Making Cell Phones Indispensable for Techs

ITS 10 A.M. Do you know where your technicians are and what they are doing? As more and more contractors and their service personnel carry and use mobile phones to streamline daily operations, innovative solution providers are delivering task-specific applications designed to make cell phone use practically indispensable. Vettro Mobile Service Contractor and uLocate are two new cell-phone based entries

IT’S 10 A.M. Do you know where your technicians are and what they are doing?

As more and more contractors and their service personnel carry and use mobile phones to streamline daily operations, innovative solution providers are delivering task-specific applications designed to make cell phone use practically indispensable.

Vettro Mobile Service Contractor and uLocate are two new cell-phone based entries among solutions marketed by application and technology providers to service professionals. The software enables contractors’ employees traveling light (i.e., with a cell phone but, perhaps, not a PDA or laptop) to enjoy the benefits of real-time data access and information exchange.

Keeping tabs

For contractors who have already issued cell phones to their mobile employees to make it easier to communicate and manage their time, real time tracking of the precise location of their phone-toting workers could be the next step. Taking advantage of global positioning system satellite and cell phone technology and the Internet, uLocate (uLocate Communications, www.ulocate.com, 888/641-0102), enables plumbing and HVAC contractors to pinpoint technicians and other service personnel in the field almost instantly, for scheduling expediency and for verification of location.

uLocate uses the GPS satellite network, a radio navigation system that was developed by the U.S. government to allow the military to determine precise location anywhere in the world. But it works just as well within your service area.

The subscription-based uLocate works with cell phones that can establish and transmit their own location in terms of latitude and longitude, with those coordinates then translated into addresses viewable on a Java-enhanced cell phone or the uLocate Web site. The locations, which are generally accurate to within 50 meters, are broadcast from the phone every two minutes and stored for 90 days.

Management with the appropriate level of security and access using GPS-enabled cell phones can, at any time, see the last known location of workers displayed on a street map via a secure Web site and/or view locations of workers directly on their cell phone screens.

Accessing the information on the Web site also allows management to review the histories of locations visited, routes driven and associated mileage during a specified time. The service also can issue an alert, via an e-mail or SMS (short message service) text message on their cell phones telling when workers arrive or depart from pre-defined worksites or other locations.

All this data can help managers and dispatchers coordinate or re-order schedules to accommodate emergencies or shifting priorities, the company suggested. Both the contractor and the customers can benefit from the streamlined efficiency, cutting down on phone tag and lag time. Other benefits include providing employees with an extra layer of safety and security in case of a breakdown and minimizing unauthorized use of company vehicles.

Currently, the service, which costs $10.95 per month for the first phone and $7.95 monthly for each additional phone, is available to Nextel customers using a Motorola i88, i158 or i730 cell phone and to T-Mobile and AT&T subscribers using any model Benefon. More phones and carriers will be supported as they become GPS compatible, the company explained.

Phone service

Suitable for small and medium-sized plumbing and HVAC businesses, Vettro Mobile Service Contractor (www.vettro.com, 866/vettro1) enables instant access over cell phones to detailed job-critical information that might otherwise have required the tech to call the central office.

The application, which runs on Java-enabled Nextel wireless phones, enables mobile workers to retrieve a wealth of data that resides in the home office, including customer contact information, service call address and point-to-point directions, replacement parts and equipment details, service history, service instructions, and warranties and other agreements. Each job is delivered with all the information the technician needs before he begins to travel to the jobsite or starts work on the job.

The solution needs to be integrated with one or more pre-selected back-end systems that are designed to take advantage of mobile service workflow data exchange (i.e., dispatch and billing software).

The software also offers optional time-saving add-ons. These include a Symbol bar code scanner that attaches to the phone for accurate tracking of parts as they are used, streamlining inventory management and helping ensure the truck always has proper parts on hand. A credit card reader/printer connects to the cell phone for acceptance of credit card payment and the capability to issue a detailed receipt, streamlining accounts receivable. That ability, the company pointed out, enables the contractor to take advantage of “card-present” transaction discounts from the bank.

Vettro Mobile Service Contractor can be installed, updated (and also deleted completely) over the Nextel wireless network, eliminating the need to ever recall the phones from the field. The application is functional continuously, whether the technician is in or out of wireless coverage. During times a technician is out of coverage area, all data sent to and from the user is stored and sent automatically as soon as a connection is available.

William and Patti Feldman provide Web content for companies and write for magazines, trade associations, building product manufacturers and other companies on a broad range of topics. They can be reached at [email protected].