials that can be edited, saved, or printed for fax submission. The program, which holds a library of all Flextray product information, including specifications, AutoCAD drawings, product literature, and Internet links, takes the user through logical steps a designer would use to develop the parts needed for the intended installation, starting with selection of cables from an onscreen menu. Taking into consideration installation options, the software then works its way down with selection of amount, tray capacity, span, mount, splices, bends, tees, accessories, and coating. The disc also contains FlexDraw, for selecting multiple tray sizes and creating a scalable drawing installation available for transfer to the Bill of Materials.

Pass & Seymour/Legrand’s SpecPartner, on CD-ROM, could be useful to design/build contractors for specifying electrical devices. The software holds the entire company product catalog and technical product information and also affords access to Engineering Specifications Section 16140 Wiring Devices, which could be helpful in compiling a job specification document. A cross-section function gives contractors the ability to choose a specific Pass & Seymour/Legrand product by product number or by a competitor’s part number. Once products are selected, the information can be transferred into an electronic specification document directly, saving re-write time and eliminating risk of any transcription errors.

Cooper B-Line offers TrayCAD cable tray layout design and Runway Router cable runway (ladder rack) layout design software, both add-ons to AutoCAD. Both solutions build 3-D wire-frame models with all appropriate fittings and will create Bills of Materials. Each program contains a library of details, any of which could be inserted onto the drawings, that design/build contractors could use to show workers in the field how to install the products.

GE Lighting Systems has a lighting software package, ALADAN, downloadable at www.gelightingsystems.com, which walks users through a variety of outdoor and indoor GE lighting fixtures. With photometry specified, the program instantly provides calculations, including footcandles or lux, and facilitates “what-if” scenarios as users change parameters.

Philips’ Audit 2000, on CD-ROM, is a lighting analysis package that could help design/build contractors determine the potential energy savings for lighting conversions and retrofits. Capable of calculating energy savings for a variety of lighting systems, this program could design/build contractors with evaluating savings associated with decisions such as group relamping or reduced air conditioning usage. The software also can calculate the environmental impact of an upgrade by showing the reduction in pollutant emissions that affect air quality.

The FELDMANs provide Web content for companies and write for magazines, trade associations, building product manufacturers, and other companies on a broad range of topics. They can be reached at wfeldman@att.net or (914) 238-6272.