Services, Apps & Software / Business Services / Apps & Software

Mobile Office Changes How HVAC Business Is Done

August 22, 2011
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Instant information — that’s what any successful business needs to compete. Whether that information is acquired through person-to-person communication or data look-up, a company’s ability to access on-the-spot information is vital to working efficiently and professionally.

Today’s mobile office — the tools and software needed to conduct business in the field — has evolved into a myriad of wireless hand-held devices and programs. What were once high-tech products of the future are now as common as a wrench and a screwdriver in a technician’s toolbox. And it doesn’t take a techie to understand these products.

“Simplicity is the key,” said David Haycraft of Service Automation Inc. “Our goal as a solution provider is to make our office and field solutions easy for everyone involved.”

Karl Rajotte of Maxwell Systems Inc. said that users of his company’s products come from all levels of expertise. “Our solutions are fairly simply for those who are less tech savvy,” he said. “Some users just utilize our software to develop their estimates and get their bids out, and we offer tools like our dashboards to make it easy for users to quickly find and understand their information. For our somewhat high-tech users, they typically leverage more aspects of our solutions, such as breaking down an estimate by detail, submitting change orders and purchase orders, managing subcontractors, and integrating with various other systems.”

Everyone has their own comfort level when it comes to understanding technical jargon, such as reading instructions on how to link up and synchronize mobile phones. The responsibility of reaching all of the comfort zones lies with the service provider or product manufacturer. “What we try to instill in all our customers is satisfaction in service,” said Billy Jobe of Comfort Supply, “whether this means on a highly technical level, for those experienced HVAC companies, or to the service tech or installer that started last week. It is very important to us to ensure that every need is met to build relationships with the customers we choose to do business with.”

One example of a product that users with little or no technical background can become instantly familiar with are applications (apps) for smart phones. These apps instantly connect users to websites and e-mail portals, bringing instant access to people and information.

“Our app appeals to and is accessible to everyone,” said Jonathan Frei of dESCO LLC. “First, the app appeals to the computer illiterate in its ease of use. Most people who are able to operate the basic built-in apps on their smart phone, like the calendar and contact manager, will be proficient with our app in a matter of minutes.

“However, the app also appeals to the more tech-savvy users because of its power and the new abilities it gives to techs in the field. With the app, companies are able to move away from paper work orders and invoices.”

Why Hook Up?

While it’s true that going high tech can be a distinct competitive advantage, there are still customers who will do business with companies no matter what their technical capabilities are — because of relationships and due to a history of good customer service. So why is it so important to stay up on the latest mobile technology?

“Maybe the most important relationship is the one between the technician and the office,” said Haycraft. “Our solution provides all the key data from the customer files at the office to the field technician so that the tech is independent and can process the service call without verbal communication to the office.

“In addition, the most important aspect of the total equation is the fact that the technician is no longer bringing any handwritten invoices back to the office for processing. Everything regarding the service call is done on the field device and automatically updates the office with instant information.”

Frei said the key is being able to connect with customers. “Connecting with customers is and always will be the most critical function of mobile technology for businesses,” he said. “Other connections, such as communications with the office, suppliers, and web data, are important, but only in so far as they enable better connections with customers. The measure of value for any new communication technology is how well it frees up your staff to pay attention to and spend time with your customers.

“The ability to connect with customers is critical because it’s expensive for them to have a service technician come out to their home. There’s not only the money they pay for the service, but also the time they take off work to consider.”

Jobe agrees. “Customer satisfaction is our ultimate goal,” he said. “In order to gain their trust, we must build relationships with the correct vendors to supply their needs. Web data is a great way to show a customer the supplies or equipment that we carry to meet their needs, along with supplying them with the technical data for them to complete their jobs.”

Rajotte noted that having easy access to important project-related data is essential for maximizing productivity and profitability. “With our complete business management solutions, contractors are able to more easily communicate with their customers from the first bid through to the final punch list and all the change orders and reporting in between,” he said. “If a contractor needs to do a change order to reroute a complete duct return system or to add drops or offsets needed during the coordination with other subcontractors, they can easily and effectively keep their customers up-to-date on these changes and the progress of the project and help ensure customer satisfaction.”

