DALLAS, TX — There was no shortage of companies marketing their software solutions for the hvac industry at the recent International Air-Conditioning, Heating, Refrigerating (IAHR) Expo.

Contractors are becoming increasingly dependent on software solutions in business management and communications technology. Let’s look at what some of the players in the software market had to offer.

Arcom Master Systems specifies two systems designed for engineers, MASTERSPEC® and SPECWARE™. Each system interfaces and provides up-to-the-minute specs which ultimately wind up in the hands of hvac contractors and their installers.

MASTERSPEC is a master specification system for use by design professionals and members of the construction and building industries. It provides resources for up-to-date specifications, which are organized into distinct libraries for different jobs (i.e., mechanical-electrical and landscape architecture).

SPECWARE is a specification-enhancement tool to streamline specification development and production. It employs an on-screen, automated editor that uses patented technology to optimize MASTERSPEC’s edit-by-deletion structure.

Contractors looking for accounting, job cost, and service software can find a lot of help from Compusource. Two of its programs, Ascente and CONTRAC2, have been designed specifically for hvacr contractors.

Ascente runs on Microsoft® Windows® and is a fully functional office manager handling many service functions. It interacts with TRAVERSE, an accounting software package that manages payroll, purchasing, accounts receivable-payable, and more.

CONTRAC2 offers solutions in the following areas: service dispatch (billing and history), job cost-contract billing, truck and warehouse inventory, purchasing, sales and marketing, accounting, customized financial reporting, customized management reporting, and paging.

If you want to conduct business management over the Web, check out the premier of sampro.net, the Web browser of Data-Basics, Inc.

The Web browser interfaces with Data-Basics’ SAM Pro service management and job cost accounting software suite, enabling technicians and managers to access their data on a “need-to-know” basis via the Internet or their company’s own Intranet. Registered clients can submit their service requests via the Internet and track the progress of their existing workorders.

A fully integrated payroll module has been added to the software suite, complementing other benefits such as a link to wireless devices, time and materials entry, enhanced communications, and improved dispatcher productivity.

“This was an example of our engineers who actually stumbled onto application software,” said president Arthur K. Divell Jr. “Now we are the only company [at the show] that integrates everything into one software program.”

Elite Software is a software outsourcing firm that provides skilled information technology (IT) professionals on a contract basis. It will outsource people on a long- or short-term basis.

For contractors who need software and not consultants, the company also is a well-established provider of service software.

“There are about 20,000 contractors who are computer-oriented,” said marketing director Stephen Kelly. “In order to do business in their state, many will have to become computer oriented. States like Florida are now requiring computer-generated duct sizing and load-calculation drawings.”

A helpful tool for hvac contractors is the Bidmaster PLUS from Estimation Inc. The estimating package is available in a Microsoft Windows format and is the “estimating system of choice” for hvac contractors who want accurate and comprehensive bids, the company says.

The Bidmaster PLUS database is customized to the hvac trade, and contains the materials, labor, accessories, and standards needed to estimate the layout, fabrication, and installation of sheet metal.

“Our job is to make the contractor’s job much easier,” said marketing director Tina Fleming.

Training, sheet metal

Training — that’s the motivation behind the products sold by Perfectimm. The company notes that “Contractors are finding themselves having to take precious billing hours to train personnel on equipment repair and the fundamentals of hvacr systems” because there is a 25% turnover rate in the labor pool.

The company’s solution is to offer more than 20 hvacr training CD packages. Each module and CD can be used to train multiple employees or one at a time. The training sessions could be for new employees, or can be used as refresher courses.

Some of the courses include refrigeration, motors and drives, hvac electrical troubleshooting, controls, power quality, residential energy systems, and tools.

“We are one of the only companies to offer so much training,” said marketing coordinator Tania Czychoratzki. “We will soon be Internet-based, too.”

Finally, Quote Software touted its QuoteExpress FABshop, a system designed for makers of sheet metal ductwork and fittings for the hvac industry.

FABshop has a number of different features contractors will find useful and time-saving, such as a job information screen that allows the user to view individual information about each job (including discount, shipping, and order-processing information). Custom reports can be generated in updatable formats.

FABshop is an open system that grows as industry data changes and more users and third-party applications are added. The program has built-in flexibility.

According to Quote Software’s Teesa Brainard, “If a contractor calls us and wants to add a feature, it won’t be five years before we integrate it.”

Sidebar: Internet-based hvac solutions

FieldCentrix used the Dallas stage to announce the availability of Version 2.4 of FieldCentrix Enterprise, a wireless, Internet-based software solution for field force automation.

With 2.4’s invoice management tools, customers can electronically handle all of their pre-invoicing and contract billing activities. The system automatically applies appropriate part markups and labor rates and allows billing clerks to create, modify, and delete bill dates or invoice numbers.

Version 2.4 also lets customers associate costs and revenues with specific departments or branch offices, increasing their ability to understand which offices or departments are most and least profitable. Judy Johnson, senior vice president of marketing, said that contractors will like one particular option that is certain to increase their profitability. “The software has an ‘additional repair’ feature.

“One contractor told us about a tech who normally sold about $100 of additional repairs each month. Using this feature [and recommending repairs to the customer], the tech sold $2,000 in additional repairs.”

The big news preceding the Dallas show was the announcement of BuildNet’s acquisition of UniLink and KeyPrestige. The union automates the sending and receiving of purchase orders, warranty claims, etc. through a direct link to all business partners.

“This acquisition means there is now a link between builder, manufacturer, and contractor,” said Garry Price, vice president of sales for the Unilink Group. HVAC Online is one of four mechanical service vertical markets under the Unilink Group umbrella. Plumbing, electrical, and appliances are also part of the service business.

HVAC Online advertises three main features:

1. There is no need for wholesalers to buy software or hardware and no EDI transaction charges for the wholesaler, reducing up-front capital costs and ongoing costs.

2. In-house technical team works with customers for the optimal linking system, working with existing resources to go online quickly.

3. An outsource leaves customers more time to conduct their business.

For the contractor in the field, there is always a need for online communications to the home base and for immediate access to customer records. Vertical Market Software offers “Mobile Data for Field Technicians.” This mobile data enables field technicians to go online via laptop computers and:

  • Inquire into details of a specific call;
  • Update the call status by clicking on a status button;
  • Enter billing line items;
  • Produce a summary sign-off sheet; and
  • Send e-mail messages to dispatch and other technicians.

Vice president Jim Snyder said that with heavy use of online communications, contractors should shop around for the best phone rates. “Look for a competitive cellular service provider who offers unlimited air time,” he added.

If it’s a Web site you want to develop, you might want to see what DataQuad Inc. has to offer. The company, founded in January 2000, is a subsidiary of Auto-Graphics and provides single-source solutions to the electronic publishing industry.

Data-Quad’s product line includes Impact/WEB, which allows for “effective” publishing using the Internet. The value of this product is that it helps to create “on-the-fly” conversion to HTML as searches are performed via the Internet.

“We have been helping manufacturers and suppliers build their websites,” said executive vice president Paul Cope. “We are also working with some large contractors who want to sell directly to the public, including those who sell accessories like fireplaces.”