Well, it's that time of year again, where I bring the big estimating software dogies home for a checkup, to see what changes they have made while roaming wild out on the range. I have only three pages and four major systems to talk about. So let’s get this roundup started. Yee haw!

Accubid Pro: Version 8

For my team, Accubid’s Version 8 release was an answer to most of our “I wish it did this” issues. One major enhancement is the ability to delete the first item in a fixture assembly designation. For this one change alone, one of my estimators has decided not to quit, for now. Some of our other wishes were answered with the added ability to change the order of and insert temporary items, temporary assemblies and designations lists.

Along with a fresh Windows XP look and feel, Version 8 has many upgrades. Screen styles, report styles and extension views now can be stored in a central location for network users to share, which means everyone on the team sees the same thing. The audit trail filter feature now uses check boxes, allowing you to create any filtering scheme you can think of. Though, I wish Accubid would have left in the original predefined filters list.

Version 8 also has better database management features. You now can copy and paste assemblies to different databases. The replace function has been added to complement the find function, allowing users to make global changes in a single operation. Price and labor values for specific items can be locked, so they won’t get updated during a re-extend, and zero cost or quoted items can be set to automatically trigger alarms on the final pricing screen.

Estimating Version 8 includes more powerful extension features with improved sorting, grouping and filtering capabilities. For me, this is where Accubid really flexes its muscles. Once I’m done with a takeoff, the speed and depth at which I can produce any extension or breakdown I can think of is incredible.

Accubid has also just released Version 2 of its powerful cadLive. CadLive can be fully integrated with any of Accubid’s estimating programs. It features a bidirectional, real-time link between the two applications, providing complete data synchronization with no need to import or export takeoffs or breakdowns.

With cadLive 2, estimators and engineers have full access to all parts of Estimating 8’s (and AutoCad’s) database components and specialized takeoff functionality. With the ability to build and edit all job assembly components directly within cadLive, you don’t have to close either program to make the other one work, though you may need to buy a more powerful computer.

ConEst’s product offerings

ConEst has made many enhancements and additions to its entire suite of programs, including an expanded database featuring more than 100,000 electrical and low-voltage material items. Updating the pricing in this huge database is also a snap, as all levels of IntelliBid software now can directly link to NetPricer through the Internet.

Other new features of IntelliBid V5.1 include tools for increasing productivity, such as the takeoff all and takeoff list features in count sheets, a new lightning-fast bid recap screen, and a new automatic backup feature that backs up any open job files upon exiting the program.

And for telecommunication and low-voltage systems contractors, ConEst has recently released its RapidBOM 6.0, a complete telecommunications network estimating system that automatically creates a bill of materials (BOM), including both material and labor costs. This program allows you to completely design and estimate a network from the faceplate to the router. RapidBOM touts a database of 150,000+ products with associated labor units. For a low-voltage program, this is some serious power.

What about the SureCount plan recognition software? Is this functionality already necessary?According to George Hague, president of ConEst, it is. ConEst has pursued the drive toward plan recognition by partnering up with its “soon-to-be released” Sure Count. I have tried this program and found it easy to use and navigate. With just a little set up, the program reads and counts symbols on many types of digital drawing files: .pdf, .jpeg and others.

SureCount is very powerful. Not only can it recognize and count symbols, it can measure distance between two symbols or locations, so you can use it for accurate roll-off. It has a pattern-matching technology that allows it to recognize rotated and partially occluded objects. This solves a major problem with most recognition software programs. You also can save any symbols and create libraries to use on other projects or future phases of the same project.

This stand-alone system will make a great addition to any system you use. However, if you happen to be a ConEst user, you get the extra benefit of SureCount linking directly to your IntelliBid program. The program will bring in symbols, drawings and, most importantly, your counts.

Maxwell Systems acquired Estimation

Estimation just got really powerful. Maxwell Systems, a developer of construction business management software, recently acquired Estimation Inc. The result is the availability of a super powerful suite of estimating and construction management software products.

Maxwell Systems believes the future is digital takeoff and plan recognition. The company soon will be releasing Maxwell Systems Estimation Digital Takeoff. This program does much more than count symbols and measure roll-off. It also analyzes addendum drawings with an overlay feature that scans the two designs and identifies and highlights any changes.

All symbols counted can be linked directly to Estimation. However, it is a stand-alone system, so you don’t need Estimation Logistics in order to use it. The program reads almost every type of digital file format, including .pdf, .tiff, .bmp, .jpeg and .dwg.

Sketch is another of Maxwell Systems’ digital drawing plugin program that works within the logistics estimating program “takeoff view.” It provides a graphical image of points the user has input with a digitizer. Sketch allows users to electronically track the items they have taken off the blueprint, and it provides a visual audit trail displaying all digitized measured lines and counted symbols.

Estimation has also tapped into the electronic pricing zone with Estimation Logistics EZ-Pricer. EZ-Pricer automatically creates requests for quotes directly from your job data and sends them to your suppliers via e-mail. You do not even have to draft a message—the program does it for you.

The program also allows you to create a custom column with different prices for detailed item quotes.

McCormick: Version 9.0

McCormick Systems soon will release V9.0 of its award-winning electrical and automated building systems (ABS) estimating systems. This new version includes a number of great enhancements. According to McCormick’s beta users, one of the best new features is the ability to send extended material lists directly to NetPricer electronically. NetPricer then sends back updated pricing instantly. The NetPricer interface can receive pricing from more than one supplier, allowing users to specify exactly which suppliers they want to receive prices from and cherry pick the best prices from each different vendor. NetPricer can be found at www.electricsmarts.com.

Enhancements were made to the extension area of the program with the “approving edit extension” feature. This feature allows the reviewing estimator, senior or project manager to place a visual check beside each extension item indicating it has been approved for the final bid. This tool can be used to help make sure the estimate has been thoroughly reviewed.

Additional features in Version 9 include power probes advanced, which enables users to have multiple USB and serial key connections. Version 9 also has added the ability of communication with remote power probes; now, USB and serial keys can work over the network and can receive counts and lengths from a remote computer. It allows one user to roll off a drawing and another to enter in the counts, sort of like tag-team wrestling.

More upgrades: The automated multiple license administration allows multiple McCormick products to run simultaneously. The professional proposal sheet has been enhanced. The primary modification to the new proposal sheet allows insertion and modification of all extension data in a proposal sheet along with any job notes, documents, photos and just about every field in the program. These can be saved as either system- or job-specific templates and customized with your company’s logo. Finish the bid, load a template, drop in a grid of material, print, sign and fax it out.

Another significant enhancement available with Version 9.0 is the PowerLink Partners. This handy feature quickly and easily exports job data from McCormick’s main estimating program into various major accounting packages, such as American Contractor, Forefront, QuickBooks, Timberline, McCormick’s Export and additional accounting packages.

Don’t forget—McCormick also has a very powerful CAD estimating interface that should not be left off your list to check out.

Well, that about covers it for now, I hope. For those of you who are shopping for your first major estimating software, my best advice is for you to thoroughly check each of these programs out for yourselves and get some demos. And for those of you who already have one of these dogies (and you’ve paid your support fees), you need to make sure you have downloaded and installed the latest and greatest versions. Also, it might be a good time to start upgrading to some plan recognition and CAD estimating technology.   EC

SHOOK is the president and chief estimator for his estimating company, TakeOff 16 Inc. He has worked in the electrical construction industry for more than 18 years. Reach him at 707.776.0800 or sfs@TakeOff16.com.