Technology can be a glorious thing. Sure, when e-mail is down or you can’t acquire a connection stable enough to receive/send info, much like Chicken Little, the world seems like it is crashing around you. But, when you have a day-to-day contracting business to run, you want to make sure you’re doing it as efficiently and as streamlined as possible.
There are myriad software options available for the service/contracting industries. Some of the products discussed below are based on estimating, some are geared toward business management at large, and some are designed to help maximize your service fleet as well as your Website resources.
CONSTRUCTION BUSINESS MANAGEMENT SOFTWARESeattle-based Dexter + Chaney developed Spectrum Construction Software employed by HVACR contractors throughout the United States; more than 1,000 construction companies utilize the software, according to Vice President of Marketing Brad Mathews. The Spectrum suite includes 30 integrated modules that handle service management, dispatch, construction accounting, project management, and other tasks.
Mathews said the company has significantly enhanced Spectrum’s service management capabilities to provide HVACR contractors with more flexible, fully integrated construction management and service management systems in a single package.
“We provide a tool to help control operations and manage the flow of work throughout business,” Mathews said. “Jobs, new installations, or service work – Spectrum manages all of those activities. What you have here is a program that will manage every aspect of the contractor business.”
According to Mathews, Spectrum manages all the money in the business and handles purchasing, dispatching, and basically all billing (time and materials on new installs) formats. “We track the dollars.”
Spectrum’s Service Contracts module provides a high level of control over all aspects of service contract management, including billing, advanced scheduling, profitability analysis, and warranty tracking. Service Contract can also be a powerful marketing tool in demonstrating the benefits of a service contract to potential customers.
The Work Order module provides a complete billing, tracking, and dispatch system for companies that perform service work. With Work Order, users can control service activity, review customer service history, quickly invoice work performed, and control profitability for each invoice. Reporting provides customer history and profitability across a variety of selections.
MOVING TOWARD MOBILITYIn its fourth year of use with the software, New England Air Systems Inc., is currently on Version 12 of Spectrum, but is one of the mobile customers, so it is upgrading to Version 13. “We currently have V 13 in a test environment, and go live July 16, 2009,” William E. Bartlett, vice president of the Williston, Vt.-based company said.
“That will give us access to Spectrum mobile, which we’ve been anticipating. It’s going to be phenomenal!
“The new version will have mobile functionality. Twenty-seven techs will have mobile devices in hand and will be able to update customer service records while working in the field.”
This functionality will help to further eliminate the company’s paper trail.
“Grab a call from the queue, track, and close out the call,” Bartlett said.
Overall, Bartlett said the software has helped streamline processes, making them more organized and providing a better understanding of work history for customers and what work still needs to be done for them. “It offers a great way of tracking customer history.”
Michael F. Bender, CFO, United Heating & Cooling, Inc., Grandview, Mo., implemented Spectrum software at his company in December 2002. Similarly, Bender currently uses Spectrum Version 12, and said that Version 13 is on a test server and is looking forward to going with that version in a few months.
“We are excited about Version 13, which has taken the software and pushed beyond a construction software to where it is built for a service company, incorporating a call center and service technicians,” Bender said. “Version 13 is ultimately a service solution, with the dispatch board.”
Bender said that United has been toying with the idea of moving toward laptops, but are now leaning more toward notepads, where customers can sign the screen (See the article titled “Tools of the Trade” on page 14 for an example of this technology.)
“With document imaging, the technician can visually see every ticket scanned previously for that site. He has a history of tickets right in front of him regarding a service history and can identify ‘Is this a maintenance customer?’” Bender said. “He has access to customer history and can see if [the equipment] is under warranty or [an] extended warranty.”
“This is key on say a Friday evening when they don’t have access to the records; the office is closed and there’s no way to confirm ‘Is this client a paying customer?’… ‘Is this still under warranty?’... ‘Are they trying to get away with giving false details?’”
With HVAC, systems and serial numbers are available to techs at the site I.D. level.
“If a furnace manufacturer gives a recall notice for equipment with serial No.’s A – Z, you can run a report and locate all pieces matching that criteria.”
ESTIMATING AND ACCOUNTINGThe Management Suite by Maxwell Systems, King of Prussia, Pa., is another comprehensive business management software solution for the construction industry. From takeoff through the final bid, this end-to-end estimating and accounting solution helps contractors make the most of every project, the company states, and offers complete, automated estimating solutions for construction professionals, including Quest Estimator for residential, commercial, subcontracting, and sitework, and Estimation Logistics for electrical, HVAC, plumbing, and mechanical contractors. Maxwell Systems Management Suite 6.5.3 is now available, the company announced.
