Going paperless has helped AFGO Mechanical Services Inc. greatly improve its cash flow because billing is immediate. It also has resulted in better customer service.
Going paperless has helped AFGO Mechanical Services Inc. greatly improve its cash flow because billing is immediate. It also has resulted in better customer service.

For some HVAC contractors, the only paper trail they’re interested in is the ream of dollar bills they’re depositing in the bank. These HVAC companies have distanced themselves from physical paper documents and are relying more on digital technology — in the field and at the office — to conduct business. For some, the paperless decision has led to an increase in professionalism, a grander customer perception, and further opportunity to “stack” up the profits.

Michael McGuire, operations manager, AFGO Mechanical Services Inc., Long Island City, New York, has been paperless since February 2010.

“I’ve always been a process guy,” McGuire said. “I’m always trying to find a way to get things done faster and more efficiently. I found the system we were using was very cumbersome. It was designed for our industry, but it wasn’t ideal for what we were doing. The process just took too long, so going paperless was always something we had in the back of our mind from an operational standpoint.”

More importantly, going paperless has helped AFGO greatly improve its cash flow, McGuire said — a clear benefit of moving to the new system.

“Cash flow is key,” McGuire said. “Our customer service has improved because we have information to give customers immediately because our technicians use hand-held devices instead of writing out paperwork. We’re completely interactive, and our collections have resulted in better cash flow.”

Michael Rosenberg, president, Rosenberg Indoor Comfort, San Antonio, said, over the last five years, his residential HVAC company has been slowly reducing its reliance on paper.

“We initially put three people on the task, and now, pretty much everybody’s on it,” Rosenberg said. “We have about 10 people on board with two more to come soon. Right now, we’re doing it on the residential side, which gives us the ability to look at service histories and find out what we did before. That’s a big plus.”

Not only has this initiative helped clean up the company office, but Rosenberg said it has improved customer receptiveness.

“It shows our professionalism and helps us stand out from our competition. It’s helped a lot in terms of our image,” he said. “Additionally, our efficiency has improved. Not having all this paper coming through every day is big. It’s all on the computer now, and it’s organized.”

Of course, some contractors are unsure if their companies will be able to adapt to such an overarching systematic change. Brent Jacobs, president, Jacobs Heating & Air Conditioning, Portland, Oregon, said his company has been exploring ways to go paperless for quite some time.

He’s yet to pull the trigger because he hasn’t found software that collaborates with the company’s current system.

“(Overhauling software) is exactly what’s keeping us from doing it,” Jacobs said. “We’ve got so much time and money invested into what we’re using now that we hope to be able to integrate into that structure. As soon as we feel comfortable that our two software systems can fully integrate, we’ll do it.”

The transition has been slow for him, though. He acknowledges that his delay may have been the cause of an unfavorable prior experience with technology.

“We are very progressive when it comes to the installation of equipment but remain very conservative when it comes to the technology end of our business model,” Jacobs said. “During the early adaptation of computers and software, we lost our whole customer database for two weeks. I’ve been scared ever since. And, remember, this occurred before today’s support structures were in place.”

Tom Barker, vice president, Guarding Environmental Services, Livonia, Michigan, said, eventually, this, change is going to occur in every company.

“I’ve talked to a lot of people about this and a lot of them are already paperless, or they’re talking about it,” Barker said. “The ones that grumble about it, I just tell them, ‘You can do what you want, but you’re going to go paperless eventually. Soon enough, you’re not going to have a choice.’ When I started here in 1989, we thought a fax machine was a big deal.”

Once your company does go paperless, the process will become second nature, and employees will question why such methods weren’t in place sooner, McGuire said.

“There will be some resistance. People won’t want you to take away their paper. They’ll say they need it. We have those people here, and we talk about it now and reflect back, and they can’t believe they ever preferred working off paper.

“Now, when we have a glitch in the system and our technicians have to revert to using the paper work orders, everyone throws their hands up and gets frustrated. It’s like were going back to the Stone Age,” he said.

In terms of cost, Rosenberg said the paperless investment has more than paid for itself.

“I’d tell skeptical contractors to invest in one segment and try it first. Let a tech work with it before diving into it,” he said. “That’s what we did. Make sure you’re not duplicating things and that it integrates into the software you’re using.”

For McGuire, he’s already preparing for the next step: bar-coding. He’s hoping to add a bar code to every piece of installed and serviced equipment in the near future.

“We currently have the ability to track equipment history by the piece of equipment, because we’re coding it, but it’s all a manual process,” McGuire said. “So, how awesome would it be for a technician to scan the barcode we set up on the unit and have its history right there on the spot? There wouldn’t have to be a log taped to the unit, and he wouldn’t have to call dispatch to find who was here or what repairs were done. It would be right there. That would save so much time. I’m interested in doing anything I can to free up a technician; to streamline the process.”

As time rolls on, so will new features that can make going paperless even more of a no-brainer for contractors. Sometimes, it’s adapt or perish.

“The industry keeps changing,” Barker said. “You either change with it, or you get left in the dust. The thing you always have to weigh is, do you want to be on the bleeding edge and be the first one to go with something? Or, do you want to slide in? We’ve been looking at paperless for 10 years. We knew we were going there, it was just a question of how to do it as efficiently as possible and when it made the most sense.”

Publication date: 8/11/2014

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