Fleet tracking has become very popular due to low cost GPS and software as a service (SaaS) solutions.  I believe the same trends that are driving fleet tracking adoption – low cost/low hassle SaaS and real time feedback – will drive a new wave of technician tracking via the smartphone.  Fleet tracking is an important capability, but it’s the technician, not the truck, that truly drives value for field maintenance businesses.

Everyone works more effectively when they believe the boss is paying attention to what they are doing.  Paying attention to the truck, however, is different than paying attention to the technician.  The truck doesn’t do the work, so there is a limit to the productivity that can be gained by monitoring the truck.  Trucks don’t make decisions, and they don’t deliver much in the way of customer service.

Armed with the right solution, a technician can provide both the administrative staff at the office as well as the customer on the job site with a rich set of work status information without ever being interrupted by pesky “status calls.”

A GPS job clock tells everyone the location and status (enroute, arrived, planning, departed) of the technician.  These records also provide assistance in billing and payroll calculations.  Any calculation by fleet tracking apps on job hours for billing is just guessing because the technician did not affirm whether the job work had started or whether he was eating a cheeseburger in the truck. With ServiceTrade, we record what the technician tells us to record when he punches the buttons on the smartphone app (and nothing more or less).

Photo, audio (and soon video) reports from the job site provide insight and color on the job situation.  Everyone can make better decisions with better and richer information, and the technician doesn’t have to waste time with painful handwritten reports or more annoying “what did you mean” phone calls from the office or the customer.  The technician will leave a better record –  in record time.

An interactive record of the work schedule and service history along with a representation of the work on a map enables better job planning and route management.  A smartphone in the hands of the technician provides a rich record of the work to be done.  The technician can make decisions that enable him to pick up work more effectively when the inevitable schedule foul ups occur.

I also believe the smartphone will become the dominant solution in the realm of technician accountability and productivity because it is a positive oversight solution instead of a negative oversight solution.  Fleet tracking is a “big brother is watching” solution that does not offer much to the technician in the way of productivity gains and positive reinforcement.  By contrast, the smartphone, coupled with an application like ServiceTrade, enables the technician to “show what you know.”  It allows the business owner to tell the technician “I trust that you are good at your work, and I am giving you equipment that makes your job easier.  Now show me just how good you are, and go make us both some money by knocking it out of the park for our customers.”

The smartphone is not the best way to understand which technicians are doing jackrabbit starts in the truck or exceeding the speed limit (although it is technically possible using the GPS and accelerometer in the phones, but iPhone doesn’t allow it).  Fleet tracking is clearly the way to improve on these type of potentially destructive and costly behaviors.

Smartphones with ServiceTrade is the way to get the most from your technicians when it comes to driving decisions and behaviors that improve your business and your customer service capability.  You can review the ServiceTrade mobile app with this quick video, and then sign up for a free trial to prove it to yourself.  We look forward to working with you.

If you have been looking for an excuse to arm your field techs with smartphones, I am going to give you several in this blog post.

The goal of any business expenditure is to make your business more competitive by lowering costs, improving customer service, or increasing revenue.  I believe an investment in smartphones for your technicians can do all three.

Lowering Cost
The biggest cost to your business by far is the payroll expense for your technicians.  The way to lower these costs with smartphones is to maximize billable hours relative to payroll hours.  Simply put – deliver more jobs with less time spent planning, reporting, and traveling.  The smartphone features (coupled with the ServiceTrade app) that help deliver more jobs are:

GPS Time Clock – when you know where your technicians are working and their status (en route, onsite, job prep), you don’t have to call them (and waste time) asking for updates. When they know you know, they will also act differently.  Everyone performs better with management oversight.

Job Planning and Dispatch – when job details arrive in the palm of their hand, techs don’t have to waste time talking to the office, taking notes, or traveling to a place to print paperwork.

Map Based Planning – when techs can plan their route using a map displaying all of their work, they will travel less and bill more.

Faster Paperwork – when the paperwork is printed with all the customer details pre-filled, and the job report is delivered instantly back to the office using the phone as a mobile scanner, techs don’t waste cycles (or lose paperwork) delivering it back to the office.

Less Paperwork – when job notes can be entered onto the ServiceTrade job record using the camera and the audio recorder on the phone, the techs spend less time writing out notes and talking with the office to explain their cryptic, bad handwriting from a job two weeks ago.  The report is fast, detailed, and “in living color” for both the office and the customer.

The smartphone lowers technician costs by improving accountability, streamlining reporting, and optimizing the job plan.

Improving Customer Service
Great customer service is all about better and faster information (assuming of course that work quality is a given).  Smartphones coupled with ServiceTrade get you and your customers better and faster information through many of the same capabilities that lower cost:

GPS Time Clock – when you and your customers know where the technicians are, it saves effort associated with calling and verifying.  Good status information makes everyone more comfortable with the plan.

Better Job Reports – online job records with job photos and audio memos from the smartphone give the impression of thoroughness, and it establishes trust.

