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Improving Operating Efficiency Using Hand-Held Devices

February 5, 2003
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Many HVAC service contractors are still performing their inspection and service activities and daily tasks using manual, paper-based forms. However, by applying appropriate technology and supplying simple-to-use automation tools to your staff, management can increase productivity, improve the use of resources, and improve profitability.

By combining straightforward, easy-to-use software using hand-held devices, businesses can save time and money while improving operating efficiency and customer service.

A hand-held device can increase your staff’s productivity and improve profitability.

Hand-Held Devices

Hand-held devices should reflect or improve on what already exists on paper forms or on your desktop computer. For example, if a technician is filling out a monthly service order including specific information, the hand-held unit should provide the exact same function, with information to be entered in the exact same order.

As with paper forms, the user of a hand-held device has the option of picking from a list of possible choices and/or writing or typing in information, according to the organization’s preferences. An added benefit of using hand-held devices in conjunction with intelligent software is that data can be automatically transferred from the hand-held device to your desktop computer system without the need for further data entry or reformulation of the data.

There are many additional benefits of using hand-held devices, in contrast with manual or paper-based processes. The hand-held device can include validations that allow correct data entry and disallow incorrect entry. It can provide the user with historical information pertaining to previous service work or what was done on particular pieces of equipment.

In addition, by using bar codes, time stamps, and scanners attached to the hand-held device, quick and automatic identification of equipment can be achieved, to improve efficiency and minimize human errors.

Hand-held applications should also be designed to minimize unnecessary data entry and keystrokes by incorporating a variety of techniques, starting from pick lists, to check boxes, to look-up lists. Minimizing any manual writing that the technician has to perform is recommended, in order to ensure speed, accuracy, and ease of use.

Finally, hand-held software should be able to run on multiple hardware platforms, providing the user with flexibility and the ability to utilize future technology without unnecessary software upgrades.

Connecting To The Desktop/Server

To maximize utilization and efficiency, hand-held applications should not be stand-alone devices. They should be designed from the outset to collect, display, and manipulate information, and then transfer that information to a desktop computer or server database and back to the hand-held unit seamlessly. The means of data transfer can be through a standard cradle, wired modem, or wireless communication.

The desktop/server application should include dispatch and management functions such as scheduler, equipment tracker, work order manager, customer call manager, and analysis capabilities.

Use of a hand-held device by a service technician can save time for a variety of tasks and help eliminate paperwork.

Business Functionality

The combination of desktop/server software and hand-held devices should deliver the required functionalities to improve HVAC service, such as:

  • Plan and schedule maintenance and service activities.

  • Record details about inspections and service activities.

  • Retrieve and analyze information, and produce operational, management, and customer reports.

  • Provide field technicians with “smart” hand-held devices, enabling better and more efficient execution of inspections and service while eliminating paperwork. (For example: List all required work to be done including a list of equipment that requires service, so that no piece of equipment is mistakenly skipped when service is performed.)

  • Set up automatic alerts and triggers that notify the user of upcoming or missed activities. (For example: Receive a weekly report of all overdue service activities.)

  • Utilize time-saving mechanisms that allow your staff to shift their focus from administrative tasks to improving their work processes and customer service. (For example: Create service templates for specific equipment so that service orders can be added automatically as new equipment is added to the system.)

  • Use bar codes to improve data collection and minimize human errors.

  • Automate reoccurring tasks so that when they are completed, new tasks are automatically created for future use.

  • Allow your technicians to print receipts and reports using the hand-held device and a portable wireless printer.

    Benefits

    Summing up the benefits of hand-held devices, they:

  • Improve operational efficiencies; increase productivity and profitability.

  • Perform service activities effectively; simplify repeatable tasks; provide your staff with easy to use tools that focus on performing tasks.

  • Let your staff spend more time performing service activities and less time on paperwork and data entry.

  • Improve business planning; analyze service records, needs, and patterns.

  • Generate customized periodic reports and alerts, delivered to your e-mail.

  • Improve customer service.

  • Help increase market share; leverage automation and improve customer service to gain additional customers; provide service results to your customers in a timely manner.

  • Identify trends and highlight potential problem areas.

  • Improve internal controls and accountability.

  • Ensure that service is performed according to warranty, guidelines, and regulations.

    By combining appropriate software and hand-held devices, HVAC service contractors can save time and money, and improve their bottom line.

    Shibi is president of Techs4Biz Corporation, which develops and sells technology solutions for improving work activities and processes and for managing and tracking resources, combining software with hand-held devices. Specifically designed for HVAC service providers, the Techs4Biz software offers a system designed to be easy to use that can store, analyze, and disseminate information and help increase productivity. For more information, call 800-361-8725 or 416-716-9651, or visit www.techs4biz.com.

    Publication date: 02/10/2003

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