Two solutions allow information sharing

ELECTRONIC SERVICE Control ($495, Coastal Computer Corp., www.ccc-soft.com, 800/226-7529) is a business operations and communications product for small- to medium-sized service companies. It addresses various aspects of service management, including interactive dispatching, inventory and equipment management, customer information tracking, and sales and invoicing. Dispatchers can easily find customer

ELECTRONIC SERVICE Control ($495, Coastal Computer Corp., www.ccc-soft.com, 800/226-7529) is a business operations and communications product for small- to medium-sized service companies. It addresses various aspects of service management, including interactive dispatching, inventory and equipment management, customer information tracking, and sales and invoicing.

Dispatchers can easily find customer records (including accounts receivable balance, service agreement information and scheduling, service history and equipment) by name, address or phone number and can view the day’s schedule for all technicians on an electronic dispatch board.

When creating a dispatch, a dispatcher may use up to four complaint codes, which describe common problems. Each code has an approximate completion time. The EDB will show both the total time of all complaint codes for a particular call and the total time for all calls for each technician. The dispatcher may also key in a skill level and tasking description.

The dispatch board can incorporate Microsoft MapPoint 2002 (a separately priced option) for plotting driving routes with accurate, up-to-date addresses and providing detailed point-to-point driving directions. Dispatchers can view the location of color-coded service calls on maps that zoom out or in to give varying amounts of detail.

The dispatchers can also view interconnections among a specific dispatcher’s active dispatches to verify efficiency of scheduling and routing.

Dispatchers, using a dedicated phone line, can transmit service calls to pager-equipped technicians via optional alphanumeric paging software. The module supports sending of boilerplate messages, broadcast paging and free-form messages.

The solution, which integrates with Quickbooks Pro 2000, also handles other separately priced functions including bar coding, flat-rate pricing and mobile computing.

The bar-coding module, which requires a “Code 39” keyboard wedge, supports scanning of incoming parts and equipment and outgoing material from a warehouse to truck stock or jobsite and prints bar-code labels and bar-code lists.

Optional mobile computing software provides pocket PC-equipped technicians with the capability to access client information, service and equipment history, dispatch information, invoicing and payment history, before starting a service call or while onsite with the customer. As the work progresses, the technician can track time, parts used, services performed and enter free-form notes. If equipped with a bar-code reader and a printer, the technician also can input all expenses and generate a professional invoice. The system supports collection of funds onsite via credit card, check or cash.

Sharing project data

Rapid electronic access to updated data helps both field personnel and management save time and identify potential problems in a project life cycle and, perhaps, help field personnel make faster, more fully informed jobsite decisions.

Solutions that provide for two-way access are available for both notebook computers and electronic handheld devices. Typically, they are not one and the same. If you are looking for software that works with handhelds, the product below could be a consideration.

Designed for use on Palm handheld computers and aimed at the AEC industry, the wireless-ready Job Tracker ($13,950 for 10 users, Pencel Corp., www.pencel.com, 866/473-6235) consists of an integrated database of five mobile data applications and a synchronization engine that connects mobile devices directly to existing back-end data sources, including accounting and project management systems, for remote communication of data between home office and jobsite.

The bi-directional synchronization with back-end accounting and project management systems eliminates paper forms and the need for subsequent manual data entry and provides a way for personnel in the office and in the field to work with the same up-to-date data.

Office personnel upload data entered in the field (labor, materials, equipment usage, daily reports) into back-end systems for up-to-date tracking of all projects. Field personnel can receive updated employee lists, billing rates and other data sent from the back-office systems to the mobile device and use that information immediately.

The software is used in conjunction with existing mobile phone service from wireless service providers, including Sprint PCS and Nextel. The field management solution features customizable modules for daily reporting of timecard and material entry, equipment usage and progress reports. Users input data in the various modules with pop-up keypads, in-place numeric controls, pop-up filtered selection lists, drop-down picklists or other controls, all of which help keep keyboarding to a minimum.

The daily reporting module is used for entering general information. The timecard entry application allows users to gather timecard information for crews and applies that labor data toward various projects. Program operators can use specific labor codes within a project while applying established billing rates.

By connecting remotely via wireless and Internet, staff at either end can generate, view and, if equipped with a printer with an infrared port, print various types of progress reports based on the latest data, such as actual vs. budgeted labor and material quantities, job costs on a daily basis and other benchmarking data such as labor per production unit performance.

The solution can be used to manage field information for multiple projects as well as multiple crews and companies.

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 by e-mail at wfeldman@stt.net or by phone at 914/238-6272.