Job Planning and Dispatch – when technicians have location service history in the palm of their hand along with job details in the form of customer preferences and logistics, problems are diagnosed faster with fewer foul ups.

Map Based Planning – when you know where every tech is located and their job status at a single glance (based upon the GPS job clock), you can make dispatch decisions while the customer is still on the phone instead of calling them back after you play tech update bingo by calling and interrupting every job.

The smartphone improves customer service capability by giving everyone – the customer, the dispatcher, the tech – faster and better information about the job from start to finish.

Increasing Revenue
Higher revenue comes from selling more jobs and delivering more jobs.  We already reviewed how to deliver more jobs through tech productivity, so let’s talk about selling more jobs.  If we again assume quality of work product is a given, then the selling edge goes to the company that builds more trust with the customer.  Here’s how you build trust with the smartphone:

GPS Job Clock – sounds like a broken record, but showing the customer via GPS records when technicians arrive and depart builds trust in your billing.

Better Job Reports – the best sales lead in the world sounds like “I have some photos of broken equipment that were taken yesterday at your site.  Take a look at them online, and let me know if the quote I provided to fix it is acceptable.”  Quotes with photos (or video) get approved twice as often as those without.

Technician Professionalism – when customers see the technician as informed and armed with technology to provide a better job outcome and report, they trust that he is part of an organization that invests in their people and their customers.

So now you have the excuse and justification you needed to do something you wanted to do anyway – arm your technicians with smartphones.  Just by themselves, smartphones would probably be a good investment.  But coupled with the ServiceTrade mobile and cloud app, they are definitely a homerun for your business.  Have a look at this quick video to see more, or jump right into a ServiceTrade free trial.  We will help you get the most from your smartphone investment.

Field service scheduling is hard because it involves both time AND space.  You can’t decide “when” until you know “where.”  And knowing “where” is not just one location.  The scheduler needs to see ALL jobs on a calendar AND on a map simultaneously to make good decisions for the schedule.   In most cases, “where” actually determines “when” and not the other way around.  “Where” is the variable that makes or breaks job profit due to travel time and fuel expense.

The wisdom of “where” is obvious to anyone that has spent more than an hour planning a field service schedule, or many hours trying to understand why the business is not profitable when the job rates and margins look OK.  The “where-wolf” is eating all the profits due to drive time and fuel.  If the “where-wolf” is haunting your business, we have a solution.

ServiceTrade designed a highly interactive map into the heart of our application – it drives the scheduling decisions.  It took every ounce of clever software engineering we could muster to show where, when, who, and what along with current assignment and schedule status on a single, interactive web page.  It’s pretty cool.  See for yourself with this video snippet.

But the “where-wolf” doesn’t just prowl around the office eating up profit.  It also rides around in the truck with your techs.  That’s why the job map, the “sort by distance” job list, and the GPS job clock on the ServiceTrade mobile app are also critical components in killing the “where-wolf.”

When your techs see their work in relation to where they are, they can adjust their schedule on the fly to mitigate the impact of daily foul-ups (customer “turn aways,” traffic, job delays, or faster completions).  They can pick up more work because they see everything – jobs, locations, priorities – in the context of the map.  And when your office staff can see tech location and status because of the GPS job clock, they will no longer fear the “where-wolf” when emergency calls hit.  The right assignment decision is obvious without calling every tech to ask “Hey, where are you and what are you doing?”

If you are ready to drive the “where-wolf” out of your business, sign up to try out our mobile and cloud app.  It’s free to try it, and there are no hassles with installing software or managing computers.  Give it a shot and let us know what you think.

If the thought of new software for running your field service business brings on pain, remorse, indigestion, or any other unpleasant malady, this blog post is for you.  Software that is well designed and delivered to you as an Internet application (or cloud based application) should not bring on any of these symptoms of distress.  Using a software application to help run your business should not require any real information technology expertise.  If you have PCs, Macs, laptops, tablets and/or smartphones connected to the Internet, you have everything you need.  Let me explain how cloud applications provide an enormous benefit for small service businesses.

Cheap.  First, a cloud application that is delivered to you over the Internet should be the least expensive solution you consider.  These applications do not require you to buy equipment called servers that run the application.  If you don’t buy the servers, that means that you don’t pay to maintain them either.  A true cloud application also does not have “host it for you” charges.  Buyer beware!  All that means is that your servers running your instance of the application are on a lease plan, and you are still paying for them and paying the maintenance burden (along with a profit margin on top).  A true cloud application is cheapest because you share the computing resources with all other users of the application.  Just like LinkedIn, Facebook, eBay, Google, Amazon, etc.  With this shared approach, your costs are the minimal costs, which is the way you want it.

