We call it estimating software, but it is really much more than that. Today's pricing packages include features like contact management, scheduling, job tracking, inventory control and more. Some versions are web-based; others are maintained on a local network; some offer variations of both. Some are less about software than they are about understanding and implementing profitable business practices.
Determining which type of estimating program is right for your company will depend on your specific goals and needs. Just as when considering the purchase of a piece of equipment like a CNC or a v-groover, estimating software should be evaluated and tested for its ability to address and solve needs within your own unique operation. After all, what works for your competition down the street may not be such a great fit for you.
The good news is there are more and more software companies writing programs designed especially for solid surface and stone fabrication. The bad news is it takes a lot of time to evaluate which of these software tools is best for you.
We can help. In the pages which follow we have summarized features and benefits of the most popular estimating and management packages in use by fabricators today. Although not intended to take the place of your own in-depth analysis and onsite testing, we think you will find this information helpful as a starting point in your search for that perfect fit.
How new is the current trend of developing industry-specific software for countertop fabricators? Consider this: With five years experience in the field, Pinnacle Manufacturing's Counter Intelligence qualifies as one of the grandfathers of the genre. Born of a solid surface fabricator's need to reduce paperwork and increase accuracy, the program has evolved into a full-featured solution that embraces a bevy of products and applications.
"Counter Intelligence has grown over the years because customers have asked for more features," explains Pinnacle's Hardy Forkapa. "The estimating program will allow you make quotes in any material - square feet or inches, lineal feet or inches, cubic feet or inches - it doesn't matter. Whether you are selling cement, solid surface, laminate or metal, it accommodates all of them. It will also let you quote a fireplace surround, shower stalls, etc."
While the original version of the program was hard disc-based, i.e., job and customer contact information resided on a server located on-premises and was accessible only through a computer tied into the network, Counter Intelligence 2 can be accessed remotely via the Internet. That means sales people in the field now have the ability to access and edit information in the database remotely.
"In a web-based program, as soon as you access it from anywhere in the world via the Internet, you go into the database in real time," says Forkapa. "Whatever you enter goes into the main database - there is no separate database residing on your laptop. You are doing a quote and a drawing out in the field, and you are actually putting data in that everybody can use."
In order to avoid the potential problem of the server going down, Pinnacle has contracted with an independent server farm, whose job it is to host the data on their premises. "The data resides at a third party location," he says, "so the customer's office could actually burn down and they still wouldn't lose their data."