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Master upgrade: Intuit's popular Master Builder software offers new features without alienating existing users.

"GIMME A 6-4-1, MACK!"

No, it's not a baseball play on the radio or waitress slang for a burger and fries at the local diner. A 6-4-1 in Master Builder speak is a change order. Builders who use Master Builder fly around the program with a few numbered keystrokes, and that's why making numerous changes to such a familiar tool would not be a very good idea. Luckily, Intuit has managed to introduce some useful new user-requested features to Master Builder to without taking existing users out of their comfort zones.

Master Builder 10 is integrated accounting/ construction management software built around a single FoxPro database. The core product includes accounting, project management, scheduling, and equipment management.

Add-on modules include: estimating, service receivables, inventory;, and document control. There are dozens of stock reports in each financial and operational area as well as a custom report writer/form designer. Users can also craft more complicated reports using a third-party product such as Crystal Reports.

Master Builder's interface resembles a cross between the Windows Explorer file structure and Desktop. Available modules and features are in a numbered list along the left, and users tailor the rest of the interface to meet their needs by adding shortcuts to often-used reports and input screens. User input windows and dialog boxes are a bit of a throwback to Windows 3.1 days and still don't quite follow Microsoft Windows conventions, but menus and control buttons are fairly consistent from screen to screen and easy enough to figure out. New users with basic computer knowledge won't have any problem navigating through the program.

There are more than 60 improvements in version 10. Here are my top four:

* Export to Excel. The feature most requested by users. One click dumps practically any Master Builder financial report straight into Excel for further number crunching and what-if analysis.

* Export notes field. The estimating module now has a free-form notes field in which a detailed note can accompany a line item. These can be used to create project specifications that wind up on Requests for Quote, purchase orders, and other transmittal forms.

* Secondary payees. Master Builder will account for--and cut--multiple-party checks, a must for builders concerned about whether their subs actually pay their suppliers and vendors in full.

* Internal messaging. You can now fax or e-mail any Master Builder report to employees, as well as subs and suppliers. This makes it easy to convey project schedules and purchase orders to the project or warranty service managers.

Joe Stoddard is a process/technology consultant to the building industry. Reach him at jstoddard@mountain

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Title Annotation:Builder tech: new gadgets, new systems, new future; Intuit Inc.'s Master Builder 10
Author:Stoddard, Joe
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Dec 1, 2004
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