Safe.  Some folks read the above paragraph on costs and proclaim “I don’t want my data on a computer that is shared with anyone else because that is not safe.”  Poppycock.  I can’t recall ever logging into Gmail and seeing someone else’s mail.  Can you?  I don’t think I have ever shopped at Amazon and seen someone else’s merchandise in my shopping cart.  How about you?  I’ve never had ADP send me someone else’s deposit on payday.  What about you?  I don’t ever recall logging into Salesforce.com and seeing someone else’s sales leads.  Do you?  I didn’t think so.  A modern and professionally managed implementation of an application that is shared among all of the users of the application is the safest way for small businesses to get software capability.  The infrastructure and the professionals that manage it are going to be better at technology management than the ones you would hire to do the same.  If someone really wants your data, it will be much easier for them to get it from computers you are managing than from the ones that my staff and the staff at Amazon Web Services (where we run our application) manage.  I promise, it is safer.

Easy.  If you don’t have to set up and manage the computers that run your application, you are already far down the road toward Easy Street.  You know that you have actually arrived on Easy Street when it is only a few minutes between the time you sign up for the application and when you are actually using it productively.  If you have lots of users and lots of historical data, it can take a few hours to get up and going, but it should not be more than that.  If it is, you have a poorly designed application.  If your application provider does not live on Easy Street, you should get a different one with a new address.

Fast.  All applications should run fast enough that the user is not annoyed by waiting, but in this case I am talking about fast as in newer, better features.  True cloud applications deliver new features to you weekly, or monthly at least, without you having to do anything.  No upgrades required, just better software delivered for your enjoyment.  You may think that all of the reasons listed above are enough to insist on a cloud application, but I actually think this one is the most important.  If you pick wisely now and choose the most thoughtful application provider in your space, you will benefit from that choice over and over again without the pain of slow (or no) progress in the future.

So what are you going to do now?  The more you move your business to the cloud the more you will enjoy its benefits and eliminate the pain associated with information technology management.  Unlike building muscle or character where the idiom “no pain, no gain” applies, building a portfolio of cloud applications for running your small service business should just be “no pain, no pain.”

ServiceTrade’s beta program is now open.  Join up to share experiences with colleagues and qualify for a special pricing promotion.

Two weeks ago, I introduced you to ServiceTrade.  Today, we are opening our beta program to any fire protection services company that wants to get an early look at our technology while helping us finish off the final features for a March product launch.

In my last post, I set a goal of complete transparency regarding features, functions, and pricing because customers deserve to know what they are buying and how much it will cost.  For our beta customers, understanding what they are buying is simple –  try the application and share feedback with us and industry colleagues.  We are also offering special pricing.

For all beta customers, the first technician user will be free, and each additional technician user will cost only $19/month/user.  All administrative and management users are free.  These pricing terms are available to any beta tester that joins the program between now and March 1, 2013 provided they purchase by March 15.  The pricing will remain valid for a period of five years so long as the customer maintains an active account.

If you have been sitting on the fence wondering when and how to upgrade your systems to embrace smartphones and cloud computing, now is probably a good time.  Join our beta program and add your voice to others in the industry that are guiding ServiceTrade to a terrific product release.  We look forward to a great future together.

ServiceTrade is a new software company dedicated to helping facility maintenance and repair companies deliver better service, grow faster, and be more profitable.  Our aim is to provide a terrific mobile and cloud based application that improves field technician productivity, enhances customer collaboration, and streamlines the administrative processes associated with running a service business.  The application will be easy to use and easy to buy – no software or servers to manage, no upfront fees, no sales pressure.  Try it first and buy it only if it works for you.

We believe that maintenance businesses are a terrific market to serve because they are so underserved by current software offerings.  Intuit’s QuickBooks is the only widely deployed software product in this space, and service management software is generally only used by the very largest firms.  According to analyst firm Gartner, the current annual spending on service management software is about $330M.  For a business segment that represents approximately $900B in annual commerce according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, this amount of spending is a terrible indictment of the current slate of software targeted to this market.  The current offerings are hard to try, hard to buy, and hard to use while hiding behind a sales person that insists it isn’t so.

ServiceTrade is different.  We will post our pricing on the website.  Free trials are not only free, they are available without getting a sales person’s permission.  If you need help, we will help you get started so that you can experience our value.  If the application helps you and your technicians, you can buy it and use it without any long term commitments.  That is how great technology is adopted and consumed.  We have enough confidence in our application that we don’t need to hide it behind a sales person.  You can judge the quality of what we are doing all by yourself.

The application will not be perfect, however, and it will always be better next week when compared to this week.  There is a never ending list of cool things that should be available to help technicians deliver more work, report on the job from the field, and engage the customer in meaningful collaboration.  We have only scratched the surface with our initial product offering which is currently in beta testing.  The initial release of the application in March will have capability geared toward fire protection companies, and functionality for more trades such as HVAC/mechanical, electrical, and plumbing will follow shortly.

We believe ServiceTrade can do something great by serving maintenance and repair businesses with a world class app that is easy to use and easy to buy.  If you are interested, please follow us on Twitter, or LinkedIn to keep up with our progress.