Biz*Base Gold. (time and information management system software) (evaluation)
by Steven Anzovin
For years I ran my writing, editing, and consulting business entirely out of my head. No lawyer, no accountant, no Filofax, certainly no scheduling software--just a little phone and address database. I rarely even looked at a calendar. But the business grew, and I had a rude awakening a while back when I got an angry call from one of my biggest clients. She wanted to know why I was two weeks late with her rush job--and I couldn't even remember agreeing to do the work!
If your schedule is too complex and your contacts and clients too numerous to be managed informally, you need Biz*Base. Billed as a time and information management system (TIMS), Biz*Base is a combination of personal database, contact management system, schedule management system, calendar, phone dialer, and letter/report generator. It helps you keep track of your business contacts, organizes your schedule, priorities your projects, and reminds you to make important calls and keep vital appointments. It also provides a place for keeping expense account and other information, and even prints out form letters, invoices, envelopes, and labels for new customers. In short, it acts like a secretary that never forgets.
The main Biz*Base screen consists of several windows that summarize important categories of information. The Recall window lists calls to make. The Follow-up window tells you to make follow-up calls to clients who have already received letters from you. The Calendar window lists the day's appointments. The Task Scheduler window displays all the tasks you have scheduled, in order to importance. Alert windows can pop up whenever something important occurs on the current date, like an anniversary, birthday, or critical deadline.
Each of the main windows opens to show more information. The full Contact record of the line highlighted in the Recall window can be displayed by hitting Enter. Contact records contain the name, address, number, and all other relevant information about all of your contacts; you can also define up to 50 fields for things like the last order date, type of products the contact buys or sells, and so forth. Up to a billion Contact records are possible, probably an adequate number unless you have a very successful business. Most of Biz*Base's functions depend on information you keep in the Contact records, which can be searched and tagged with simple queries. You can autodial calls from any Contact Record; Biz*Base even times the calls.
The Calendar window displays a daily appointment list on the left side of the screen, a month calendar on the upper right, and appointment memos at the lower right. You can also see a six-month calendar, search for specific appointments in the future or past, and set alarms.
Automatic generation of form and follow-up letters, with labels, is particularly useful. After typing the body of the letter with the simple word processor included in the program, you can create mail-merge letters for any set of tagged records. A week later, Biz*Base prompts you to create follow-up letters for the same contacts. You can create invoices for tagged records, too, and the program will keep track of inventory based on invoice activity. Write macros to speed up most data entry and other repetitive tasks.
Well-suited to laptops, Biz*Base allows businesspersons to enter new contacts and appointments while on the road. A slimmed-down version of the program, Biz*Base Silver ($39.95), runs on machines with no hard disk and one floppy drive, a configuration common to many laptops. Owners of larger businesses should look at the four-user network version, which costs $995.00. Biz*Base files are dBase III-compatible, a big advantage if you already maintain client files in a dBase-compatible database. The documentation is well written, and the reference manual has an above-average index, but using the program requires little reference to the manual. A list of menu choices and function key commands is always available onscreen.
This package offers enough features to satisfy the requirements of nearly any small business, but it doesn't have everything. One of the few things Biz*Base lacks is automatic generation of Gantt, CPM, or PERT charts; for managing complex projects, these charts are easier to understand than lists of tasks. Although the keyboard commands are easy to learn, I missed mouse support; it would be helpful to just click on the Calendar window, for example, and have it open to display the full calendar.
There's only one real drawback to Biz*Base and it actually has nothing to do with the program itself, but with possible shortcomings in your own working habits. I found, for example, that I had to be much more conscientious about recording important daily events than I was before. If you forget to time that call or enter the results of that last-minute meeting, Biz*Base won't be as helpful as it could be. And you ought to have Biz*Base running all the time, so it's ready whenever a call comes in. The program has a DOS shell, so you can exit quickly to other programs and then hop back into Biz*Base with a keystroke.
If Biz*Base sounds like what you need but you find the price tag too hefty, try Personal Biz*Base instead. At $69.95, it's limited to 200 records, still more than enough to keep most of us organized. So, if you need a secretary but can't afford one, the Biz*Base family probably offers at least one economical substitute made to order.