Bill Davidson, CFO, Peterson Service Company, Inc., Medford, N.J., has been using Maxwell Systems Management Suite since 2002 for job costing, estimating, payroll, dispatching, purchase orders -“for everything in business, pretty much.”
Peterson Service Company employs 28 service techs throughout the year and is engaged in the commercial and industrial sectors.
Estimation Logistics ties together estimates, labor needs, and cost analysis, the company asserted, helping contractors bid more accurately and save time on paperwork, thereby increasing overall efficiency and cost savings.
Since implementing Maxwell Systems, Davidson said Peterson Service Company has been able to generate more business. “Business has increased threefold. We’ve managed to increase business but not costs as far as manpower goes.”
According to Davidson, the Maxwell Systems suite is extremely user-friendly. “I can basically teach someone how to do a service call within five minutes. “It’s also great for getting reports. I can get basic reports, or customize them.”
“Everyone can operate on their own without great knowledge of the system,” Davidson said.
WIRELESS FLEET MANAGEMENTA contractor’s fleet of vehicles is his proverbial bread and butter. Without dependable service vehicles (and the requisite upkeep, etc.), business opportunities are missed and sales, service calls and, ultimately, the company’s bottom line all suffer. According to Craig Whitney, vice president of marketing for San Diego-based Networkfleet, Inc. (a part of Hughes Telematics), “anything you can do to make business more efficient these days is critical.”
Networkfleet is a wireless fleet management solution that combines continuous GPS location tracking with patented precise diagnostic monitoring to give HVAC fleets a complete and accurate picture of their vehicle operations. By connecting directly to a vehicle’s onboard computer, Networkfleet collects information such as actual vehicle speed, exact diagnostic trouble code (DTC) and miles per gallon. Fleet managers log in to a secure Website to view location and diagnostics data and receive instant e-mail notifications when exceptions occur or preset thresholds are exceeded.
“By analyzing driving patterns and historical location history, managers can choose routes that optimize workers’ schedules,” Whitney said. “GPS-based systems are common, but for the greatest impact, fleets need a system that monitors both GPS location and engine diagnostics.”
Networkfleet offers a quick payback and ROI, typically within six to 12 months, Whitney said. Speed reports, hours of operation, stop reports, engine performance, location history, and other information are all available at the click of a button.
“Just plug it into its special Y harness and mount to unit under the dash,” Whitney said. “Very easy to install - no cutting wires.”
“With the OBD II (onboard diagnostic II) port, you’re getting info and mirroring it up with data from the GPS module and transmitting to the application. You get speed info directly from the engine - how fast you are going, etc. If the check engine light comes on, a diagnostic trouble code triggers and an e-mail is automatically generated and sent to the fleet manager. [For example,] ‘Truck 23 has a bad oxygen sensor and is out of commission tomorrow.’”
WEBSITE MANAGEMENT SYSTEMPagePilot is an online Web solution built specifically for the HVAC industry that gives contractors a comprehensive customizable Website (over 180 pages of HVAC content). “What’s unique about PagePilot is that, besides taking minimal time to set up, it gives the contractor complete and easy control of his Website from that point forward,” said David Squires, president of Contractor’s Online-Access Inc., Port Huron, Mich. Once set up, contractors can add or edit pages, pictures, and content anytime they want - without having to know a thing about Web design.
“Everything is done online - easily and instantly,” Squires said. “The only skill requirements needed for a contractor to completely run his Website is familiarity with a word processor, access to a digital camera, and the ability to browse the Internet.” Unlimited live customer support as well as the development and access to new features and tools are included in the monthly subscription fee.
Contractor’s Online-Access has designed and developed a system that lets any contractor (even those with Websites not provided by Online-Access) easily and quickly install an E-Commerce store in their Website to profitably sell filters, pads, UV bulbs, and more to their customers, Squires stated.
“The PagePilot E-Commerce System helps the contractor harness technology by giving the contractor the ability to sell online without having to stock product or ship it,” Squires said. “The contractor maintains control of the sale - and his customer - the entire time.”
Each of the software solutions presented in this article proffer its own distinct advantages. One key characteristic that is intrinsic to most, if not all, of these is the push toward going paperless/eliminating the paper trail. “Paperless is the wave,” said Bill Davidson of Service Company, Inc.
Whichever software/technology solutions you take advantage of to help streamline your business and optimize your daily operations, understand that advancements are being made on a constantly evolving basis. “If you hold still, it [technology] will pass you by,” said Mathews.
For more information, go to www.dexterchaney.com, www.maxwellsystems.com, www.networkfleet.com, www.online-access.com, and/or www.estores4hvac.com.