The upgrades are coming! The upgrades are coming! Yes, it is time for your favorite estimating software company to release its thoroughly beta-tested new features and much anticipated repairs of any bugs and glitches.

In fairness to my readers and the software firms (and especially because I don’t like hate mail), I should qualify this article by openly admitting I am not an expert on all estimating software programs. In fact, I have barely used or seen many of them. Unfortunately, there are not enough hours in my insanely busy day to work with and learn all these programs—nor can afford to purchase each one. Sound familiar?

For this article, I will list the newest features, fixes and improvements, enhancements, and as many other bells and whistles as I can fit in.

Accubid Systems has many new enhancements in V7.0 of its Accubid Pro, BidWinner Plus, BidWinner and PowerBid packages.

A newly enhanced “job merge” feature (Accubid Pro only) gives the user the ability to create sub jobs from a master job. You can also merge, unmerge and remerge sub jobs into the master job. You can then filter and sort the merged jobs using a new job breakdown within the master job.

Accubid has also enhanced the “job save as” command with new options, allowing you to control whether to include takeoffs, typicals, designations, temporary items and temporary assemblies.

A new integration of Estimating 7 and ChangeOrder 7 provides the ability to launch ChangeOrder from your estimating software. You can also bring an estimate into a ChangeOrder project as a baseline job, populating all the base contract amounts.

The new Accubid Integrator utility allows you to send sorted job information to various accounting and project management programs as well as to export some or all of the items in your material database as an Excel file (.xls format).

This ables you to provide your suppliers with workable spreadsheets for easier pricing or update and save material reports as a .csv file, which can then be used by the Price Update module to update the prices in your material database.

Other new enhancements include the ability to create a PDF as an alternative to printing a report, insert or remove one or more blank rows within your database, have more than one job open at the same time, manipulate your parts database better, and integrate more strongly with other programs, such as Microsoft Project.

Stronger network security has been added, giving managers more control of how estimators access and use the program, and you can update the licenses on your security device at any time with a new WebUpdate feature. The company will soon be releasing a NetPricer Link utility.

ConEst has recently released improvements to its Intellibid estimating software. This software takes estimating to a whole new level by incorporating the knowledge and rules of the National Electrical Code (NEC). It is like having a Code expert inside your computer. While setting up a project, the user inputs information about the job, what systems are involved, what the specification requirements are, etc.

The program then takes this information and sizes feeder conduits and wiring, gives the user warnings on entry, and assists the user in making sure the job is taken-off per the NEC.

Also new is ConEst’s added “count sheet” feature. This is an on-screen spreadsheet that emulates the old National Electrical Contractors Association column sheets of yesteryear (actually, most of us still use them today). Count sheet comes with a prebuilt library of many electrical symbols (no more terrible cartoon drawings of exit signs).

This is a great feature for the junior estimator-in-training and can greatly assist his or her seniors with their review of counts and takeoffs. With this feature, senior estimators can set up the spreadsheet with symbols they want the juniors to count. The count sheet feature also links the program’s items and assemblies database to the symbols, extracting the quantities directly from the count sheets.

This feature does more than teach estimators how to record their counts. It is also a very simple way to become familiar with identifying symbols and what they represent in the database. Using the program, the estimator-in-training can gain confidence in interfacing with an estimating program—something that can prove daunting.

ConEst’s Job Spec feature allows the user to set up the job based on the project’s specification. Once set up, the spec is applied to everything counted. If, at any time, the spec changes or a different spec is needed (perfect for VE pricing), the estimator can simply change the specification and reapply it to the entire job.

According to ConEst, users should look for some more upcoming new features and radically high-tech breakthroughs in estimating for 2007.

Estimation has made new strides with its recently released EZ-Pricer and Ei Matrix programs. EZ-Pricer is a price-updating system that allows you to automatically send materials counts and information or receive price quotes from your suppliers via e-mail.

