Details 3.0.1

Traditional project-management software is useful for planning jobs and making sure everything will be ready on time. Unfortunately, these packages seldom track the fine points - such as submittals, changed orders, and correspondence - crucial to a project's success. AEC Software's Details 3.0.1, a specialized database for small to medium-size graphic design, publishing, contracting, architecture, and manufacturing businesses, can help ensure that essential project information doesn't slip through the cracks. Many professionals build FileMaker Pro databases or Microsoft Excel spreadsheets to record the specifics of their projects, but using Details 3.0.1 is easier than creating custom databases or spreadsheets. First, the program's 70-plus specialized templates get you working quickly. These files contain preformatted fields, reports, and forms for project activities - expense reports, approvals, and phone logs, for example. And several Details field types, such as Task Duration, aren't available in generic databases. As a result, Details' reports can include familiar project-management timeline graphs.

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Modifying existing forms is aided by the new Forms function, as is designing new forms. Although forms are central to any good database, customizing Details' forms is especially easy. Intuitive drawing and properties palettes allow fields to be drag-&-dropped, graphics placed, and selections made. This feature also creates electronic replicas of traditional paper forms, and cuts costs by printing documents on demand. Usability features abound in Details 3.0.1. For instance, if none of the supplied templates hit the spot, new files can be built quickly. Simply define the fields, and then set-up a report by selecting the fields needed. There's no need to understand the relationships between fields, records, index files and other typical complexities. Nevertheless, Details 3.0.1 doesn't skimp on expected database functionality, such as storing pre-set values for fields and drop-down lists. The application goes beyond typical databases, by including three specialized field types - Contact, Project Log, and Submittal Log - for which the necessary sub-fields have already been defined. A case in point: the Contact field contains address and phone-number place-holders. This thoughtful feature saves time when creating a database - and makes certain that users don't miss entering important facts, since related information is grouped in a single spot. Like a good project manager, Details offers a work calendar that accommodates shifts, weekends, holidays, and vacations. Consequently, the program accurately calculates the time needed to complete a job. Professionals and support staff shouldn't have any trouble using Details 3.0.1. Data can be entered and edited, either in forms or in the cells of a report. The displays are uncluttered, offering Navigation, Views, and Reports palettes that make it easy to shift among the screens. Details' pre-made reports will be all most users need. For example, the Project Log format lets multiple tasks, dates, and durations for each record in a database be stored, and reports can be made. When used with the timeline graph, the Project Log is a powerful scheduling tool that works much like a standard project manager's outliner or Gantt bar chart. If creating or customizing a report seems too much trouble, simply choose the fields you want to see, specify their order, define the search criteria, and decide whether dates should appear as a graph. Unlimited report formats can be stored for each Details database. Another helpful feature, Generator, constantly monitors the database. This means report listings are always up to date after new data is entered. High-quality forms and reports can be printed, or used in presentations. However, Details saves a report as one large image (in JPEG, TIFF, PNG, or PICT format), making emailing reports, or posting them on a Web site, inefficient. A better approach would be to save reports as HTML files. Another area in need of improvement is Details' data import and export. Although the program can exchange information with other applications through ASCII text files, it would save novices a lot of headaches if Details included file-import and -export compatibility with common project-management software - such as AEC's SureTrack, or Microsoft Project.

OUR VERDICT

Details 3.0.1 offers several benefits for professional managers. Little experience is needed for database set-up, use, and reporting, and the program offers project-specific functions that aren't found in other database software. It would be helpful if Details could exchange data more easily with traditional project managers, and had more-sophisticated Web-based reporting. Overall, though, Details 3.0.1 stops costly mistakes because of lost project information - without requiring a significant time or financial commitment.

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