Here are two mobile solutions that can help HVAC contractors substantially improve worker productivity and minimize lost downtime.
The first is a well-executed mobile field service solution that can shorten bill cycle times, increase invoice accuracy and boost customer satisfaction and retention. Solutions are widely available that work on PDAs, laptops and Palms.
Corrigo's Worktrack Service Management software (www.worktrack.corrigo.com) is a Web-based and wireless system that is compatible with Sprint, Cingular, Verizon, T-Mobile, Alltel and other major cellular carriers.
Employees in the office access an easy-to-use dispatch board through a Web browser to schedule and assign work. Service personnel in the field receive work orders on their wireless smart phone devices and are able to read customer information, service history and work order details. They wirelessly update work order status and information, keeping the office staff in sync with work status in real time.
Additional functionalities in the field include the ability to capture a real-time record of work completed and parts used on each call. They also include on-the-spot invoicing and acceptance of payment through QuickBooks Merchant Service. Information from closed work orders and invoices created in the field pass automatically through to QuickBooks accounting software.
The location tracking capabilities enable management in the office, via a Web browser, to see all fieldworkers' locations and jobs on-screen and to monitor technician movement using GPS. The solution also can notify when employees leave the work site during work hours or fail to show up at their scheduled time. The location of any worker carrying a GPS-enabled wireless device is trackable regardless of whether or not they use that phone to enter shift hours and job details.
The program offers several types of pre-built reports that help track how your business is doing. This includes work order status, staff productivity and performance, revenue and timecard information organized by job number, task, team, date or employee.
Dispatchers in the office can push out work order details of both scheduled and unscheduled service calls to technicians' cell phones throughout the day. For unscheduled calls, the program will help select the most qualified technician based on who is available and who is closest.
WorkTrack Service Management tightly integrates with QuickBooks and can work with other accounting, payroll and job management packages, eliminating paperwork and errors from double data entry.
Lost tools are a costly and unproductive expense for any contractor. Here's an electronic sentry that can cut tool loss, shrink replacement costs and minimize crew downtime due to unexpected unavailability of a needed tool.
Provided over the Internet as a subscription-based software service, ToolWatch (www.toolwatch.com, 800/676-4034) uses barcodes or RFID (radio frequency identification) tags to track tools and equipment in the yard, warehouse or jobsite tool crib. It also features modules to manage purchasing, inventory and servicing of the tools and equipment.
Information is accrued in the local database and is electronically synchronized periodically with ToolWatch's main data server for preservation. This allows a company with multiple jobsites, tool warehouses or tool cribs to see all of its assets across the organization — where every tool is located, how long they have been out and when they are expected back. The information is accessible to all authorized personnel.
All tools that can readily accept a barcode or a radio tag are equipped with one or the other. The tool crib manager uses a scanner-enabled mobile device to take the information off the tool and off the barcode from an employee's ID card. Once the tool is handed to the worker, the system knows the time and the date, who has that tool and what job it is being used on. The same process documents the return of tools. Accountability is driven right down to the field level.
RFID scanners can read RFID tags even when inside a carrying case or embedded in the tool, whereas barcodes must be visible to be read. For companies that do not use scanners, the tool number can be typed into the database individually.
While working in an area without wireless Internet connectivity, the mobile unit continues capturing and storing data within the unit. Then, once connectivity is reestablished, the unit automatically updates the main ToolWatch database.
The program also can generate purchase orders of jobsite materials, assign material to the proper job and track delivered quantities. When a delivery is made to a jobsite, a worker using a mobile device enabled with ToolWatch software brings up that purchase order, selects the items received and checks off the quantities. All that information is then sent back to the inventory module, enabling inventory values to rise, with the new value ready to go to accounts payable.
The solution is suitable for a wide range of contractors, from companies with as few as 10 to 15 people on up to very large companies with branch offices. All information generated is stored in an SQL database owned by the contractor and can be made available to contractors as frequently as each week, if desired. If a contractor leaves the service, the information goes with the contractor.
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].