Even though it hasn’t been that long since the wireless revolution took over our lives, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to remember how we conducted business before we had smartphones, laptops, and tablet PCs. The advent of all these mobile devices has made it possible to obtain and/or retrieve data from just about anywhere at any time, which can be quite a benefit for contracting firms.

Most contractors have already given their technicians some type of basic mobile device — often a cell phone or two-way radio — while others have invested in total mobile solutions that include tablet PCs and portable printers. Even though mobile technology has advanced significantly, some contractors remain concerned about its initial cost and skeptical about its benefits. With the cost of mobile technology decreasing, now may be the perfect time to see if it makes sense to go mobile.

No Time Like the Present

Like it or not, the work force is becoming increasingly mobile, and workers on-the-go need to be fully productive from mobile devices, said Dean Schreiner, president, dESCO LLC., Fort Myers, Fla. “Most companies already have cell phones distributed to improve in-the-field communications, and most cell phone providers now offer bundled text/phone/Internet solutions that are the same price — if not cheaper — than the individual plans. Service companies need to keep up with the demand of an ever-growing digital world and take advantage of the continued streamlined benefits that go along with a mobile solution.”

Contractors who think their companies are too small to effectively utilize a mobile solution should think again, because large and small firms can both benefit from mobile technology, said Bill Loelius, director of business development, ServMan Software, Matthews, N.C.

“With a strong mobile solution, less is more: less people needed, less time spent on work, less errors, less handling, less office space, less archives, and so on. Doing more with less allows a business to grow without adding unnecessary infrastructure. Ultimately, a strong mobile system is the competitive weapon that will trump all others in the marketplace, becoming a catalyst for increasing sales, reducing costs, and growing a business efficiently and effectively.”

Another reason to consider implementing a mobile technology solution is that a company’s effectiveness and efficiency are directly related to the systems in place that automate and streamline business processes, said Loelius. “In fact, the process optimization provided by a strong mobile system generates measurable return-on-investment (ROI) by reducing costs, saving time, and increasing revenue.”

Profit and Productivity

Increasing revenue is on the minds of most contractors, and there is no question that a strong mobile solution can boost the bottom line, said David Haycraft, vice president of sales and marketing, Service Automation Inc., Houston. “Once a mobile solution has been implemented successfully and the technicians adapt to the process, it increases efficiency and productivity to such a level that everyone involved cannot even conceive of doing business any other way. And with mobile hardware becoming more and more affordable, especially with the smartphone revolution, a mobile solution is an attainable purchase with very little upfront cost.”

Mobile solutions are beneficial to the bottom line in several ways, noted Haycraft. First, two-way verbal communication between technician and office is eliminated or drastically reduced because with all the features available in most mobile solutions, there is very little reason for technicians to call the office for information. Second, service ticket/invoice processing in the office is eliminated.

“Since the technicians are not hand writing invoices in the field and bringing that paperwork back to the office, there is no longer a need for a person keying in those documents into the computer system.”

Reducing manual entry is one of the many benefits contractors will realize when they implement a mobile solution, said Nathan Tuttle, president, Team Management Systems Inc., Fort Myers, Fla.

“Consider if an office person saves just five minutes of time per invoice by not having to manually enter the information and file it, then multiply that by the number of invoices processed by each technician every day, and the time saved can add up. Those are hours that could be dedicated to the customer. The benefits definitely outweigh the initial expense and will typically end up paying a ROI in a short period. A mobile solution can also eliminate costly calculation errors that sometimes occur in the field, by automatically calculating the sell price based on the customer’s markup rates and hourly charge (or flat rate).”

While a mobile solution can be beneficial for companies of all sizes, it can particularly help small companies grow, without having to add more people, said Tuttle. “As companies add more service techs, they typically have to add more office staff to support the technicians. If a contractor implements a good mobile service solution, then more technicians in the field can be supported by less office staff.”

Schreiner added that mobile solutions also increase productivity, as technicians are armed with the right information in the field, ensuring jobs are completed faster and more efficiently, allowing them to complete more jobs daily. In addition, a digital environment reduces paper consumption and paperwork storage needs and also allows better sharing of information by giving employees access to real-time information in a single location. “Another benefit is getting paid faster, as techs can process payments in the field which lowers processing costs, ensures accuracy, reduces collection issues, and increases payment receipt times.”

Given the current economic conditions, there has never been a better time to implement a strong mobile solution, said Loelius. “Doing more with less allows your business to grow without adding unnecessary infrastructure. Especially in these difficult economic times, the ability to do more with your existing resources is vital for success. Mobile implementation management is a key element for success.”

Sidebar: Software Solutions

There are many different types of mobile software solutions available, but here are a few to consider: ACOTRUCK Mobile Work Order system (www.teamservice.com/acotruck.asp) works on an iPad, iPhone, iPod, or Windows tablet PC and allows technicians to download their service calls, as well as enter their dispatch times, materials used, equipment worked on, and how the problem was resolved. When technicians are finished making the repair, they can automatically generate an invoice and present it to the customer for payment (which can be entered in the field, including credit card processing) and an acceptance signature. The call is then uploaded back to the office, which automatically attaches a copy of the signed invoice to the work order and fills in all of the data to the correct fields back at the office computer.

ESC Mobile (www.desco-soft.com) is a powerful and intuitive smartphone, tablet, and laptop application, giving service technicians instant access to customer information, service history, equipment, agreement information, driving directions, dispatch details, and more. Technicians are also able to create and email quotes and invoices; modify and complete dispatches; process credit cards and accept payments; capture customer signatures; and add pictures, equipment, and notes to customer contact records. Office personnel are given real-time updates and are able to monitor technicians with GPS tracking. Technician managers are given a full view to schedule calls, dispatch technicians and more when in the field.

Sawin Mobile (www.servicedispatch.com) offers technicians mobile access to client history, equipment logs, contract details, call details, parts required, map directions to location, and much more by way of any web-enabled device (standard laptops, tablet PCs, smartphones, etc.). In addition, the technician has the ability to dispatch, arrive, and complete the call, offer flat-rate pricing options, enter new equipment, enter recommendations, and invoice the customer. During the invoicing process the technician can add other parts, swipe a credit card, capture a signature, and email the invoice or service ticket or print a paper invoice on-site.

ServMan Mobile (www.servman.com) is available for either a smartphone or tablet PC and provides the ability to perform service work and sales functions in the field without needing a continuous Internet connection. The system allows technicians to view work orders by date scheduled or work type; change expected duration of a call on the dispatch board; capture inventory items to work orders using an integrated scanner; capture electronic signatures to orders; view account service histories; process credit cards in the field; log completed tasks with optional comments; automatically log labor to orders; and keep the office informed of the technician’s status.

Publication date: 12/26/2011