Copyright: David Lawson 1996
A sea change is taking place in property software as suppliers move up a gear from Dos to Microsoft Windows. Some have even skipped a chapter, preferring to take advantage of the 32-bit power of Windows 95. Most blame delays on customers rather than their own lack of response to demands for more user-friendly tools. 'The industry was going through recession when Windows came out, and frankly it was not worth developing products when users could not afford to buy them' says Keith Noble, who spent 18 years at Grant & Partners as a customer before crossing the divide to set up consultancy BOE Systems.
KEL COMPUTING has completely rewritten its its industry-standard INVESTMENT VALUER 3 and DEVELOPMENT VALUER packages and expects them to be launched at the October Property Computer Show and generally available by the end of the year.
'We decided not to go for the quick fix by just porting over the old software,' says managing director Paul Halford. The aim is to future-proof the programs, so they will be written in 32-bit as well.
The firm has decided to provide some 450 existing clients with free upgrades. New licences will range upwards from £5250 and the annual maintenance charges rise from 12% to 15% of purchase price.
Rival supplier CIRCLE aims to get in first by demonstrating its INVESTOR and DEVELOPER packages at the Leeds show this month, after working on the updates for more than a year.
'This will expand the market as well as giving existing customers extra functionality,' says sales manager Vivian Morris. Many large groups currently use only Windows-based applications, and the switch would bring them in to expand the customer base for valuation programs.
TRACE SOLUTIONS is so convinced of the importance of Windows that it has become an authorised development partner with Microsoft and is expanding the TBS packages launched at last autumn's London show following a £3m development program.
TBS/Agency is already up and running as a replacement for the Dos program. TBS/Investment, a brand new application, is being launched in Leeds while MANTRA, a management database, and a business management module will be launched at the autumn show.
The latest version of TRAMPS, the management package used by 200 clients, has been updated to handle changes such as privity and non-resident landlord taxation. The long-awaited link to KEL's software is included and it has an automatic link to MS Office.
ESTATE COMPUTER SYSTEMS, the market leader in accounting and property management software, has jumped even further into the future by going straight to Windows 95 for the packages it is launching this month.
This has less to do with market demands than technical problems in finding a way to transform into 16-bit. 'Price is less an issue with the companies and institutions who are our customers. We started working on the problem as soon as Windows was launched,' says ECS systems director Faith Dowd.
But the firm could not find the right software tools to make the switch without losing the base code. That would have meant losing all the development and testing that had been done over 18 years. 'And it is vital to use tried and tested programs for accounting, which cannot afford to produce inaccuracies,' she says.
The crucial factor in upgrades to well-known Dos and Unix titles like PROPERTY PORTFOLIO MANAGEMENT and CLIENTS ACCOUNTING & PROPERTY MANAGEMENT is that they are in the same code, so there is no change in structure or use - only in screen presentation. Full compatibility is also claimed with Novell networks.
Prices starting at £7950 are also the same , although the existing 450 customers will pay 20%. Maintenance contracts rise from 12% to 15%.
BOE INFORMATION SYSTEMS swims in a very different market, offering a personalised service to clients more comfortable with 'back of an envelope' calculations. 'There are a lot of people out there who cannot afford £4500 nor want to plough through pages of detail,' says founder Keith Noble.
But this has still meant extra investment in rewriting to Windows. The sheer cost, plus extra investment in marketing could cripple some small suppliers, but Noble has turned growing involvement in the Internet to his advantage.
Potential users can download a time-limited but fully-operational version of BOE's DEVAPP program from the firm's web page (www.compulink.co.uk/~boe-systems).
Sheer demand for upgrades was demonstrated when SKYLINE FOR WINDOWS was launched at the last Property Computer Show. 'We immediately had four large companies jump in with orders,' says Louise Denton of supplier FRASER WILLIAMS.
This is not in the same bracket as other systems as the software is designed to work for large groups using Unix. But the aim was similar, adopting a graphical user interface and Microsoft style to fit comfortably with most Windows applications.
The firm worked for 18 months researching and implementing a new version of the property management system, which has become one of the industry-standard packages for large groups. It leans heavily on advantages of a client/server system, which gives the 'benefit of PC power' with information sharing over a multi-user Oracle database.
NatWest is one newcomer, signing a contract worth more than £500,000 to handle around 3,000 properties on its WAN (wide area network). Southern Electric is the first of more than 30 existing users to upgrade, and is adding property accounting to the database and diary modules.
The major problem with modern software - particularly number-crunchers - is the amount of memory, or RAM, required. At least 8Mb is recommended for Windows 95, yet most machines still have half that capacity. Portables are a particular problem.
An old favourite has ridden to the rescue, however. QUARTERDECK made its name with QEMM, the software which squeezed the last byte out of existing memory to make Dos programs more stable. Now it is doing the same for RAM.
MAGNARAM2 can uses compression technology to as much as quadruple memory capacity. But it avoids the slowdowns which dogged software which did the same for hard disks a year or so ago. The facility is included in the latest update of QEMM but is also available on its own for Windows 95 users.
At a street price of less than £30, or £60 for QEMM, it is cheaper than buying extra RAM, even though prices have fallen to around £25 per megabyte.
CHARLES GOAD will show its new PC-based retail database and desktop mapping system at the Leeds show. The package, which runs on ArcView software from ESRI, allows users to store their own information as well as access Goad's location data.
KEL - 01628 819090; firstname.lastname@example.org
ECS - 01529 413131
Circle - 0181 906 4059
BOE - 0171 402 8400; email@example.com
Fraser Williams - 0171 240 8011
Trace Solutions - 0171 490 4409
Quarterdeck - 01245 496699; firstname.lastname@example.org
Charles Goad - 01707 271171