Mobile technology has changed the way contracting firms operate, thanks to a wide array of smartphones and tablets that allow the real-time exchange of information. As a result, many technicians in the field can now pull up a customer’s service history, create an invoice or purchase order number, and transmit details of the service call to the home office almost instantaneously.
While there are many benefits to going mobile, there is no question the transition takes a great deal of research, preparation, and training. For contractors who haven’t yet taken the leap, the process may seem daunting; but, customers — and the world — are going mobile, so now is the time to embrace the technology.
While mobile technology allows for the quick transmission of data, it is sometimes better for contractors to slow down when making that change. For Bronson Shavitz, owner, Shavitz Heating and Air Conditioning, Skokie, Illinois, gradually moving to mobile technology made sense because he knew it was going to be a difficult transition.
“We started out just using some Google products in the office. Then we got the service department on Google Drive, so they could access specific folders on boilers, furnaces, or whatever to get troubleshooting information or sizing guidelines,” said Shavitz. “Then, about 18 months ago, we got iPads for our technicians, and, since then, we’ve expanded in order to take full advantage of SW Remote, which is the mobile solution we use from SuccessWare21.”
But, that took time, too, as Shavitz didn’t feel comfortable just handing out the iPads and sending his 10 technicians into the field. “We spent a lot of time rolling it out. We did a couple of technician training sessions with the iPads, then we went out in the field with each technician for a few days, just to make sure they understood how to use it. Really, it’s just another tool that requires training. It’s like buying the latest set of digital gauges — they’re only going to make your technicians better if they know how to use them correctly.”
Dori Seegar, accounting manager, Yale Mechanical, Minneapolis, also took a slow approach to rolling out mobile technology. “For about a year, our technicians have been using iPads with fillable PDFs for work orders. They can use those out in the field to fill out what they did on the job, get a signature on them, and then load them onto our network.”
Getting the technicians used to the iPads was the No. 1 goal for Seegar, who noted that switching to mobile technology was a big change for them. “Approximately 80 percent of our technicians have never used mobile technology, so learning how to use an iPad as a work solution took some getting used to.”
The iPads with fillable PDFs have been a good solution so far, but Seegar is already looking ahead, which is why she is having one of the technicians beta test the Field Tech mobile solution from Dexter + Chaney. “Now that they’re used to the iPads, there is going to be less pain when we move them to Field Tech, which integrates with the software we use in the office. I feel like every five years we have one shot to roll something out like this and ask technicians to learn it. I have to feel confident that it’s going to work well.”
Count Tom J. Koziol, service manager, Conditioned Air, Naples, Florida, as another proponent of the gradual transition to mobile technology. “We started in 2007, when the company adopted the Sawin Service Automation Inc. software system. We tested it thoroughly internally first and then out in the field with employees who could best promote and explain the technology to the rest of the field staff. We made the transition slowly, due to the overall cost of the equipment needed. We started with laptops and moved to tablets and now smartphones, as the technology became available and more affordable. As a result, we didn’t get everybody onto the mobile technology for roughly five to six years, and, at the same time, we grew from 20 to 70 technicians.”
Teaching technicians how to use the technology took a great deal more time than originally anticipated and required a few adjustments, said Koziol. “When we first started, we assumed the technicians would pick this up quickly, but we soon realized that group size was an issue. So, we sat down with the technicians in groups of four and spent an entire day going over every function. We also worked with them in the field and gave them a written and digital copy of our in-house training manual. Overall, I think we’ve handled it pretty well.”
While many contractors adopt mobile technology thinking it will dramatically improve their bottom lines, Shavitz said that is not necessarily the case. “If you’re using this as a means to generate additional profit or cut costs, you’re probably running an extremely lean business already, and this is just the next step to try to make the office more efficient. But, if you’re like 95 percent of the rest of us, this is not going to be a cost-savings measure. It will result in faster, more accurate service calls, and it can help techs be more productive, but that’s not the main reason most of us go mobile.”
For Shavitz, adopting mobile technology was necessary in order to better support his technicians, and give a more professional appearance to customers. “Technicians are out in the field at night or on weekends, when our office is closed, so having information about each customer is really important. Do they have a service agreement? What is their equipment history? What recommendations have we made in the past? Having that history also reduces customer complaints and callbacks because the more information technicians have, the better they can do the job. Plus, it makes us look more professional.”
Going mobile has been a positive experience for Koziol, who notes that, even though it was expensive to implement, the benefits have far outweighed the costs. “The software tracks calls and employees, allows immediate access to invoices, gives the ability to look back on previous work performed, and keeps track of inventory. It has also allowed us to minimize the additional number of office staff needed on the payroll, even with our growth of 50 service field employees at the same time. We have 70 field employees in just the service department, and we only have four billing specialists. If we were still on paper, we would probably need 10-12 billing specialists in order to keep up.”
Seegar has also been happy with her mobile solution because the office gets the work tickets much faster, and the dispatchers no longer have to try and decipher the technicians’ handwriting on the paperwork. “With the fillable PDF, not only is it legible, but they can copy and paste the work-completed information into our software, which saves a lot of time.”
She is also looking forward to the day when all of the technicians can start using the Field Tech software because she thinks it’s going to be a great solution. “With the technician who is using it now, we are able to do same-day billing for a lot of these work orders, which is unheard of in the commercial area. It’s really shortening up the process.”H
Publication date: 12/29/2014