ACHRNEWS

Technology Increases Productivity, Profitability

July 30, 2007

New technologies for the HVACR world seem to keep popping up every time we turn around. Consider GPS. Five or six years ago, GPS was virtually unheard of in the contracting world. Now it’s everywhere, allowing companies to track their technicians and boost productivity as a result. The same is true of cell phones, which just truly became affordable within the last decade, but they’ve revolutionized the way technicians communicate with the home office.

Then there’s software, which is available for just about every HVACR need, from dispatching to sales proposals to business management. Various packages are readily available and competitively priced, allowing dealers to create customized solutions for their companies. Implementing these various technologies can be intimidating and sometimes costly, but those who have taken the plunge and embraced the new tools are now reaping the rewards.

GOING GREAT GUNS WITH GPS

Angie deRuyter, general manager, Refrigeration Services, Zillah, Wash., wonders how her company ever went without GPS.

“The benefits are endless - it’s been such a huge cost savings,” she said. “When we have urgent calls, we know which technician is the closest, so they’re able to respond quicker. We’re also able to track mileage, which is fabulous, and we are able to send technicians their calls via phone, so they have the exact address and the customer’s name before their next job.”

As part of its customer maintenance program, Jonas Software provides all clients with weekly product updates and annual upgrades, which keep users up to date with the latest functionality and technology.

Refrigeration Services implemented GPS TimeTrack from Xora Inc. about six months ago, and one of the reasons they chose this particular package was the fact that they didn’t have to change out their Nextel phones. “We wanted to make sure we didn’t have to purchase additional equipment. Also, we have dispatch software that works directly with Xora, and it’s a huge benefit to have an integrated system,” said deRuyter.

GPS is popular because it allows business owners to see what’s going on in the field without having to ride along with every technician, said Mike Berger, director of marketing, Xora Inc. (www.xora.com).

“Our solution, which runs on GPS-enabled mobile phones, is very economical. All you need is a PC connected to the Internet, our service, a supported mobile phone, and that’s it. The service starts at $11.99/month, and there are no special servers or software packages that need to be installed and managed. Contractors simply have to provide the phones to all their technicians, log onto the Website, and they can see exactly where they are and what they’re doing. It’s as simple as that.”

DeRuyter agrees that the system is easy to use, and the amount they’ve saved using the technology has more than paid for the investment. In fact, deRuyter said that productivity alone has increased about 10 percent, which more than pays the monthly service fee for the GPS. It has also allowed the service manager to keep closer tabs on actual costs, including mileage and overtime.

“We used to have paper time cards, but it’s no longer that way,” she said. “When you check out on that phone, your day is done. Payroll is also a lot quicker, because we don’t need to reconcile time to tickets. And there are no lost tickets. We’re able to match up our tickets directly with the reports that Xora has. That’s a great savings for us.”

SOFTWARE STREAMLINES SERVICE

Contracting firms have many different office functions they must perform if the company is going to run smoothly and profitably. Accounting is probably the biggest area in which firms can benefit from being automated, but other business management functions can take advantage of specialized software packages as well.

Jonas Software is one of the fully integrated systems available to contracting firms to help them increase revenue and improve efficiency. With integrated software solutions, redundant data entry is eliminated, thereby improving data accuracy as information is moved automatically between various applications including accounting, service management, and job costing. This modular system lets contractors pick and choose from over 40 different accounting and construction specific modules to match their particular requirements. The company also offers mobile and e-Service solutions.

“Integrated software can help contractors dramatically improve their operations by streamlining key business processes to reduce manual data entry and the errors associated with this work,” said Will Anderson, general manager, Jonas Software Solutions (www.jonas-construction.com).

“Our mobile and e-Service modules can further streamline service work flow to increase productivity and reduce cycle time on billings. In addition, integrated reporting and user-configurable data tools help contractors better understand their business and customers, which helps them make better strategic decisions.”

Anderson stated that the cost of implementing a Jonas system for the average contractor is much less than the cost of adding a new staff member. A one-time license fee is required, as is an on-going annual maintenance fee to cover phone support and product upgrades. Return on investment depends on the contractor and the type of system he or she is currently employing, but Anderson believes returns of well over 50 percent are typical.

