Service goes wireless, down to bar codes

DESIGNED FOR RESIDENTIAL and commercial service/ contracting businesses, Shafer's Mobile Office Solution ( Shafer's Service Systems, www.shafers.com, 800/826-4430) is the mobile component of Shafer's Management System software. The management package is a modular, fully integrated service/contracting business management suite. The solution, which can accommodate any number of users, provides constant

DESIGNED FOR RESIDENTIAL and commercial service/ contracting businesses, Shafer's Mobile Office Solution ( Shafer's Service Systems, www.shafers.com, 800/826-4430) is the mobile component of Shafer's Management System software. The management package is a modular, fully integrated service/contracting business management suite. The solution, which can accommodate any number of users, provides constant communication between the field service technicians and the dispatcher in the back office.

Service calls are processed in Shafer's Customer Call-In screen on the backoffice computer or server. Each call is automatically placed on the Dispatch Board, from which it is automatically sent wirelessly to the technician's handheld computer. The transmitted call includes equipment detail, service history, customer details, purchase order information and other data.

If the technician is equipped with the appropriate hardware mounted in the service vehicle, after the technician completes the work, he can create a professional-looking invoice, print it out and get the customer's signature at the time of the call. Then, the technician can either transmit the signed invoice electronically to the back office to start the invoicing process or accept customer payment on the spot by credit card or check for bookkeeping entry.

Though users can purchase only the modules desired and use their own laptops or handhelds, Shafer's Service Systems offers a preconfigured line of products to expedite use of all the functions of various modules of Mobile Office.

The optional Mobile Office hardware product line includes: a compact handheld Windows-based PC Notebook with a large, full-color touch screen and electronic pen for input and access of data; a truck mount docking station; an 81/2-by-11 in. thermal printer; a GPS system; and a credit card scanner.

The truck pedestal provides connections from the truck battery to the computer and provides a tree to support the notebook docking station, which sets directly on a tilt-and-swivel head for optimal viewing of the screen. A printer box for a thermal printer and a roll of thermal paper and a cell phone holder will also attach to the pedestal. The cell phone holder has provisions to hook up a headset for true hands-free operation.

The Dispatch Board is event-driven by a background server that refreshes information every 30 seconds. To protect service call information should the back office server ever go offline, the Dispatch module automatically copies every service call status to a back-up file on a designated workstation away from the main database.

It is possible to add an optional GPS (black box) system to company vehicles and Maplink software that integrates with it, enabling monitoring of vehicles directly from the dispatch board in almost real time. That option is a one-time purchase without any monthly fees.

Using Shafer's wireless field service communications software and the GPS software, vehicle coordinates are collected and sent to the dispatch board, allowing dispatchers to track vehicle speed, direction and duration of each stop continuously.

This information can help the system automatically select the technician closest to the next service call. The solution gives technicians the ability to see an onscreen street map of the current and next service locations, helping in planning the best route to the next stop.

To accommodate contractor preferences, Shafer's Mobile Office offers flatrate or time-and-material billing. Mobile Office will calculate all the pricing related to parts, labor, sales tax and other miscellaneous charges.

Using drop-down boxes, the technician uses the stylus on the touchscreen to pick the job description phrases or other data that matches the repair scenario.

Flat Rate Billing allows the technician to pick from hundreds of existing scenarios and any scenario can be adjusted before final billing. Time & Material Billing allows the technician to add labor, parts, travel charges and other miscellaneous fees and set the pricing levels.

The credit card scanner allows for full processing of credit card information wirelessly in the field, with scanned data sent to the bank clearinghouse. (This speeds the accounts receivable process appreciably and eliminates the task of sending out and tracking paper invoices and the wait to get paid.) Optional bank authorization software can be used to instantly approve credit cards and checks through a banking authority.

Contractors can also use a Bluetooth handheld scanner to wirelessly scan the bar codes of parts as they get used on a job. (When it's time to do the invoice, the inventory used on the job is transferred to the invoice or work order.)

Shafer's Mobile Office works with a PC card wireless modem from Nextel, Verizon, AT&T or T-Mobile, allowing users to choose the wireless service with the strongest presence and signal in their work area.

While contractors need only have the Systems Manager module (which includes Accounts Receivable) and the Dispatch module installed on the office computer, many other dedicated modules in the management suite expedite various tasks or responsibilities. Available modules include accounting, accounts payable, customer service history, inventory, job costing, payroll and purchase orders.

Bill and Patti Feldman are freelance writers for magazines, building product manufacturers and other companies on a broad range of topics. They can be reached at [email protected].

TAGS: PCs/Tablets