In Review: Project Tracker Pro Software
Project Tracker Pro
23806 190th Ave. SE
Kent, WA 98042
Suggested Price List:
Project Tracker Pro v4.00 can be purchased for $799; additional seats can be purchased for $99. The v4.00 upgrade is listed at $399 plus an additional $20 per seat.
The software is based on the widely used and accepted Microsoft Access program. The Access part of the program is licensed with PTP, so Microsoft Access does not need to be installed separately on the host computer. Some of the limitations of Access, such as network speed and file size restrictions, apply to PTP, as well. However, PTP software manages the database well, and my firm has never lost information or had a corrupted file despite implementing multiple computer and software upgrades. I think this record speaks well for the software designers at PTP.
As a database program, PTP stores a small program on the user’s computer and then accesses a common database file hosted on a network connection. The front-end/back-end approach makes data management and scalability simple.
Intuitive Project ManagementWhen PTP is launched, the user is asked to log in. This log-in information is used to determine access parameters and the amount of information visible to the user. For users with administrative-level privileges, a tool box graphic is displayed that contains links to functions commonly used together. For instance, the main menu area drops down to reveal links to “Projects,” “Contacts,” “Reports” or “Schedule.” The program is intuitive and easy to master. I have generally found that new employees can pick up the basics within a couple of sessions.
PTP links most functions either directly or indirectly to the Projects menu. This menu allows users to create custom templates (MS Word compatible) and is also preloaded with many common templates, including boundary surveys, topographic surveys, rates, and standard terms and conditions. Each template can be easily edited or reformatted to meet the needs of a specific project. For example, a Florida-based company would have no use for a record of survey template since there is no recording law in Florida. Likewise, the section, township and range of commonly used index fields wouldn’t be used if a surveyor practiced in a non-PLSS state. The Projects menu allows input of almost any piece of information a surveyor might want to record. Custom fields can be edited to record information that is unique to a region or project. Information entered in the Projects section of the program is then used subsequently for all project documents, such as estimates, contracts and invoices.
Under the Projects menu are several tabs. A Field/Crew Information tab shows information relevant to the field work on a specific project and includes checklists and schedule details. The Financial Information tab leads to another level of tools associated with billing, hours worked, estimates, invoices, payments and billing rates.
The last tab under Projects is the Tracking/Reports tab. This section contains tools for tracking and reporting on a project. It essentially summarizes what has happened on the project based on inputs from users over the life of the project.
Contact management in PTP is similar to many other programs in that it includes common fields for names, addresses, phone numbers, etc. However, PTP features a valuable tool that allows all of the contacts to be linked to projects based on their relationship to it, i.e., a contact can be linked to one project as the owner and to a different project as the attorney or engineer or whatever role he or she holds. This function helps our firm keep track of who is involved on a project and allows us to include all of the involved individuals on important e-mails and other correspondence.
Reports is the next major area of PTP. This set of tools is broken into two categories: General Reports for project managers, timesheets, etc. and Financial Reports for billing, accounts receivable, etc. This is one area in which PTP has room to improve. While the prepackaged reports are fine, it would be helpful to have a custom report generator.
The Crew Scheduler function is self-explanatory, and PTP attempts to make a database function like a calendar. It works--don’t get me wrong--but it’s clunky and slow. It may be that scheduling is just too complicated a task to include in a program of this type. After all, there are other software programs dedicated to scheduling, such as PrimaVera or MS Project.
The remainder of PTP is divided into personal tools, database setup and combinations of tools that are accessible from previously described menus. The layout is intuitive and easily navigated. I’ll just highlight some of the items I have found most useful.
The My Tracker utility brings up a window that shows the most recent timecard entries, intra-office messages, tasks and schedules−all in one handy interface. Clicking on any of the items brings up a more detailed view for editing.
The Time Card utility works well and does an excellent job of tracking employees’ time and tasks. It feeds right into a variety of other functions such as monitoring costs, comparing estimates versus actual time, and billing preparation.
Microsoft MapPoint is a separate program that can integrate with PTP. This is a very useful tool that maps project locations based on their lat/lon tag or street address in PTP and is useful for driving directions and planning. It also replaces the old pushpin wall map for locating work a company has performed in the past. Another nice feature is using a screenshot from MapPoint and associating the image with the project data for later use on a computer that does not have MapPoint installed.
PTP also has several built-in search routines for finding projects. A user can search for projects based on data contained in any field. A search can also be done on any combination of fields, inclusive or exclusive. This is very helpful for marketing, for example when you are trying to find a certain type of work completed in a certain area. PTP also allows a sort of geographic search based on fractional areas of the PLSS or latitude/longitude. This search function is also helpful in finding other projects by proximity and avoiding work duplication.
Database Setup in PTP is also intuitive. I would estimate a couple of hours to set up initially, but plan on spending several hours a week for a few months while you customize the contract templates, standard scope terms and checklists.
Once PTP is set up, it takes practically no maintenance to keep it running. Backups occur automatically and the system is reliable. Occasionally, I have connection problems when I switch laptops or the network changes, but these problems are easily resolved.
A Time-Saving ProgramPTP is very comprehensive, but it will take some trial use to determine how it best fits your organization. For example, while it integrates most of the business functions that a typical surveying firm needs, it is not a replacement for financial software. Our company still maintains a separate QuickBooks financial record, mostly for tax purposes, although we do generate all invoices, billing and accounts receivable using PTP. (Incidentally, it is possible to have a custom report written by the developers of PTP and added to a user’s version of the software. We have done this for a financial report and found it to be relatively inexpensive.) Likewise, PTP does not replace mapping software. However, it does have certain geographic search routines that work well--for example, Microsoft MapPoint is a good search engine if you have it installed. Alternately, you can search by longitude or latitude or by section/township/range, and the software also links to popular Internet mapping engines.
Some improvements could be made to PTP. The database contains a huge amount of valuable information, yet PTP is limited in its ability to import and export information between other programs. Therefore, it would be helpful to be able to link the PTP database with a GIS program like ESRI’s ArcView. It would also be helpful to import and export contact or e-mail information from or to MS Outlook.
PTP has improved with each new version, and I understand that many of the improvements that could be made are currently under development for a new release. For example, the MS Access data structure, which is limited in size and speed, will be replaced with a more robust SQL database in the future. I also expect future versions to continue the trend toward more customizable queries and reports. One additional note is that technical support has always been responsive; support staff generally return my calls the same day.
Overall, this program allows a surveyor to spend more time surveying and less time administering office work. PTP is a niche program that is targeted solely at land surveyors, and I have yet to find its equal. I would recommend it to any small- to medium-sized surveying firm.
Editor's note: In response to this product review, Project Tracker Pro has added three new database export routines: Project Data, Contact Data and Geo Point Data. For more information, call 800/266-5930 or e-mail email@example.com.