What’s the best business management software for an HVAC company?

Over the last 10 years, I’ve consulted with hundreds of HVAC contracting and service businesses to answer the question. Would it surprise you to find out that they’ve arrived at literally dozens of different conclusions?

Why are there so many products on the market — so many possible “best fits”? The answer is because there’s an enormous variety of needs.

The right program must fit your particular business model, functional requirements, spending range, operating system considerations, integration needs in terms of the other programs it must communicate with, and many more personalized factors. Is there one program that fits all these possible combinations? Of course not!

Accountable Attributes

Regardless of whether you are looking for an enterprise resource planning (ERP) solution, accounting software, field service management, estimating and job costing, or any other critical HVAC-related business management software, there are certain attributes you can always seek out to make sure you are finding your best fit.

Consider the following eight attributes you should look for when purchasing business management software for your HVAC business:

1. Integration — Integration is always a key functional objective. Being able to transfer data and even convert documents from one type to the next helps achieve a number of critical business goals. Integration between modules reduces the chance for data errors, minimizes the amount of required administrative labor, and helps maintain a single version of the truth when it comes to your business records. Even if you don’t have a single end-to-end management solution, taking advantage of programs with application programming interfaces (APIs) to move data between, for instance, estimating to job costing or dispatching/order scheduling to invoicing can provide major savings.

2. Visibility — How transparent and easily accessible is your data? It’s one of the important questions to consider when you evaluate different software solutions. Strong search utilities, archiving functionality, versioning, and customizable report views are all examples of system-wide attributes that determine the degree to which you’ll be able to have strong visibility into your data.

3. Control & Security — Who can access what information in your new software? Sharing the same level of access for executives, accounting personnel, project managers, and field staff generally isn’t an option. A key difference between systems is the granularity with which you can control functional access. It’s also important to look at which tasks can be specifically defined to require approvals. Password protection, encryption, and the presence of audit trails to report changes are all key security considerations you should keep in mind.

4. Automation — At the core of every software purchase is a desire for more automation. When it comes to HVAC business management, there are plenty of opportunities for it. The more opportunities seized, the greater the return on investment (ROI) and the lower the chance of human error. To evaluate automation, start by looking for three things: the ease of converting documents, calculation utilities, and the ability to see changes made in one area reflected in others across the system.

5. Ease of Use — Closely related to automation capabilities are ease-of-use considerations. It’s not just what the software can do, but the degree of difficulty required to do it. A good way to compare ease of use is to count the steps required to do a standard system task (adding a new user, perhaps). The organization of menus and other graphic user interface (GUI) elements, and access to help functions, should be part of the ease-of-use evaluation, as well.

6. Flexibility — HVAC work is dynamic. Change orders, contract negotiations, and cost variations are just some of the standard curveballs that regularly get tossed your way. Understanding how each software system adapts to these changes is fundamental to determining their applicability for your needs.

7. Remote access — The HVAC workplace doesn’t end at your office walls — it’s as wide as your service area. Mobile access to HVAC management software is rapidly moving from a nice-to-have to must-have status. The ability to communicate dispatch info, capture costs, create invoices, and affect changes to orders and quotes while in the field are particularly valuable to HVAC contractors and service companies.

8. Presentation — Given the complexity of the back office, it’s easy to overlook the fact that many HVAC systems also play a role in presenting your company’s professional image. Customer quotes, contracts, and invoices aren’t only responsible for clearly communicating information. Templating and customization tools can also help ensure that customer-facing documents provide a professional, polished impression.

Publication date: 8/18/2014

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