Since 1998, D-Tools, Inc. has created and marketed software configuration tools for the system integration industry. These tools were primarily designed to allow integrators and installers to easily design, engineer, document and estimate residential and commercial system integration projects. One of the things that made D-Tools software such an instant success was the tight integration of a CAD program (Microsoft Visio) to project and product databases’. D-Tools SI software allows users to create accurate drawings and proposals in a fraction of the time it would take to do with traditional CAD and other software methods.
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From the start, D-Tools realized that manufacturers would greatly benefit from a standardized set of drawing tools and product data. Complete product catalogs and purchase orders could be created. Accessory and add on sales could be enhanced and product trainings could be tailored to include the use of configuration tools. The D-Tools Manufacturer Partner Program (MPP) was created to help integrate and distribute product information to their specific users.
The program has been a great success, however there is one reoccurring issue with the D-Tools MPP program; the product data and information is only available to D-Tools users. The manufacturer partners wanted to be able to use this information in other aspects of their business. In addition, the D-Tools SI software package was designed to be a tool for system integrators, not manufacturers or end users. This means that manufacturer specific, configuration specific shapes and data will never be completely implemented in the D-Tools SI software package.
To overcome these limitations, some of D-Tools manufacturer partners have elected to contract with them to produce custom software configuration tools just for their specific needs and product lines. RackTools by Middle Atlantic Products is probably the best known and most successful with thousands of registered users.
Since RackTools, like D-Tools SI was heavily based on Microsoft Visio, a Visio license was needed for each copy. This can pose some problems when a manufacturers “free software” requires a $199.00 license of Visio. To get around this license issue, some manufacturers have opted to create their own proprietary software package that they could give away without end user license restrictions. This is always a valid option however, coding an integrated graphics and database package from scratch can give new meaning to the word, â€˜challenging’, and typically these projects take on a life of their own. They typically go way over budget, take more time than anticipated, create maintenance and upgrade issue for the manufacturer and could ultimately hurt the manufacturers’ reputation if it doesn’t work as promised.
Yet another issue is that most if not all integrated graphic and database software is designed for standard Windows desktop PC’s. This means that other platforms like Linux and Mac are left out and more importantly, all that valuable product configuration data is locked to the local desktop. The manufacturer has no idea what is happening or who is using these tools until the order is placed. One of the initial goals of WebTools was to unlock this important information and allow the manufacturer to forecast as to who was specifying what products.
Based on the D-Tools six year history of building software configuration tools, the Holy Grail of manufacturer specific software configuration tools would include the following features:
* Free to the end user with no user licensing fees
* Allow for custom manufacturer specific rules for product configuration
* Platform independent
* Completely web based
* Database back end with a vector graphic based front end. (Vector graphics are what are used in all CAD programs)
* Unique logins for project tracking and forecasting
* Online ordering
* Plug and Play
* Low up front costs
* No maintenance or hosting issues
What is needed is a programmable database environment with a graphic front end that is completely web based and has no end user licensing restrictions. Since this was something that could not be purchased or licensed like D-Tools does with Microsoft Visio, D-Tools decided to create it on their own.
Introducing WebTools by D-Tools, Inc.
WebTools has the same look and feel of the standard DTools/ Visio graphic interface and uses the same database and business logic but runs entirely over the internet. WebTools was designed from the start to accommodate manufacturer specific configurations yet have the same look and feel as the existing D-Tools applications. Instead of manufacturers creating proprietary software or using expensive licenses of Visio or other CAD software, D-Tools now offers their partners a customized web based configuration tool that leverages the existing D-Tools data and shapes with low startup fees and monthly licensing based on actual usage. WebTools uses the universal Macromedia Flash presentation layer as the graphic front end. The Flash program is a free client that is installed on more than 97% of internet enabled desktop PC and devices. Flash is a vector based graphic engine, which means graphics are rendered in the highest quality possible. D-Tools has customized this application to mimic the Microsoft Visio drag and drop environment and combine Flash, Microsoft SQL and other technologies to offer our clients a turnkey, plug and play solution to their online configuration needs.
Some of the additional advantages of the WebTools interface are:
* User based project reporting for forecasting is built into the system
* Completely hosted solution, no servers or software to purchase or maintain
* Manufacturer specific rules and logic can be created for shapes and data
* Existing D-Tools shapes and data can be converted to the WebTools format
* Uses a Visio like “SmartShape™” metaphor. WebTools shapes like D-Tools shapes are based on data. This means that one smart shape can represent many products in the manufacturer catalog. (one to many relationship)
* Product database easily maintained by the manufacturer
* WebTools configurations can be imported into D-Tools SI resulting in seamless integration of project data from other manufacturers
* A single product database can be maintained for all users
* Hyperlinks on each shape for more detailed information
* Different pricing levels can be created for different users
* Specific user login, can be used as a consumer configuration tool with MSRP
* Referral engine to drive end users to dealers
WebTools leverages the best of all the available technologies and D-Tools’ experience building custom configuration tools for the system integration market. WebTools can unite a manufacturers dealer base by leveraging a single data standard, resulting in more sales, more accurate orders, and the ability to allow dealers and end users to correctly configure products based on a manufacturers specific knowledge and application.