BELOW ARE two productivity enhancing solutions, each dedicated to saving time, effort or both, when estimating a job or when processing your payroll.

When it comes to estimates, the very best are those that both win the project and make a profit. But, before that determination, the best estimates are those that are easy to put together, simple to revise and reliable in their numbers. Computerized estimating can save a contractor an appreciable amount of time preparing an estimate, cut down on data entry tedium, and ensure inclusion of every last O-ring, riser and fitting. It can also eliminate risks of transcription and calculation errors.

Plumbing Bid Manager 3000 ($1,295, Vision InfoSoft Corp., www.visioninfosoft.com, 800-258-7752) is a customizable, template-based solution for estimating a plumbing project. The program comes pre-loaded with more than 20,000 items and thousands of material assemblies, all with editable prices and labor times. Both items and assemblies (any of which can be "exploded" item by item in extensions) are editable to reflect any variations. Users may also build new assemblies on the fly, and these can be saved for subsequent projects, pricing them to suit.

The easy-to-use screens are assembly builders, with various related choices listed on a single screen. The main screen is titled Pipes and Fittings; other screens from which estimators bid include Fixtures and Pre-Built Assemblies.

Listed items are interdependent — pick a particular size of an item and the associated components are properly sized automatically. As the user works through all components to complete the take-off, a materials list for ordering is generated at the same time the estimate develops. For further efficiency, the software brings together totals of like items on a materials list, helping you benefit from quantity discounts.

Estimators are able to view instant totals and subtotals, as well as the results of any what-if substitution, addition or deletion. The software supports individual breakouts for all alternates, extras and change orders, and allows estimators to change profit or overhead on any bid at the last minute. Overhead and profit are separate components, so they can be easily modified independently during number crunching.

To help increase profits on change orders and extras, the program lets you choose "List" for any material and a higher column for labor over what was used in the base bid.

Users can break down job totals per the customer’s request or for in-house needs to a user-defined degree of detail. Choices include: By phase (rough-in, copper tubing, pipe, fittings, etc.); by section (defined for each job, for example, indoor, outdoor, sprinklers, irrigation, etc); and by system (fixtures, pipe, valves, drains, venting, etc.).

Plumbing Bid Manager links directly to Vision’s EPIC (Electronic Pricing Information for Contractors, from $41.25 a month, with the user selecting the update frequency), a computerized pricing service on CD-ROM that allows estimators to automatically price labor and thousands of material items. The plumbing materials catalog contains more than 500,000 plumbing products from more than 280 manufacturers. The program also has a cross-reference feature that enables estimators to find alternate products as substitutions and compare prices and product information.

Payroll made E-Z

Here’s a second software solution that can boost productivity when preparing payroll and help ensure accuracy of detail of all entries. Supporting hourly, salary or commission wages, the new CD-ROM-based Payroll For Contractors Made E-Z (SRP $24.95, www.MadeE-Z.com, 800/822-4566) is a comprehensive payroll system that generates complete employee data, history and employee expenses.

The program, which is capable of printing checks on both dot matrix and laser printers, supports regular, overtime, vacation, personal and sick pay, each with its own rate, and takes into consideration and calculates all federal, state and local taxes. The software will automatically calculate FICA/FUTA and will print reports for completing the federal 941 and 940 forms. The software also keeps track of employee earnings, withholding, deductions and accruals.

Contractors are able to print out W-2 forms and can sort reports and checks by employee ID or by employee’s first name or last name.

The software also creates and generates reports for timecards, payroll, check register, employee listings, employee labels, QTD-YTD, deductions, workers’ compensation and child support.

The product is flexible. It does not require closing of any particular accounting time period and has the ability to accrue vacation, sick days and personal days off. It can define accrual calculations based on regular pay or regular pay plus overtime pay for each employee. For each employee it is possible to define six additional miscellaneous pay types, all of which will print on the check stub.

William and Patti Feldman provide Web content for companies and write for magazines, trade associations, building product manufacturers and other companies on a broad range of topics. They can be reached by e-mail at wfeldman@att.net or by phone at 914/238-6272.