Ending the Paper Chase

Customized business-management software streamlines operations at Florida plumbing outfit.
Ending the Paper Chase
Here’s what the technicians at GreenTeam Service Corp. see on their cellphones when they pull up a work order. It’s called the tech mobile dashboard. Technicians can review jobs in their queue by hitting the refresh button. When the office assigns a job to the tech, the work orders show up in their mobile list. The tech then opens a work order, views the scope and address, selects the hyperlink address, and is routed to the job. Once on site, the tech selects “on site,&r

Paperwork is the bane of many plumbing companies. From technicians who have to stop at an office to pick up work orders or drop off time cards to project managers who create estimates manually, to office staffers who process invoices, this blizzard of forms and documents creates a time suck that crimps productivity and prevents technicians from posting more billable hours.

Tired of the paper chase, GreenTeam Service Corp. in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, developed its own business-management software that has created a virtually paperless operation. The results? Higher levels of productivity, both in the office and out in the field. Rapid sales growth (from $600,000 in gross revenue in 2010, when the system kicked into gear, to just shy of $5 million in 2015), better profit margins, and happier technicians, says James Terry, president of the company, which he established in 2009.

“We built the software from the ground up,” says Terry, whose company primarily does commercial plumbing and drain cleaning work throughout southern Florida. It employs 30 people and owns 13 service vehicles, either GMC 3500s or Transit Connect 2500s. “It started out as a work order dispatch system but over the years, I’ve added things to it and taken things away.

“You can buy contractor software that does the same things,” he continues. “But it’s built by engineers and it’s overly complicated to use — it can take months to train people on it. Our software, on the other hand, does things in, say, three steps as opposed to 10 steps. And it also saves and stores all of our client data, too.”

In the field, the system helps technicians work more efficiently by eliminating time-consuming phone calls with dispatchers and eliminating daily trips to the office to pick up work orders (technicians take their service vehicles home at night). By 7 a.m., the office has emailed individual work schedules to each technician’s smartphone. Then they use a mobile web app to open work orders. The order contains the name of the customer, contact information and a description of the work required. It also automatically provides a GPS-generated map. If the technician has to call the customer, all they need to do is press on the phone number listed in the work order, Terry says.

“When a job is finished, the technician goes back into the work order and enters the time and materials, as well as a quick description of what they did,” Terry explains. “After that, it’s all live — someone in the office can open the work order, process it and invoice the client. The average time savings? About 30 minutes per invoice, which at roughly 20 invoices a day comes out to 10 hours.

That, in turn, has allowed the company to more efficiently allocate staff, redirecting the duties of a full-time employee from drafting invoices all day to working on accounts receivable. “As a municipal- and commercial-service contractor, most of our clients are on net-30 or -60 day (payment cycle), so we have to stay on top of all those receivables,” Terry notes. “Cash flow benefits the most from this process and essentially is what drove me to improve our processes when it comes to invoices.”

The software also enables project managers to create job estimates faster. In essence, they pull up an estimate form on a computer in a web-based format, enter the labor hours and material required, then hit another button that emails the estimate to the customer. Once a customer receives the estimate, they can easily click on an “approve estimate” link that notifies the office that the bid was accepted.

The system also performs a myriad of other efficiency-enhancing functions. For example, technicians used to fill out time cards manually, then waste time and fuel on trips to the office to drop them off for processing. But the management system automatically “builds” a weekly time card for employees. It also features a group-chat function that provides more efficient communication with technicians, who can also use it to post digital photos of unfamiliar repair situations. That allows other technicians and managers to weigh in with suggestions for solving the problem. All photos are saved in an online gallery, he says.

In addition, technicians can take a digital photo of a sink, for example, or some other item needed for a job. Then the project managers can access the photo at any time and order the sink and any other required parts — even use the photo to prepare a bid. “That saves us a lot of time because no one ever has to drive back to the job to take another look at the problem,” Terry notes.

“Overall, the system creates a lot of extra time for our technicians to work versus spending time at the office,” he adds. “And our management team can see all the data being entered live, so there’s no need to call technicians with questions and interrupt their work.”

How does the software impact the company’s bottom line? That’s difficult to quantify, Terry says. But he notes that it plays an important role in “scaling up” his business to where it is today (it’s posting triple-digit growth annually). “I can tell you that if you compare things now to how it was when we were making 25 phone calls per technician per day, we’re communicating a lot more with customers instead of the technicians,” he says. “And if you’re doing that, you’re spending a lot more time playing offense instead of playing defense.

“In addition, we’re 100 percent paperless,” he adds. “We don’t print pictures, reports, work orders or time cards. Everything is basically processed through the internet. So there are savings from that, too.”


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