Adobe Acrobat X Pro, www.adobe.com, offers users working with all sorts of dynamic electronic content including video and photos an efficient way to create, read, edit and share PDF files.
The newly enhanced program allows contractors to create polished portfolios with professionally designed layouts and themes. A portfolio is a single PDF file that enables inclusion of multiple files of varying content types and lets users create a navigational layer over it.
Instead of sending an e-mail with several attachments, you can send one PDF file that contains everything you want to share. The files are compressed automatically so the overall size is a lot smaller than it would be if all were sent individually. And the portfolio looks very professional, embellished with templated design layouts and visual themes.
Dynamic content can run inside of the portfolio. You can insert links to website pages, create a tree structure of content showing the architectural and engineering drawings and the supplemental materials, and keep track of many documents as the project progresses.
An Action wizard allows automating of routine multi-step tasks, standardizing work processes for everyone and providing consistency by stringing together different features into a common action, so nothing is missed.
Acrobat X Pro uses Microsoft Windows SharePoint to manage files on a server, allowing users on a network inside the organization and users outside the network to check out a PDF file from the library for editing or reviewing and then checking it back in, maintaining records of the actions.
The software can create an electronic form ready to be filled out on screen from a scanned document, existing PDF documents, Microsoft Word documents or Excel spreadsheets. Acrobat will automatically recognize form fields on static PDF documents and convert them to interactive fields. You can add text fields, check boxes and drop-down menus instantly.
Other new notable features: the OCR engine can recognize text in PDF files so word searches inside a PDF file are now possible. And the program can convert a PDF file into an editable Word document or Excel spreadsheet. With Excel, the software will look for tables inside the PDF and create a separate worksheet for each table found.
Here's a nifty cost analysis smart phone app: an operating cost calculator, Filtration (Kimberly Clark, free at www.kcfiltration.com) that estimates life-cycle cost and environmental impact (annual CO2 emissions) of filters in systems with variable frequency or variable speed fans. This mobile analysis tool enables contractors to compare costs and impact of any two similar HVAC systems once the user keys in brand/manufacturer/model, MERV/Efficiency, and filter type and share the results in graphical or tabular format with customers. The output "calculations" give the annual filter cost, annual energy cost, and total annual operating costs for two options and also the "total environmental impact" consisting of annual energy consumption in kWh and annual CO2 emissions (lbs) for the two options. The same tool is also available online.
ESC Electronic Service Control service management software (dESCO, www.desco-soft.com/electronic-service-control, 800-226-7529) is a desktop solution suitable for small and medium-sized contractors active in service work. Capabilities include customer information including tax codes, labor rates, and trip charges; drag-and-drop dispatching with daily, weekly, and monthly views; equipment; service agreements with tracking features; sales; a quoting module that supports saving and modifying of quotes and invoice templates; inventory; several levels of flat rate pricing and unlimited assembly parts; purchasing; and service history with account integration throughout the system.
You can attach any kind of file to a customer's record, which can be instantly recalled from any computer running ESC. For example, you can attach schematics to a dispatch, photos to equipment records, CAD drawings to quotes/invoices, and Excel checklists to service agreements.
The program, which includes standard and custom reports on customer, technician, inventory and sales data, integrates with QuickBooks and Peachtree Accounting.
Additional plug-in options include: CallerID; GPS integration enabling management to see where tech vehicles are and how they are being used; and mapping and routing capability that helps ensure new jobs are assigned to the closest tech. With the Mobile Solutions add-on, a user can log into ESC's Web Front Office from any computer, laptop, netbook, or tablet with an Internet connection to issue and manage dispatches, view customer information, or run detailed reports.
ESC Mobile (the app for iPhone/iPad, Android, and Windows Phone 7 devices, available from dESCO or from iTunes app store) enables technicians with Internet enabled mobile phone devices to see and input all relevant data on ESC service dispatches assigned to them. Technicians can attach photos taken with a phone's camera to the customer's record. Administration controls how much information each technician receives. If allowed, the technician can track and modify jobs while providing office personnel real-time updates. The technician can also capture a customer's signature and process cash, check or credit card payment with QuickBooks Merchant Services and immediately e-mail receipts. The app is available to demo by searching "ESC Mobile" in the iPhone/iPad. Android, or Windows Phone 7 app store.
Bill and Patti Feldman are freelance writers for magazines, trade associations, building product manufacturers and other companies on a broad range of topics. They can be reached at: email@example.com.