Mobile communication capabilities to and from the field are very smart tools for service contractors. A full-featured mobile field software solution, deployed company-wide on browser enabled PDAs or other mobile devices, keeps technicians connected to mission-critical information all through the day, simplifying work order activity and, in the office, provides real-time management visibility to field activity. It can help contractors provide more efficient service operations in many ways.
Field and office personnel can share computer-based information in real time. A competent software solution designed with contractors in mind can provide an easy and productive way to share historical information on customers with technicians in the field - what work was previously done, the equipment that is installed there, and when it was serviced and needs to be serviced.
In addition to improved efficiency on the spot, other benefits include accelerating the service to cash cycle and reducing data entry redundancy, which saves time and increases accuracy. Work in the back office, in effect, becomes a matter of approval rather than data entry.
There are applications aimed at small, medium and large contractors. Here is a program aimed specifically at bigger operations: Penta Mobile Field Service Software for Construction and Service (www.penta.com) is a browser-based solution that enables construction and service firms' field service technicians to receive dispatched work order details on their mobile device and, in turn, technicians capture and transmit to the home office real-time status updates such as job time, equipment use, parts, materials and applicable notes.
Aimed at large mechanical contractors active in providing service operations in the commercial and industrial sectors, the software can be used as a stand-alone program or in conjunction with Penta Construction ERP software.
The program is well suited to the needs of mechanical contractors running a union shop because it significantly reduces the time spent on daily paperwork necessary to satisfy union job site requirements, as well as daily payroll and other tasks related to management of equipment and materials at each job site, notes Penta. Penta Mobile Field Service can run on any Windows Mobile 6.0-capable mobile device.
In addition to enabling viewing of work order details, technicians can review contract and warranty information, plus service history and preventative maintenance checklists, and can pull up maps and driving directions.
Technicians can also capture and transmit digital photos of the work conditions, update work order status on the spot if necessary, open new work orders, capture customer signature and, if they have the hardware, may take advantage of the ability to present a bill, accept payment and process a credit card. Other capabilities include bar code scanning and inventory management.
Penta also offers another solution for use in the field, Mobile Field Reporting software, which enables a crew foreman using a laptop to have instant access to daily crew assignments, as well as record and transmit labor, equipment and production data at short term installations, and pick lists directly from the job site. This solution, which is typically not used in conjunction with the Mobile Field Service, but rather as a stand-alone or in conjunction with Penta Construction ERP Software, can substantially reduce paperwork in the field and in the office. The software also speeds up workflow for the accounting and payroll departments, and keeps track of truck inventory.
Safeguarding an office computer against viruses and other Web-based attacks is easier than ever. Software solutions are available that automates updating, so that once you install the program you don't have to remember to download newly available protections.
For example, Norton Internet Security 2009 (Symantec, www.norton.com), which has been overhauled from earlier versions, is a comprehensive security suite with functionalities covering computer, Internet and identity. It installs with a single click in about one minute from either a CD or from the Web and features a very easy to use interface.
It uses less than 7MB of memory to provide comprehensive, ongoing updated protection for the user's computer and safeguards the user's identity, as well as protecting personal information when buying, banking and browsing online. The program takes advantage of the new community intelligence-driven Norton Insight technology, which removes the need to scan common files, thus reducing the number of files that have to be scanned regularly. The smart, two-way firewall makes intelligent incoming and outgoing security decisions without asking the user each time.
The unobtrusive software continuously and automatically updates every five to 15 minutes, upgrading the provided protection in the background by scheduling non-critical tasks when it detects idle time or periods when a user is not actively using the computer. As long as the yearly subscription is active and valid, Norton Internet Security will automatically scan and update against any new virus, spyware, phishing or other threat definitions, and will upgrade new components or product features as they become available. Symantec offers free tech support via the web, email, chat or phone.
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 [email protected].