The program allows you to format custom forms as required for different prices and detailed item quotes. These can then be transformed into an easy-to-read list of materials. Vendors then fill in the prices next to each item. When you receive your price quotes, EZ-Pricer automatically updates the information in your summary report and allows you to select your best price.

Ei Matrix allows users to create customized reports and bids in Excel. This program provides a direct link from your logistics estimating software to Excel. With this program feature, you can automatically export the data from your extension and bid summaries directly into an Excel spreadsheet and—here’s the kicker—maintain all the formulas. The program’s unique intelligence infuses the Excel spreadsheet with the true formulas, thereby allowing you to perform the necessary math calculations while at the same time keeping your data and formulas consistent and accurate.

Other enhanced and added features from Estimation include an added customizable “options display” in takeoff mode, the ability to change factors for level adjustments at the summary report, on-screen keyboard and virtual power pad, extended keyboard view that shows the user definable keys, extended user definable keys, a calculator function in takeoff, and the ability to import items from TRA-SER Pro directly into an estimate’s takeoff.

McCormick Systems will soon be releasing V8.2 of its award-winning Electrical & Automated Building Systems (ABS) estimating systems with a strong emphasis on database management.

McCormick takes database management seriously, because a poorly managed database will cause a system to run slower, lose data and is, ultimately, a setup for disaster. Automatic optimization is a feature that maximizes the current “in-use” job immediately upon exit, keeping the job database at peak performance by compressing and organizing the job data. V8.2 includes the addition of 13 new special database maintenance reports.

V8.2 also includes better audit trail features, including the ability to add notes to specific label sets. The user can also view or print these notes using any filter. McCormick has also added a report feature to the advanced audit trail that will list all assemblies used, showing byproducts and quantities used in each assembly.

For those who need more summarized information, V8.2 adds a new extension report type called “totals.” This report type will extend totals only without the extension detail and will breakout totals by label set, cost code or both.

McCormick will soon be releasing a new version of its PC Scale program. The company has added change order integration, a technology that allows you to track the status of your change orders so you’ll know their exact status. With this feature, you can instantly identify how a single or all change orders will affect your project’s bottom line.

Also coming to PC Scale is the ability to automatically integrate information from your job and bid summaries to proposal sheets, and a scheduling program that helps to plan jobs by organizing tasks.

McCormick Systems has also made great advancements with its new ABS (Automated Building Systems) database. This new database is designed specifically for telecommunications and other low-voltage systems contractors. It touts thousands of device and cable database items, which include material pricing and industry-standard labor values.

Other near-future enhancements to McCormick’s software include several proposal sheet features; a “job analysis” feature allowing users to view, sort and filter historical job data; and more extension features including a NetPricer updating interface.

Sage Timberline offers Sage Timberline Office, a program that gives users two systems to choose between: Estimating Standard and Estimating Extended.

Estimating Standard serves as the foundation of Estimating Extended, providing users with basic, point-and-click technology—perfect for junior estimators. Estimating Extended, however, is much more advanced. It contains work breakdown structure codes that let you organize your estimate by project phase, drawing detail or location.

Users can also review and edit takeoff passes recorded in the assembly takeoff screen. This data can still be manipulated even after the information is rolled up in summary form in the spreadsheet view—a helpful feature for more advanced estimators.

What else is out there?

There are other companies to check out—such as Vision -InfoSoft—and we have yet to discuss CAD Estimating software, but unfortunately, I’m out of word space. So I decided to leave it for one of my next estimating columns.

There are some great estimating tools available on the Internet. The great thing about these is you already have the -software—your browser! At www.Alcan.com, you can find a converter program that converts copper feeders into aluminum and also tells you what conduit size to use. This simple tool can be kept in the background while you are inputting into whatever software system you use.

As for the new upgrades and features: some of you are already using them and, if you pay your dues, some of you will be using them soon. A word of advice: don’t wait too long. Chances are, there’s a new feature available that can save you time and make you more money.     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.