ACHRNEWS

Solving Problems In The Field

June 5, 2003
Troy Gibson, service technician for Guardian Environmental Services Inc., Livonia, Mich., checks customer information on his cab-mounted laptop.
Your field technician is having a problem. Your customer has an old piece of equipment that needs a new part. The tech needs information, and he needs it now.

No sweat — he is hooked up to a parts catalog database via his hand-held wireless computer. He finds out he can get the part locally in about an hour. In many cases, that’s fact, not fiction, and contractors have field solutions software to thank.

Officials at companies that design business management and field service software are quick to point out its benefits. For many, in-creased efficiency is at the top of the list.

“It is estimated that enterprises that do not adopt field service applications will spend from 15 percent to 30 percent more on service delivery, and will experience additional inefficiencies in responsiveness, customer satisfaction, and inventory management,” said Mike Gillis, vice president, sales and marketing, for FieldCentrix, Irvine, Calif.

David Haycraft, sales manager and marketing director for Service Automation Inc., Houston, notes that his company’s software cuts down on paperwork, speeding up the process while minimizing errors. “By utilizing hand-held devices in the field, the entire call completion process is streamlined from start to finish, minimizing any possibility of error on the part of the dispatcher, the service technician, and the person processing the final invoice,” he said. “By eliminating the handwritten aspect of service tickets and invoices, the billing process can be virtually instantaneous.”

The bottom line is that field solutions can be a key to saving time — and that can be crucial when it comes to customer satisfaction, especially when an emergency occurs.

“Most equipment failures are noticed long after they have occurred, which can lead to a major disruption of business operations or possible loss to the customer (i.e., a refrigeration unit full of food shuts down, and everything spoils and must be thrown out),” said Brenda Siemer, marketing coordinator for the Notifact Corp., Fairfield, N.J. “If the contractor or owner had been alerted when the temperature in the unit exceeded the high temp set-point, the problem could have been addressed before it became an emergency or any product loss occurred.

“Also, offering this monitoring service to customers is a further enhancement of the service contract and the automatic notification of alarm conditions prevents the customer from contacting another contractor to perform emergency work.”

Pictured here is the Compaq iPAQ pocket PC from HP.

Communication And More

Cell phones today offer more than just two-way communication. One example involves the SuccessWare21 program from SuccessWare Inc., Williamsville, N.Y. (www.successware21.com).

Chris DiRe, president of SuccessWare, said that in conjunction with a Nextel Java Phone, the SuccessWare21 Mobile Solution allows technicians:

  • To get their calls without having to speak to the dispatcher.

  • To update their status (arrived at the site, job completed, going to lunch, etc.) without having to talk to the dispatcher.

  • To look up a customer’s service history, including warranties, agreements, and equipment files.

  • To scan parts used and the flat-rate task they performed. (According to DiRe, the scanner plugs into the phone and costs less than $100.)

  • To create a service invoice without filling out paperwork.

  • To swipe the customer’s credit card, get authorization, and print out a receipt for the customer. (The printer with card swiper costs less than $500, stated DiRe.)

    “There is always a lot of hype surrounding technology and software solutions,” said DiRe. “Contractors in the next decade will have to make some tough decisions. The most profitable, successful business owners will implement new technologies if, and only if, it will make his/her business run smoother and make their business more profitable.

    “Implementing new technologies will be based solely on a return on investment. If the contractor can get a ROI, then they must gain the competitive advantage. Wireless field solutions is one that will provide an immediate ROI and will grow substantially in the years to come.”

    Kevin Brown, controls technician for Guardian Environmental Services Inc., Livonia, Mich., checks building controls at a jobsite.

    Monitoring The Field

    Gillis pointed to three areas in which FieldCentrix (www.fieldcentrix.com) can help address contractors’ needs: improving customer satisfaction, increasing worker productivity, and improving profitability.

    “FieldCentrix’s unique equipment industry framework provides step-by-step guidance through service diagnosis, readings, and tasks, thus eliminating field service discrepancies and raising personnel competency to the highest level,” said Gillis. “Our ability to immediately convey all work completed and capture on-site customer signatures in real time enables quick invoicing and shortens the receivables wait period, leading to improved cash flow. Field capture of parts consumed and recommended repairs enables the organization to eliminate previously lost charges and capitalize on new revenue opportunities.

    “FieldCentrix delivers a feature- and data-rich software solution that automates the costly manual processes associated with field service management. The solution integrates with existing enterprise applications, enabling organizations to maintain a highly effective service operation that uses resources as efficiently as possible, at the lowest cost, and for the highest return.”

    According to Gillis, features and benefits of the software include:

  • Fast call taking.

  • Automated scheduling and dispatching.

  • Complete work order detail.

  • Instant access to database information.

  • Real-time communications.

  • Work order and contract management.

  • Business analysis and reporting.

  • Web-based self-service portal for customers.

    “Despite the sizable target mobile service worker audience, organizations in the past were slow to deploy field service solutions due to big budget CRM and ERP project distractions and concerns regarding wireless connectivity, standards, and security,” added Gillis. “However, as wireless networks have become faster and more reliable, mobile device options have increased in number, and companies seek tactical technology projects to achieve immediate ROI, field service automation has become a priority initiative for companies that aim to lower costs through service automation, while improving customer satisfaction.”

    Service Automation Inc.’s SAWIN Field Automation System is designed to streamline the billing process.

    Addressing Key Needs

    Knowing if a problem exists in order to quickly correct it is vital to field technicians. That is one of the problems addressed by Notifact (www.notifact.com) with its wireless monitoring system.

    “Contractors are looking for a cost-effective way to obtain real-time information about their equipment/systems and to be able to respond to an alarm condition immediately with advance knowledge of the problem and the materials needed to fix it,” said Siemer.

    “Notifact is an Internet-based wireless monitoring system that allows service providers and building owners to monitor HVACR systems at commercial facilities and to be instantly alerted to any alarm condition. This shortens response time, since technicians can be immediately dispatched.

    “Also, this immediate notification prevents expensive operating failures or costly business disruptions, making service pro-active rather than reactive. The 24/7 monitoring of equipment provided by Notifact can reduce the routine on-site visits to check on the equipment and free up technicians for more billable work.”

    Haycraft believes that field solutions are necessary in competitive situations as well as during economic slowdowns, and his company, Service Automation Inc. (www.serviceautomationinc.com), is in a position to help contractors improve their bottom line.

    “The HVACR trade needs field solutions because of the recessive economy and the highly competitive marketplace,” he said. “In a recessive economy, managing assets and liabilities as a contractor may be the only way to stay afloat and redeem a profit as a business. By having the tool of a truly integrated software package, the overall management picture becomes clear so that business owners or department heads can make educated decisions for the benefit of their organization. By giving their company the competitive edge, contractors are ensuring the long-range stability and growth desired by any business owner.”

    Haycraft believes that HVACR contractors want to see immediate returns on their investments. He notes that some are apprehensive about the technology. “Many contractors have already found out that big money spent on hand-held devices does not always yield the desired results,” he said. “I feel that contractors are looking for field solutions that can show a return on the investment made.

    “Without true integration from the back-end accounting, through the service/dispatch module, and back and forth from the hand-held devices in the field, a field solution is nothing more than a gadget. Buyers beware of gadgets!”

    Publication date: 06/09/2003