Magazine Article | July 25, 2012

Field Service Software Boosts Revenue

Source: Field Technologies Magazine

By Brian Albright, Field Technologies magazine

With a mobile field service solution, this mechanical services company has eliminated paperwork and captured thousands of new service opportunities.

Mobile solutions improve productivity and eliminate paperwork, but the technology can also help service organizations capture new revenue opportunities. ACCO Engineered Systems has leveraged its mobile solution to capture thousands of new service opportunities annually and accelerate the quote process to help turn those opportunities into real revenue.

ACCO designs, manufactures, and installs HVAC (heating, ventilation, & air conditioning), plumbing, and digital control systems and provides mechanical services for its customers throughout the western U.S. According to Chris Leu, director of IT and enterprise applications at ACCO, the company needed a mobile solution to improve the productivity of its 240 service technicians and 65 service sales personnel and to help them better capture customer service opportunities in the field. Previously, ACCO relied on paper-based work orders, but processing those forms took too long and did not provide the type of visibility the company wanted — especially as the company grew. For example, technicians used to capture on paper smaller repair opportunities they noticed when they were at a customer site. It would then take several days or even weeks for those opportunities to get from a field tech to the proper salesperson who could follow up, generate a quote, and schedule service. “There’s no value in moving information manually, in putting it on paper, and driving it around in a truck,” Leu says. “The value is in having a field technician who is knowledgeable about the system taking down that information and getting it to the right person quickly.”

ACCO had already deployed a field service management solution to manage its back office operations back in 2005. The company used Wennsoft’s Service Management System tomanage work orders and handle cost management. In part, they selected Wennsoft because they knew they would be able to add a mobile component (Wennsoft MobileTech) later.

When the company prepared to launch the MobileTech solution, Leu says the executive team realized they would have to provide reporting to the sales team so that everyone would know what was happening at the customer sites. “The main planks were going to be integrated reporting and integration with our internal document management systems, so we could store all of that documentation in a uniform way,” Leu says. “By the time we actually launched the mobile piece, we had that document visibility for the sales team and supervisors in place, as well as a good place to store everything.”

Handhelds Prove Hard To Handle

Initially, ACCO planned to deploy MobileTech on rugged handheld computers, but during the pilot phase they changed course. Instead, each technician has a laptop in their vehicle. “The technicians really struggled with the handhelds,” Leu says. “There wasn’t much screen space, and they would have had to bounce around a lot of screens to input all of the information and complete a work order.”

Leu says technician participation in system planning was critical to ensuring that the new mobile system was going to work and be accepted by the staff. Ed Dome, a field technician, joined the project team to participate in design and planning. “The participation also gave some ownership to the technicians,” Leu says. “When you go from paper to electronic, there are some real personnel issues you have to take the time to work through. It changes the way they do things every day, and you have to consider that as part of the implementation plan.”

In order to streamline training, ACCO worked with Wennsoft to make the mobile solution map to the old paperwork process. “We customized the screen on the laptop so it looks just like the old paperwork system,” Leu says. That simplified training. If the company had used the handheld devices, Leu says he estimated it would have taken up to 60 hours of training per technician to learn the new system; with the laptops, it only took 6 hours.

The field technicians handle scheduled maintenance as well as emergency calls. The Wennsoft system dispatches the regular maintenance assignments once per month, so each technician knows what their schedule is. For emergency calls, the dispatch team takes customer calls and enters their information into Wennsoft. The system then assigns the jobs to different technicians based on location and availability and transmits that data to their laptops while issuing an email alert so that they know they have a new assignment. Field techs have full access to customer data, service call history, inventory, and maintenance contract information, all on their laptops. “They used to transpose the customer numbers, so that would lead to confusion about which customer it was or what location they were at,” Leu says. “The automated system sends them the customer location, the billing location (if that’s different), and a list of all the equipment the customer has on-site.”

During the repair process, technicians take note of what parts they used, how many hours they spent on the job, and any refrigerant used or recovered. This data is then entered into the laptop when they return to the truck. Once the work order is closed, the technicians can transmit the information wirelessly to the back office. Previously, they would have had to either ship or drive the paperwork back into the local branch office.

Field Service Software Shortens Billing Cycle

Office staff no longer have to key-enter that information in order to complete payroll and bill customers, which has increased productivity in the back office as well. Having the work orders processed in near real time has cut one week out of the billing process, and Leu hopes to reduce that time by another week now that the system is fully implemented. Technicians can now automatically submit their time sheets on the laptops. ACCO can also send email reports to customers detailing the maintenance work that was performed on their equipment. Because technicians are able to complete work orders on-site, billing and repair history information is also more accurate.

But being able to capture additional service opportunities and immediately send them in for quoting has proven to be the most important benefit. Service technicians can generate quotes in the field, which can then be sent automatically to a salesperson for approval. Turnaround on these quotes has gone from two weeks to just a day, providing new revenue opportunities.

“Out of the gate, the system is getting 4,000 requests on those smaller opportunities each year that we were not really processing before,” Leu says. “They automatically go to the person responsible for quoting those jobs, so that’s customer service that’s not getting ignored.”

Now that the company has been receiving this fieldbased quote data for roughly one year, Leu says the next step is to improve the follow-up process. “We can improve our closing ratio,” he says. Eventually, technicians may be able to approve the quotes in the field immediately, which will cut more time out of the process and potentially increase revenues even more.