CHICAGO — Throughout the years CONTRACTOR has covered so many technologies that increase productivity and efficiency in the office and on the jobsite, and as contracting companies continue to integrate the latest apps into their businesses we at CONTRACTOR started wondering what really are contractors’ favorite apps and why.
Of course there are the apps we all take for granted — text, e-mail, social media, Google maps and Bing maps, etc. Then there are the apps that mechanical contractors use, such as HVAC design software, thermostats monitoring and/or changing settings, and many manufacturers’ apps, just to name a few.
Dave Yates, CONTRACTOR columnist and president of F. W. Behler Inc., York, Pennsylvania, has always been up to date on the latest computer technologies.
“When I obtained our first computer — a Commodore 64 — I built my own apps, like payroll and scheduling back then (1979),” said Yates. “We were early adopters of technology and provided all employees with Smartphones as soon as they became available, which puts useful apps in everyone's hands.”
According to Yates, the apps on his Smartphone are very helpful when conducting business — the camera on his Smartphone helps for estimating and is great for exchanging pictures to/from employees to see what they will be working on or to help them troubleshoot. Also helpful are the compass and level for orientation of solar designs and HVAC design work; the notes app is helpful to record useful things like gate codes, combination lock numbers, build material lists, etc.; the voice memo is great for when you don't feel like writing; and the calendar for appointments gives him an alert as a reminder.
But Yates’ favorite app, out of all the apps he has implemented for business purposes (in the office or in the field), is the HVAC design software (radiant and also Manual J & D). The app is on office computers, Smartphones, laptops and tablets.
“Our reputation is soundly grounded on providing design/build turnkey heating and cooling systems that deliver the promise of comfort-conditioning,” explained Yates. “This is the cornerstone for properly designing HVAC systems and allows me to properly lay out the work and materials required to enhance productivity. It also instills confidence with our employees knowing we are installing systems that will perform as expected, which keeps our customers happy.”
According to Marty Giebelhaus, operations administrator of Marlin Mechanical Corporation, Phoenix, Arizona, as simple as it might seem his favorite app is the Dropbox app.
“The ability to receive project documents from the general contractor in real time, accessible from desktop, phone, or tablet, is extremely useful,” said Giebelhaus. “I use it in the office to transfer files back and forth from my phone — such as when I need to attach a picture of someone to a contract document or when I need to take/have a set of instructions from my computer in my hand while I work out back. It’s also an easy way for our superintendents to get information from their PCs to their tablets for field use without having to think about how to transfer them from one place to the other.”
Giebelhaus started using apps since he bought his first Smartphone — the original Droid, and the company has been using tablets in the field for three or four years now.
“There are so many things smartphones and tablets can do that you’re probably paying someone to do right now,” said Giebelhaus. “For example, how much time and gas do you spend ferrying documents back and forth from the field and the office? Need that report back to the office today? Don’t drive out and get it; take a picture with your phone or tablet or, better yet, use a document scanning app, and send it in electronically instead.”
According to Jessie Cannizzaro, president of Milestone Plumbing, Wauwatosa, Wisconsin, Smart Service (office application) and iFleet (tablet application) by My Service Depot have been the most beneficial because the apps communicate between the office and technicians.
“Previously we dispatched and recorded all information by pen and paper, which made invoicing and data entry very tedious, now our technicians and office are able to communicate the dispatch information quickly and easily,” explained Cannizzaro. “It’s also beneficial to be able to view past data for different properties when out on projects and to be able to see other technician’s notes when in between phases of larger projects. We are also able to record equipment in the application to track the warranty length on larger appliances like water heaters. Some of our technicians (myself included) have awful handwriting — we are now able to read the notes in the system that are captured by typing or using voice commands.”
Andy Mickelson, president of Mickelson Plumbing & Heating, Missoula, Montana, has a favorite app — InvoiceASAP.
“The InvoiceASAP app allows me and my crew to create, send and manage all aspects of my customer billing in the field in near real time,” said Mickelson. “It’s a huge time saver! It makes all of our customer contact info, site information and billing history quickly accessible, there is no excuse for not having information on hand. The app also integrates nicely with Quickbooks PRO allowing for a complete sync of the day’s work automatically.”
As with any industry, there are always some folks that are slow to embrace technology, jump on a new bandwagon, etc. What would Yates, Cannizzaro and Mickelson tell these contractors about using apps to help run a business?
“Pull your head out of the mud or don't, the amount of time and energy I save using the wealth of apps available for free and to purchase frees me up to target your customers,” said Mickelson.
“Lead, follow, or be left behind — in the dust,” said Yates. “I've been at this for more than four decades and have seen what happens to mechanical contractors who don't keep up with changes and that's especially true regarding technology. At some point it becomes virtually impossible to properly catch up and they fade away.”
“Hire an employee that is eager to ‘take on the challenge’ of implementation and work through the challenges that arise,” said Cannizzaro. “I struggled with ‘change’ during the implementation of this technology, but we were able to utilize our younger team members to help get the glitches out of the system and implement the application slowly so that none of our team members felt overwhelmed. Implementing an application like this is not a ‘one and done’ — there will be updates and glitches that need to be sorted out that can be time consuming. Don’t expect this implementation to occur seamlessly overnight. One year later we are seeing the benefit throughout our organization.”