Magazine Article | November 20, 2006

Digital Pens In The Field Cut Through Time-To-Invoice

Source: Field Technologies Magazine

A Roto-Rooter franchisee uses Bluetooth-enabled digital pens to eliminate paper-based work order processing and improve time-to-invoice from four days to same day.

Integrated Solutions, December 2006

Wichita, KS Roto-Rooter is a family-owned franchisee of the national plumbing and drain service provider. The franchisee has been in business since 1960 and now maintains 17 field technicians, composed of service techs and master plumbers, and four office staffers.

Wichita Roto-Rooter uses a multi-application business solution called FamHost in its home office. (FamHost is the only software system endorsed by the Roto-Rooter Franchisee Association.) FamHost includes five Web-based applications, including business management applications specialized for service organizations (JaRay Software), fleet monitoring/tracking software (FamHost GPS), and corporate e-mailing and instant messaging. Wichita Roto-Rooter used the FamHost suite to log calls for jobs from customers, schedule jobs for technicians, and maintain customer service files. However, the home office still needed to get paper work orders back once field technicians had completed their jobs. And therein lay the challenge.

With the paper-based system it was difficult to get the paper processed in a timely manner. “There are stories of Wanda Farmer, the office manager, sending cabs out to the drivers’ homes to get the paperwork and docking them for the cab fare,” says Paul Farmer, president of FamHost. “When paperwork wasn’t processed in a timely manner, the workload in accounts receivable would go up significantly. Inventory increased in the vehicles, fuel and maintenance costs increased, and financials were delayed.” Wichita Roto-Rooter began looking for an electronic solution.


The plumbing company turned to its business software provider FamHost to see if the company could provide a solution. FamHost developed the Linkwriter digital pen system using ExpeData digital pens with Anoto functionality, and software developed by FamHost and JaRay. The digital pens are used in conjunction with specialized, digitized forms and collect electronic data while technicians use the pens as they would normally use pens. The pens can interface with cell phones or PDAs via Bluetooth to transmit the data in the field or can connect to a PC via a USB cradle in the office. The FamHost Linkwriter system can be used as a stand-alone system or interfaced with other FamHost applications.

The initial Linkwriter deployment was introduced over a two-week time period and cost $225 per driver for the pen and $49 per driver per month for the FamHost service, which included interfacing the pen data to the accounting and inventory processes. Cost for the forms was very close to what Wichita Roto-Rooter was paying for its standard invoices. The plumbing company’s existing cell phones had to be upgraded to Bluetooth-enabled models, but the carrier charged $125 per phone, and the phones were in need of updates anyway. Wichita Roto-Rooter also added a data plan to the phone service that was less than $10 per month.

To use the Linkwriter system, a service tech fills out a paper invoice, proposal, parts list, or any other form just like he has all of his career in the field and leaves it with the customer. The office staff sees the form in the computer before the driver even gets back to his truck and can process it immediately. The form is the receipt for the customer, so no printer needs to be set up and maintained in the field. The FamHost system changes the color of the driver’s name displayed on the workstations in the home office to indicate that there are “forms” available for processing. The office user simply clicks on the driver’s name, and the forms are displayed along with the OCR (optimal character recognition) interpretation of what the driver wrote. The document is automatically attached to the customer’s record, and the data is input electronically. Inventory items are automatically input, and a PO (purchase order) is generated at the end of the day for each driver for the parts used.

The digital pen solution improved the time it took Wichita Roto-Rooter to process the invoices and get the billings mailed from four days to same day. The plumbing company is also adding additional digitized forms to the system (beyond work orders), including employee applications, proposals, vehicle maintenance check lists, and credit card and check processing.