Smartphone Apps Optimizing Communication & Productivity for Mechanical Contractors

Oct. 4, 2013
The confluence of two technologies, cloud computing and smartphones, is reflected more and more in the development of software solutions used by contractors and subcontractors.

The confluence of two technologies, cloud computing and smartphones, is reflected more and more in the development of software solutions used by contractors and subcontractors. With a cloud based solution, software hosted on the Internet stores and manages all of a user's data, with any of that data accessible from any device with Internet access. The software may include apps specifically for access via smartphones and/or tablets.

According to recent surveys of contractors and subcontractors, anywhere from half to two-thirds of them are now using smartphones daily (a percentage up appreciably from the year before) and about one in five are using tablets.

Here are three cloud-based software solutions that contractors armed with smartphones or tablets may find helpful in optimizing communication and productivity in the office and among workers on the go.  

That demographic is the target market for BuildersCloud, a cloud-based mobile collaboration platform,, that provides sharing of files including large-file construction documents over 100MB in size, which are impossible to e-mail and too big to easily open even on most advanced mobile devices. The software, which works on any smartphone, tablet or desktop computer, also features smart notifications and SMS text alerts.

The software functions as a project hub designed to act as a centralized home for many different types of large files used on construction projects, including blueprints, specs, hi-res photos, safety manuals, tasks lists and lengthy PDFs from vendors and team members. Users can set up a customized home page for each project. The Project Landing page for each project provides an overview of all key information with updates and deadlines highlighted.

The platform's Mobile Plan Viewer enables viewing and annotating, or marking up, electronic blueprints on the fly from any mobile device, with the ability to add comments, text, photos or another document affixed to a specific point on the blueprint. Annotations to a construction plan instantly show up on the project manager's screen.

A team subscription is priced to cover one or two users and provides up to 25 GB of cloud storage. A business subscription covers three to 10 users and up to 250 GB cloud storage. An enterprise package supports an unlimited number of users and unlimited cloud storage and includes the ability to share access to an entire project, as specific folder or folders, and just an individual file and annotation, enabling the contractor to give some team members very limited access and others broader or full access.

GeoOP,, for Android, iOS, available as an Android app on Google play, and for the iPhone and iPad at AppStore, is a cloud-based workforce job management solution suitable for HVAC contractors with up to 100 field technicians.

GeoOP facilitates job dispatch, scheduling based on worker's location or other criteria, time tracking, job management and job costing in the office while enabling service technicians who have the GeoOP app on a smartphone or tablet to keep track of labor, parts and other tasks for billing purposes. The software also supports GPS tracking of technician locations, quick creation of quotes and invoices in the field, and signature capture at the jobsite. Technicians can also use the app for exchanging notes with customers.

GeoOP supports drag and drop scheduling for one-time service calls and recurring jobs. The dispatcher can attach parts lists and manuals, quotes, invoices, photos, and other notes and files including audio, and maps and directions. The field technicians can scroll through jobs by location, recently viewed, or completed jobs. All job details entered into GeoOP are automatically available to all registered account users.

When used in conjunction with FreshBooks or Xero (two different programs, each providing cloud based accounting for small business owners), the service tech can invoice directly from the field. Jobs can be turned into invoices individually or as a batch and multiple jobs can be combined onto one invoice.

FreshBooks is a cloud-based accounting app for small businesses,, and is available for iPhone and iPad at AppStore and for Android at the Google Play Store. The accounting apps handle online invoicing; expense tracking, with the ability to attach PDF or image receipts; time tracking, by logged time, team timesheets, or unbilled time, with different rates for each project possible; and accounting reports and taxes. All data is encrypted and backed up to multiple data centers for added security.

The software allows contractors to create customizable one-time or recurring invoices in the office or on the go. Users can also create an estimate that, upon acceptance, can be converted to an invoice with two clicks.

The contractor is notified when the customer opens an invoice, eliminating "lost-in-the-mail" excuses as to why an invoice is not yet paid. A client portal enables customers to see what they owe and their payment history. Online payment options supported by FreshBooks include PayPal and several other payment gateways.

Bill and Patti Feldman write articles and web content for trade magazines and manufacturers of building products. They can be reached at [email protected].

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