Info-Retriever 12

by Stuart W. Spencer, PLS
 
Info-Retriever 12 - Office Management Software by AGT
 
If you have struggled to find a software package for your office that meets the unique needs of the surveying and engineering profession, Info-Retriever is worth a look. Since 1985, Advanced Graphics Technologies (AGT) has been writing this office management application that brings a collection of business tasks into a single program. Client lists, project information, scheduling, time tracking, billing, and more are all handled in one place. The latest release, version 12, has several new features that make the system even more versatile than before.
 

Records


At the core of the program are three key databases:  contacts, properties (or projects), and control. What makes this system unique is that these aren’t just flat lists of information but rather dynamic databases that cross-reference related information, making data lookup and retrieval a simple process.Property records, for instance, can be linked to clients, control monuments, and other related files or documents. Simply look up the project record using any one of more than 80 search fields, and all the relevant project information is right there. An Imaging Manager even allows field notes, plats, and other documents to be scanned and attached to any record, ensuring that all data can be kept together. Each record becomes a one-stop shop, even when files are scattered in multiple locations.

Every record has an area for comments while user fields can be created to add even more custom indexing.  The comments area creates a time stamp with each entry, making it a handy place to keep a running record of progress on jobs, notes from phone conversations, or other notes that need to be retained with the record.

Additional fields exist in the properties records for storing project information such as scheduling, site contacts, and crew assignments. Work orders can be generated directly from the record, and associated control can even be linked from the control database.

AGT has done a great job of keeping data interfaces simple while including categories that are specifically relevant to the needs of surveyors and engineers. This is definitely one of the benefits of market-specific software.  They have even taken it a step further by adding the ability to customize categories if the predefined list doesn’t fit your company’s needs.   If land lots are not a concern, for instance, but zoning districts are, you can modify the input fields accordingly.

Other features such as location lookup add convenience to everyday tasks. A single click on the street address or lat/lon will take you directly to the location in Google Maps. In the same way, email, CAD files, and other documents attached to a record can all be launched directly from within Info-Retriever.

As with any software, there is always opportunity for enhancement. Drag-and-drop functionality from Windows and the ability to attach folders to records rather than just individual files are a couple of improvements that would reduce browsing efforts. As it is now, adding an attachment requires browsing to each desired file and selecting  them one by one. 

Similarly, more tool tips would hasten the learning curve for functions that are not necessarily intuitive. A pick list, for example, can be created for nearly any input field by simply hitting F2—a great feature but not something the average user would quickly figure out. Most users would benefit from consistent inputs in certain fields and would want to know about that capability from the first use.
 

Control Information


The ability to store control information along with project and client data is another function that helps develop the information network within Info-Retriever.  Control can be entered along with location, data sheets, and any other pertinent information,  then linked to individual properties. The same control can even be linked to multiple projects. This is a great feature for anyone who has ever had trouble keeping up with project control, and it’s definitely unique in this type of package.The methods for entering control, however, could still benefit from some automation. First, the ability to pick a lat/lon on a map rather than entering it by hand would be a great step forward—a likely option for vertical control that may not need an exact location. Second, a coordinate conversion utility would be a great time saver.

The Google Maps location lookup feature only uses the lat/lon entry; therefore, because most users are more likely to have state plane coordinates than lat/lon, an automated conversion would be very beneficial. The third enhancement to control that would be a big time saver is the ability to import data directly from NGS data sheets when using published monuments.
 

Scheduling


In addition to records management, Info-Retriever also provides scheduling tools, including a calendar and task list. The functionality is similar to other calendar programs in the ability to create and share entries and setting reminders. Release 12 also offers a new feature in the ability to send text message reminders to your cell phone, which is a great tool and welcome addition due to the inability to sync with smart phones. Another unique feature is the ability to link appointments and tasks with clients, properties, or even control, giving quick-click access to the corresponding information when reminders pop up.

The calendar is easy to use, has a nice-looking interface, and I especially like it for multi-user offices where appointments and tasks can be shared or assigned to others within the organization. The inability to sync with smart phones could be a deficiency for some, but the new text alerts feature offers an alternative that benefits anyone with text messaging, not just smart phones.
 

Finances


Info-Retriever also handles time and billing by logging time directly to individual projects.  Time is tracked by employee and can be selected from predefined activities and rates or by entering custom information.   It can then be transferred directly to invoices for billing or reports, including Time by Job, Time by Employee, Open Invoices, and many more.

Billing from within Info-Retriever is a new option in version 12; however, invoices can also be created in QuickBooks as in previous releases. The invoicing process is very simple and requires little input other than selecting data to include. For those seeking more advanced functionality, QuickBooks is a great option, but for simple billing the internal system works very well. 
 

Forms and Reports


A built-in word processor is included that is compatible with Microsoft Word and WordPerfect, and you can use it for writing letters, proposals, specifications, and more. Some of the improvements to this feature include the addition of the degree symbol, a spell checker (for those handicapped by the computer generation), and a mailing label generator.

The word processor also serves as the interface for many ready-to-use forms such as fax covers, time sheets, memos, mileage reports, and expense reports. And if the standard forms don’t meet your needs, custom forms can always be designed.

In all, I found the program to be a great tool for an industry where records and data seem to become scattered quite easily. It is a simple one-stop-shop for managing information that is easy to use and full of great features. A geographic interface would be a great addition in the future, but as it is, the capabilities unique to our profession certainly offer many advantages that would be difficult to find in any other package. There are also several multimedia tutorials included that are an added benefit for new users to get up and running quickly.  I would recommend that anyone seeking an all-around office management software give it a test drive. Even those content with the accounting or scheduling systems they are currently using could benefit from the records management capabilities of this package.

Info-Retriever is available in single seat or network licenses and recommended by the producers for surveying and engineering firms of all sizes.

Stuart W. Spencer, PLS is a licensed surveyor in Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina, currently practicing in a private civil/survey firm in Savannah, Georgia.

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