“To provide a concrete example, one client that has implemented the Jonas mobile solution has increased the productivity of service technicians by 25 percent and reduced overhead by over 30 percent,” said Anderson. “This client has also been able to reduce their billing cycle from over two weeks to three days. This was on top of the savings that they achieved through implementing the core Jonas application a couple of years back.”

A recent study showed that firms using a GPS solution such as Xora’s TimeTrack gain, on average, one more job per technician per day.

CELL PHONE SOLUTIONS

Drive down any street in any city and you’ll see at least one (if not more) driver yakking away on a cell phone. The cell phone has become ubiquitous for both personal and business use, and it’s easy to see why: The driver can stay in touch with anyone at any time.

While regular cell phones serve the soccer mom just fine, service technicians need something more rugged to use on the job. Cell phones that are resistant to dust, shock, and vibration are in high demand in the field, as are additional features, such as tracking and management functions, including location and mileage tracking, dispatching, and wireless time sheets.

“Contractors are relying more on cell phones so that they can stay in touch with the home office, employees, and customers while on the road,” said Beverly Steinberg, GBL Public Relations for Sanyo Fisher Company’s Wireless Communications Division (www.us.sanyo.com/wireless).

“The GPS application is convenient for directions and even to avoid heavy traffic while working on jobs in different areas. With GPS on the cell phone, contractors are more productive and can move from one job to the next with more ease.”

In addition to being rugged and GPS-enhanced, technicians need phones that are easy to use even when using gloves or in bright outdoor conditions. “Sanyo’s SCP-7050 mobile phone has four external side buttons that allow easy access to the speakerphone for hands-free conversations, call lists that are displayed on the outside LCD, Sprint Ready Link®, and volume control,” said Steinberg.

“The 1-inch outside LCD is high-contrast to allow better visibility in outdoor environments, making it easy to check the time or Caller ID. Once open, the phone reveals an easy-to-use keypad with large raised blue-backlight keys and a 2-inch color internal screen.”

The Sanyo SCP-7050 mobile phone has many features, including autonomous (or enhanced) GPS, which allows location data to be captured while on or off the wireless network.

PERSONALIZED PROPOSALS

While many dealers rely on pen and paper to create proposals for customers, Bob Queirolo Jr., B&B Heating and Air Conditioning, Stockton, Calif., prefers the high-tech approach. He uses Bryant’s “Comfort Builder Software” to create more professional-looking proposals for every customer.

This computer-based software package contains product information, customer and job information, simple drawing tools so dealers can detail the house layout, load calculations, and side-by-side operating cost comparisons between four systems.

“Any time we go and do an estimate, we have a laptop with us and we do the proposal right there on site,” said Queirolo, a Bryant 2006 Medal of Excellence dealer. “We can do the heat loads and everything else, and before we leave, the customer has a contract in their hand.”

It used to be that Queirolo and his staff would visit a customer, look at the job, then bring all the information back to the office in order to work up a proposal. Now all the information is keyed into the laptop at the customer’s home, and a proposal is generated in no time flat. This efficient method of creating proposals has allowed Queirolo to increase his closings by 20 percent.

Queirolo also makes use of the “Operating Cost Calculator,” which is one section of the Comfort Builder software offered by Bryant. The calculator compares a homeowner’s current HVAC system with three different Bryant systems, computing annual savings based on where they live, their system, and local utility rates. This is particularly beneficial for dealers who are trying to sell customers higher SEER or AFUE equipment.

“When I use the calculator, I very rarely have anyone go for the good or better systems,” said Queirolo. “Most of the time they go for the high-end system, because I can show them the cost difference between equipment, the savings they’re going to have on the higher-end equipment, and the payback time they’ll realize. Since using the calculator, we’ve increased our sales of top-of-the-line equipment by about 60 percent.”

So whether it’s GPS, software, or cell phones, there are technologies readily available to help any contracting firm become more professional, efficient, and profitable.

Publication date: 07/30/2007