Several months ago, I watched a colleague present a webinar on D-Tools, a AV integration software package. I was interested in certain aspects of the software, particularly the integration with Visio and the project quoting, and paid minimal attention to all the other features. After working with my D-Tools rep, we decided to move forward and purchase the application. In the two months I have been it, it has already changed the way we do our work. Regardless of whether you are an integrator, end user or designer, this application has the potential to take your business to a new level.
Having dealt with the IT department for various other projects at my work, I knew that lots of applications seem great, until you try and integrate them into your current network infrastructure. Sure, the application may be affordable, but what is the behind the scenes cost of installing and supporting a server? D-Tools makes this process very simple. They offer both a hosted version and a on-site version. The hosted version costs slightly more, but the advantage is that all you need is a network connection. The server, upgrades and backups are all taken care of by someone else. This is a great solution for smaller firms that don’t have a large IT staff and infrastructure. The on-site version is less money, but you do have to provide your own server and support. But, don’t be fooled. D-Tools is efficient enough that a virtual server, with minimal hardware specs will run it just fine. We chose the less expensive on-site version, and so far are very happy. Please don’t underestimate this portion of the review. Too many times we get sold on software, that ends up never working as promised, because of these exact issues. D-Tools is not one of those products.
The software has a myriad of options and features that I can not possibly cover in one column. So, I will focus on those that I believe are most critical to getting you to look into the software on your own. The best feature of the software is the catalog. They have provided thousands of products from hundreds of companies. An easy search through their online database allows you to download the products, build, and customize your own database of products. The non-obvious benefit to this is that you are cluttered down with thousands of products you will never use. Additionally, you can customize pricing, accessories and other features of each product to suit your firm’s needs. The accessories features allow you to add partnering products with each other. For example, if you have a projector in your catalog you can add ceiling tile mounts, along with universal pipe mounts as optional accessories to that product. When you add it to a project, the system will ask you if you want to add the accessories as well. This prevents those last minute realizations that you left a product off the initial quote, and now you are losing money. When building your own catalog you can specify several different pricing rules. This allows you to charge different prices, say a discounted price for an educational facility, or special prices as part of a government contract.
Speaking of quotes, D-Tools does a great job with building projects and quotes. In its simplest form you build a project as you add products to it. You can do this via a very easy drag and drop interface, or you can do it by building the drawing in either Visio or AutoCAD. As you add items to the drawing, they automatically become part of your project. This includes everything from system switchers, to amps to a short HDMI cable. Everything is added as an item in your project and is therefore quoted appropriately. There are also several advanced features here where you can combine multiple projects into one site project (if you had multiple rooms in one building, for example). As you draw each system, the downloaded products come built in with inputs and outputs for the drawing. This allows you to verify that every piece of wire and every “black box” has been accounted for. The pre-built templates in Visio allow you to do a line drawing, schematic drawing and rack elevation drawing. Again, with all the data coming from D-Tools datase.
The reporting section allows you to develop dozens of separate reports. These range from quotes that you can hand to your clients, to pick lists that you can hand to your installers, to cost analysis that you can hand the CFO and CEO of your company. The great thing about this software is that it can be adaptable to so many different uses. A Technology Manager may not use the cost analysis report, but certainly the quote and scope reports provide a very clear picture for my customers as to what they should expect. An option on the quote report even allows me to have pictures of the products, so my customers know what something will look like. A very large firm may use all of the reports. I know that many firms struggle with the cost of lost accessories. That is, the constant struggle between the installation team wanting a “stocked” van, so they aren’t missing that one cable, versus the warehouse manager who is trying to keep an accurate inventory of what is going out the door. The pick list report makes that very easy to manage, from bulk cable down to an RJ-45.
Add into the above, an integration with QuickBooks, and iPad quote application and easy management of your customer list, and you will quickly realize that not using software like D-Tools is probably costing you money. I would love to hear from integrators and other #avtweeps out there. Are you using D-Tools? What is your favorite feature?