HVAC contractors are quickly moving into the future when it comes to the equipment they install. They keep up with a whole alphabet of advancements, from AI to VRF. It’s a different story when it comes to the technology they use to run their day-to-day operations.
That’s what Alok Chanani learned when he worked with HVAC contractors as part of a general contracting firm. Chanani said they would come in and complete work on very complicated projects, such as hospitals and power plants. The tools they used for their own business, however, were often a mix that included some very out-of-date processes.
“The owners of the business would spend half their time trying to get information as opposed to making decisions based on that information,” Chanani said.
He saw an opportunity and co-founded BuildOps, a field-serviceman platform for commercial HVAC contractors to run the operations of their business and improve their profitability. The company has grown quickly since it started about four years ago. BuildOps now has more than 100 employees across the U.S. and Canada.
Co-founder and CEO, BuildOps
Change is Difficult
Commercial HVAC contractors are slow to adopt new operations for the same reason as most business owners, Chanani said: It’s often a difficult process. He’s heard numerous horror stories about software installations gone wrong. Even when they go right, it requires employees to learn a new way of doing their jobs.
“Change is difficult at all phases of life” Chanani said, “especially as an organization.”
BuildOps includes about a dozen modules that cover all facets of running a commercial HVAC business, so there will be no disruption as it replaces several functions. Chanani never promises that moving to the system will prove painless. In fact, he compares it to getting a root canal. Just like that dental procedure, however, the short-term pain is less than that caused by the long-term problem.
Those long-term problems are especially noticeable these days as HVAC contractors struggle with shortages of all sorts. Bad technology can add to supply costs, for example. Prices are changing all the time for reasons out of the control of HVAC contractors, ranging from the pandemic to geopolitical events. BuildOps includes real-time analytics that help manage these fluctuations.
“If you don’t have real-time analytics that give you the pulse of your operations, you can’t make adjustments in a real-time basis,” Chanani said.
Making Employees More Efficient
Then there is the issue of attracting and retaining employees. Chanani said someone recently shared the story of leaving an HVAC firm because they couldn’t tolerate the out-of-date tools the firm was using. That employee left for a tech-savvy company that could compete, he said.
The good news is that people are more open to change when it comes to technology today. Chanani shares the example of Zoom. A few years ago, few people made video calls on a regular basis. Today, many people spend large portions of their days doing just that.
“Everyone is using technology and becoming more comfortable with it. COVID forced that, and it may be one of the upsides of the pandemic,” he said. “It forced people to communicate in different ways and become more comfortable with technology.”
People are also learning to be more efficient, Chanani said. The next goal for BuildOps is to make fieldwork more efficient by allowing technicians to easily share their experience and specific knowledge. They will be able to use the BuildOps platform to store short videos they take while working on a piece of equipment. They can then tag these videos based on the type of working being done and the location.
More commercial HVAC contractors still need to overcome their hesitancy to changing technology, Chanani said. Those that do will be the ones to succeed in the coming years.
“If you want to grow an organization and build a real company, I don’t see how you do it without technology,” he said.