ACHRNEWS

GPS Saves On Tracking Job Costs

September 3, 2004
Using GPS, Del-Air wanted to be able to track travel time and time on the job of its installation crews.
When you have a large contracting company, keeping close control of job time and costs can provide substantial savings for the firm and help increase profitability.

That was the goal when Del-Air Heating, Air Conditioning, and Refrigeration Inc., Lake Mary, Fla., looked into the use of a global positioning system (GPS) application for its installation department.

Del-Air is an HVAC, plumbing, appliance, and electrical contractor serving the greater Orlando area. The company sells, installs, and services all of these products for the major homebuilders in central Florida.

According to John Rucker, chief information officer for the company, the HVAC division installs over 20,000 central air conditioning and heating systems each year. Brands handled include Trane, Bryant, Carrier, and Lennox.

GPS was considered for Del-Air's HVAC installation department, which has 400 people out in the field. The company started looking into GPS in the third quarter of 2003.

"We originally were thinking about putting fixed GPS units in the trucks," said Rucker. "We had done that with our service group in a prior year and had some degree of success with it. And we started looking for fixed-mount GPS for the trucks in the installation group.

"As we started looking around, we realized that maybe there was more bang for the buck with a hand-held device. So we started focusing on that area."

Del-Air decided against fixed-mount because "we really wanted some communication along with the GPS package," Rucker said.

The company then spent two months testing out six GPS applications using Nextel cell phones. "We finally decided on the Xora GPS product," he said.

The GPS TimeTrack system, from Xora Inc., Mountain View, Calif., is designed to provide a low-cost time, location, and job-management application, according to the company. Rather than use GPS receivers mounted in a contractor's vehicles, GPS TimeTrack combines an Internet-based service along with GPS-enabled cell phones that stay with the employee.

Del-Air began rolling out the Xora system in December 2003. "We've been running pretty much full tilt with it since mid-January," said Rucker.

GPS Advantages

Using a Nextel phone-based GPS system provides a "considerable cost savings" over a fixed-mount system, noted Rucker. More importantly, though, none of the fixed-mount systems supplied the communication capability that Del-Air wanted.

"Voice communication in the field was a big advantage immediately," Rucker remarked. The ability to capture location information as well as capture and track job cost information was also key. "That was one of the things about the Xora product that was intriguing to us."

Del-Air wanted to be able to track travel time and time on the job of its installation crews.

"We had a pretty good feeling that we were losing costs in the field because some people were fudging on their time sheets," said Rucker.

Some of the company's installation techs report to the shop while others take their trucks home. Del-Air discovered that not all of those taking their vehicles home were documenting their time accurately. By utilizing GPS, the company can determine when its installers actually arrive at the jobsite and when they leave.

With the GPS TimeTrack system, installers clock in for the day on their cell phone, clock in and out for lunch, and then clock out for the day. This provides time card reporting, plus their location. In addition to entering the start and end of their shift, employees use a start job/end job function so that management knows the time spent on a particular job at the site.

"The Xora program provides the capability to create the phases of a job that the guys are working on," commented Rucker. For HVAC installation, this includes rough-in and trim. So the installers enter the work order number of the job into their Nextel phone and select rough-in or trim from the job menu.

Del-Air is now comparing its actual on-the-job time and labor costs for each project against its budgeted costs to see if its estimating is on target. For different models of houses, management will be able to see if they have been underestimating or overestimating and then make adjustments as necessary.

Other beneficial features of GPS TimeTrack include the ability to create landmarks on maps, allowing Del-Air to enter the subdivisions the company is currently working on. This allows supervisors to see where their installers are at any given time.

GPS also enables the company to determine when its trucks are speeding, to help curtail that problem. The Xora GPS program includes other functions, such as dispatching, which Del-Air is not using. Once the company fine-tunes the GPS functions it is currently employing, Rucker expects Del-Air will likely implement new features down the road.

Stepping Up To The Plate

Xora was "very flexible" in accommodating his company's needs, said Rucker, adding some functionality, helping load databases, and automating some processes "to allow me to get my job costs and pass them along to my payroll system automatically."

As a vendor, he said, "They've stepped up to the plate and done the things we've asked them to do in a timely fashion."

The projected return on investment of the GPS system is less than a year. Because of its success, the Xora GPS program is being rolled out to the plumbing, electrical, and appliance groups as well.

"From the business perspective, Del-Air wants to make the most effective and most productive use of our people," stated Rucker. GPS is allowing the company to better utilize and manage its manpower.

For more information on Xora's GPS TimeTrack system, e-mail info@xora.com or visit www.xora.com.

Publication date: 09/06/2004