There are several good reasons for being able to instantly access people and information. An HVAC business owner can ensure his service professionals are connecting with customers in an efficient and timely way using a product like a GPS tracking system. Brendan Sullivan, vice president of global marketing for FleetMatics said, “If drivers are picking up equipment or supplies from a manufacturer, the [GPS] system ensures that pickups or deliveries are handled in the shortest possible time and with the most efficient route. Web-based GPS software also enables any fleet manager or executive to have complete access to critical fleet data whether they are in the office, working from home, or on the go, using mobile apps.”

We’ve Come a Long Way

Ten years ago, it was common to see a cell phone as the main source of communication between the field and office, customers, and suppliers. While the cell phone is still the best way to communicate on a personal one-to-one level, it has been supported with an array of new field applications — saving a great deal of time, which is just as important to many customers as saving money.

“In the past, if a technician needed a phone number, the service history on a customer, or a customer’s service agreement status, he would have to call the office and have someone look up the information and give it to him,” said Frei. With the advent of mobile computing, the tech can look it up himself, getting the information quicker and leaving the person in the office free to talk to customers or to do other important work.

“The technology is turning many two-person jobs into one-person jobs. Therefore, I am comfortable asserting the technology saves at least 50 percent of the time spent communicating work information,” Frei said.

Rajotte added, “Contractors now have the ability to electronically perform takeoffs on the computer screen and no longer need to fumble around with bulky paper blueprints. This automation alone offers contractors a 70 percent time savings. Add in the time savings resulting from reviewing addendum changes from engineers on large-scaled jobs and the savings can be exponential.

“With the ability to have accurate, up-to-date information at their fingertips, contractors instantly cut the time spent on a majority of their tasks in half.”

Sullivan labeled instant communication via the Web as disruptive technology that has transformed the global business community — along with human kind. He said, “These are the benefits an HVAC owner can gain from deploying Web-based or mobile GPS tracking which offers instant communication:

• A fleet management solution enables real-time 360-degree visibility and 24/7 monitoring and tracking of individual fleet vehicles, as well as the fleet as a whole. This information helps HVAC owners make informed decisions about their fleet operations — essentially how these businesses can make better use of their fleet vehicles that deliver goods and services to customers.

• Today’s fleet tracking solutions are sophisticated, yet easy-to-use applications and communications tools. Put simply, they allow small business leaders or fleet managers to track, monitor, compare, and analyze vehicle and fleet performance. They help business owners work with drivers to improve route efficiency and reduce overall fuel usage and excess or wasted mileage.

• Improving efficiency has a direct impact on lowering operating costs, elevating productivity, and improving customer service — all of these are of critical importance to any small business, such as those working in HVAC.

Frei summed up the advantages of mobile communications — in a nutshell. “These new technological connections let service companies pay more attention to customers by reducing the time the office and techs spend talking,” he said.

Sidebar: Mobile Solutions for HVAC Contracting

dESCO LLC (www.desco-soft.com) — ESC Mobile works with ESC desktop software to give users instant access to service dispatchers on their phones. With this app, users have the ability to track and modify the jobs they are working on, giving office personnel real-time updates.

FleetMatics (www.fleetmatics.com) — Fleet Tracking Dashboard is customizable and allows users to assess an entire fleet from one screen. A user can instantly evaluate fleet performance in categories including speed violations, average speed, engine-on time, vehicle idling, vehicle mileage, and number of stops. Users can also drill down to view individual vehicle performance.

Maxwell Systems Inc. (www.maxwellsystems.com) — ProContractorMX™ version 2.7 delivers a new safety manager module and new tools to increase takeoff speed and accuracy, complies with OSHA safety regulations, manages equipment maintenance, simplifies processes, and eliminates redundancies.

Service Automation Inc. (www.sawinpro.com) — Sawin Mobile Web solution is specifically designed for the new smart phone technology. This solution will run on iPad, iPhone, Android, Android Pad, Blackberry, etc.

Publication date: 08/22/2011

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