SAN FRANCISCO (03/28/2000) - Traditional project-management software is useful for planning jobs and for letting you know whether you're falling behind schedule once a project has started. Unfortunately, these packages seldom track the fine points-submittals, change orders, and correspondence-crucial to a project's success. AEC Software Inc.'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 you're likely to find using Details 3.0 superior to creating your own 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)-all you have to do is open a file and start entering your data. 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.
The new Forms function helps you modify existing forms or design new ones.
Although forms are central to any good database, customizing Details' forms is especially easy. You can use intuitive drawing and properties palettes to drag and drop fields, place graphics, and make selections. This feature also lets you create electronic replicas of traditional paper forms and cut costs by printing documents on demand.
Usability features abound in Details 3.0. For instance, if you don't want to use a supplied template, you can build a new file quickly: you simply define your fields and then set up a report by selecting the fields you want to view.
You don't face the daunting task of understanding relationships between fields, records, and index files and other typical complexities.
Nevertheless, Details 3.0 doesn't skimp on expected database functionality, such as storing preset 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 subfields have already been defined.
Case in point: the Contact field contains address and phone-number placeholders. This thoughtful feature saves time when you're creating a database-and makes certain that users don't miss entering important facts, since related information is grouped in a single spot. And 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.
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.
Reporting Made Easy
Details' premade reports will be all most users need. For example, the Project Log format lets you store and report multiple tasks, dates, and durations for each record in your database. 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 you do want to create or customize a Details report, simply choose the fields you want to see, specify their order, define the search criteria, and decide whether dates should appear as a graph. You can store unlimited report formats for each Details database.
Another helpful feature, Generator, constantly monitors the database. This means you don't have to run a report routine after new data is entered; all report listings are always up-to-date.
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 e-mailing reports or posting them on a Web site somewhat inefficient. A better approach would be to save reports as HTML files. This could prove very useful, especially if the HTML file included hyperlinks from a task to supporting details. That said, those using Details can easily embed links that launch an e-mail program or a Web browser or open attached 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 novice users 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.
Macworld's Buying Advice
Details 3.0.1 offers several benefits for professional managers. Little experience is needed for database setup, 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 keeps you from making costly mistakes because of lost project information-without requiring a significant time or financial commitment.
RATING: 4.0 mice
PROS: Custom forms; easy report building; supports multiple users.
CONS: Awkward integration with other applications.
COMPANY: AEC Software (800/346-9413, http://www.aecsoft.com).
LIST PRICE: $299.