Technology continues to simplify the exchange of information in general and for on the fly note-taking and sketching in particular. Some 50 years ago, the ballpoint pen became a popular and practical writing instrument that freed people from the desktop inkwell. Today, a digital ballpoint pen paired with a portable memory device is an expedient way for a contractor on the go to bring information from the field back to the desktop.
Dane-Elec Zpen Digital Pen and USB Flash Drive (www.danedigital.com, Dane-Elec Digital Products) is a very convenient data input solution that provides an easy way to write, sketch or draw on any paper and then upload the notes or drawings (up to hundreds of pages) into a computer for storing and transmitting to others.
The user starts by clipping the wireless receiver to an ordinary notepad or sheets of paper so that the receiver is along a clear line of sight. That's the whole set-up. The user is now ready to write or draw with the wireless pen.
The Zpen works by continually transmitting its position to the receiver. To change a page, just open the clip on the receiver, turn the page on the pad if you want or re-attach the receiver to the pad or just close the clip onto the same page. Regardless, the next input of information will now appear on a new page. All data is stored on the (1 GB) flash memory.
Later, when the user is ready to upload the data, the flash drive plugs right into the USB port on the computer for instant direct uploading of files, which are organized by date and time. A contractor can store the notes or sketches or e-mail them immediately.
The upload of information is very speedy because the connector is incorporated onto the flash drive - no separate cable needed. The flash drive also includes MyScriptNotes handwriting recognition software, so the user can easily save or export notes as converted text. (The software does take some training to interpret the block or cursive handwriting of each user.) The user can also save documents as HTML for posting on the web.
And here's another field use of the solution: Because each new page is time-stamped, if the job foreman requests that each employee and subcontractor sign in and out daily, the digital documentation provides an easy way to verify the time of arrival and departure of each worker.
The pen, which runs off two ordinary watch batteries, uses an easy to replace standard mini ink cartridge that slots right in and pulls right out of the tip of the pen. Up to eight registered Zpens can be used with a single receiver.
Customer service management
One-Plus Service 2008 (OnePlus Technologies, www.1Plus-ser.com) is a scalable customer service management solution suitable for HVAC and plumbing contractors. It is designed to track existing customers and what has been done for them so that the person who answers the phone has sufficient detailed information onscreen to respond knowledgably and professionally to the customer call.
The solution provides immediate access to very detailed data delivered in a variety of formats. This makes it easy for a customer service representative or a dispatcher to respond efficiently to customer requests for service or information with accurate data.
For example, an opening screen for a particular customer shows location of service, contacts and billing information on the top of the screen. The bottom half of the screen shows service history, equipment, service agreements and quotes, each providing in-depth details.
Under service history, for example, the data includes: call ID; call type; problem; technician; status, including when scheduled and when completed; job number; invoice number; and a description of work performed.
Under service agreement, a service rep sees start and end date, amount of contract, number of visits to date and details of pending visits, including the problem and the assigned technician. There's also a listing of installed equipment, with each location, start-up date and applicable warranty stated.
Clicking into any box allows the user to update or add new data on the service call and equipment as well as updated data from counter sales and new agreements. Other click-to-screens show finance charges, additional history, email log and notes.
The optional field service module, which is suitable for small and medium-sized HVAC and plumbing contractors, provides detailed dispatch and work order information to technicians in the field who are equipped with standard handheld PDA devices enabled for wireless Internet communications.
The application enables a field technician to view and update all information, including equipment and service history for the customer. The technician can attach photographs and diagnostic readings from the field for review in and response from the office. If the technician has the hardware, the application also supports customer signature capture, real time credit card scanning and inventory bar coding.
The program also supports tracking of inventory in and off the trucks, with inventory barcode scanning.
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].