Service management software solutions

Ventus Service Management, www.ventussoftware.com, is a customizable software solution for service contractors that can handle the full complement of service department activities, including electronic dispatching; preventative maintenance scheduling; inventory and equipment for tracking and managing stocked parts (in one or multiple warehouses or service trucks); service contract administration; and work order billing.

Ventus Service Management, www.ventussoftware.com, is a customizable software solution for service contractors that can handle the full complement of service department activities, including electronic dispatching; preventative maintenance scheduling; inventory and equipment for tracking and managing stocked parts (in one or multiple warehouses or service trucks); service contract administration; and work order billing.

The solution features a user-configurable drag-and-drop dispatch board with job view, hour view and 90-day job scheduling view; full equipment and customer history; custom formats for all invoices, service contracts and work orders; and the ability to attach pictures and other electronic documents to work orders, equipment or customer locations. Travel and on-site labor hours can be tracked through timestamps or entered manually.

The software accommodates user-defined labor rates and markup tables. The dispatch board has many research options, so the viewer can see as much or as little data on a site location as needed. The software interfaces with MapQuest for easy mapping, directions and scheduling.

An optional Mobile Field Service module, used with a netbook or notebook computer and Web access, helps streamline and automate the service department by dispatching and processing all work orders electronically, minimizing or eliminating paperwork technicians have to handle. It provides technicians access to customer history, as well as the facility to close out work orders and invoice customers from the field. The ability to interface with @Road GPS enables mapping overlays from the Dispatch Board and color-coded pin-tracking for service trucks to optimize dispatching and maximize technician productivity. Other key features of the module include customer signature capture; equipment, history, and service reports; labor and billable hours tracking; on-site invoicing; field service notifications to dispatch; and in-field printing options if the technician has a wireless printer.

An optional wireless barcode module, when used with certified inventory barcode scanners, supports speedy physical counts of labeled inventory parts and easy transfer of stock to other locations, jobs or service work orders, as well as faster checkout procedures for counter sales.

The Pick-and-Choose Report Writer offers more than 80 formatted commonly-accessed report configurations, so users can extract specialized information in a timely fashion right out of the box. Report types include technician profitability, profitability by call types, profitability by service work ticket, work-in-progress, AR and AP trial balance reports and numerous General Ledger financial statement report formats. The module also provides the ability to build, customize and save additional reports that can contribute to actionable business decisions.

An optional eService module gives large customers a way to interact online through a customer-branded Web-based service portal that can be customized with your company logo or the customer's logo. It allows customers to create work orders from any Internet connection, using their own service log-ins; establish high-priority calls for immediate service; check status of service calls and scheduled maintenance visits across an entire organization; and view history details on location and equipment, including equipment pictures. Other capabilities include preventative maintenance contracts and checklists/tasking, which automatically schedules preventative maintenance calls with tasking checklists and features that set reminders for contract expiration and renewal dates, plus, alarm and management notifications catch calls that slip past your own user-defined guidelines. As the software developer points out, the ability to provide this type of service can offer a competitive advantage when bidding national or regional contracts.

Other available modules include estimating, utilizing a user-defined cost item database and featuring the ability to create assemblies; time and material billing; AIA progress billing, which is an add-on to standard job billing: job costing for costing and reporting on larger projects; and integrated accounting, all supplied from a single source. Netbooks

If you are looking to furnish field personnel with mobile field service functionality, consider netbooks, an emerging category of portable computers. Smaller, lighter and cheaper than laptops, they can run many Web-based applications, surf the Web, and handle e-mail and everyday word processing. With a screen and keyboard larger than that on a Smartphone, a netbook affords easier input of data and a more generous view of the screen than a Smartphone allows, though not as generous as a laptop. At about two to three pounds, netbooks generally sport a 9-in. to 11-in. diagonal screen, a keyboard noticeably smaller than a desktop keyboard (a reduction partly achieved by eliminating the number pad usually found on the right hand side of a full size keyboard), and, in many models, an adequate 1024 x 600 screen resolution. You may want to look for a netbook with a screen that is outdoor friendly, though keep expectations reasonable. Because netbooks are designed for low-power consumption, the screens are not all that bright by design. Most netbooks use an energy efficient Intel Atom CPU processor and can run between about six and 10 hours on a single battery charge. Several computer manufacturers offer netbooks, including Acer, Asus, Dell, HP, Lenovo, Samsung and Toshiba.

Bill and Patti Feldman are freelance writers for magazines, trade associations, building product manufacturers and other companies on a broad range of topics. They can be reached at productpad@yahoo.com.