• Contractingbusiness 1600 Mikefirmature

    Case Study: Contractor Growth Strategy Includes Software Shift

    May 17, 2012
    Mobile Tech feature allows technicians to access customer history, service manuals, repair parts documentation and more, from the field.

    A.W.E. — Air. Water. Energy. is more than a residential-focused HVAC company. It’s a one-stop shop for all of a home’s vital systems. In 2011, the small- to medium-sized business changed its name from THE Air Conditioning and Heating Company to A.W.E. in order to reflect its expanded service offerings, including plumbing, electrical services, air quality testing, and solar panel installation and testing.

    “The energy segment was the part of the company we wanted to expand, — into solar, geothermal, smart homes, building automation —with an eye on conservation, versus traditional forced air and boiler systems,” says General Manager Alan Misale.

    “We chose the word ‘energy’ to communicate that we want to provide the consumer with alternative energy options. However, while green energy is a great subject the stumbling block is still the cost of going green," Misale says. "It’s a very small percentage of our business; 95% of the market is looking for better traditional alternatives. They’re more prepared to pay for a 98% AFUE furnace, which is ‘greener’ though not entirely green.

    However, as the company looked forward to aggressive growth from the new strategy, one thing stood in its way: a stagnant operational software solution. For approximately 22 years, A.W.E had been operating on the same business software system.

    “It’s amazing we were able to use one software package for so long,” said chief information officer Mike Firmature. “The downside, however, is that the system stayed roughly the same for the 22 years we used it.”

    This lack of flexibility caused multiple issues for A.W.E. For one thing, employees were limited to the amount of information that could be entered into the system. Since the platform could not be modified in any way, employees were constantly coming up with paper-based workarounds.

    “We had to use a paper dispatch system, where we lined the walls with racks of time cards,” Firmature says. “And, if there was information we couldn’t enter into our old system, we’d just write it on a piece of paper and put it in the client’s file. The drawback was that time cards and files would get lost.”

    The Solution: Flexibility & Customization
    As A.W.E. looked to grow, it searched for a new operational system with mobile capabilities to accommodate this growth. The company started with an initial list of 30 to 40 solutions, which was then narrowed down to three. Ultimately, A.W.E. concluded that the other candidates didn’t provide the customization and mobile solutions it desired.

    WennSoft offered the type of flexibility and design customization we wanted,” said Firmature. “It also allowed us to operate on a familiar Microsoft-based platform.” After making this decision, A.W.E. purchased WennSoft Signature Job Cost, Signature Service Management and MobileTech, which were fully integrated with Microsoft Dynamics GP. A.W.E. went live with the WennSoft Signature solution in May 2010.WennSoft is based in New Berlin, WI.

    Signature Service Management was set up with the graphical schedule board to increase dispatching efficiency. It featured an intuitive, color-coded system to indicate type of call, status, and other information. It makes dispatchers more efficient with their time, and the time of the technicians who they are scheduling. A.W.E. used document management to get away from its filing system and work toward a goal of going completely paperless.

    “We’re now scanning invoices, so they can be accessed immediately from the desktop of any computer,” Firmature says. “We’re also scanning contract documents and files at the customer level.”

    “The software has helped us develop a set of ‘business intetlligence tools’ that enable us to analyze our business and profit centers at a very granular level,” Misale says. “We want verifiable, quantifiable information before we move forward, and communicate it to our employees, so that they understand what we’re looking for and how they fit into that equation. A dedication to education that makes us smarter business people.”

    Additionally, A.W.E. is in the process of deploying MobileTech for its technicians. This solution allows the technicians to access customer history, service manuals, repair parts documentation and much more in the field. They simply use laptops connected to a broadband network to access the company database.

    Eventually, Firmature hopes to transition to using MobileTech on tablets and mobile phones.

    Elimination of Paper-based Dispatch
    Firmature noticed the WennSoft Signature solution's benefits immediately.

    “Before WennSoft, the company tried three times to go away from the paper dispatch system, and we failed each time. Thanks to WennSoft’s graphical schedule board, we transitioned off the system in just three weeks.” Next, Firmature believes that the Signature Job Cost solution will largely help the company improve operations efficiency by 30% or more. He said, “A big part of that comes from not having to move paper around the office. The efficiency of being able to find all documents on your computer is incredible.”

    Overall, thanks in part to increased efficiencies from the graphical schedule board and document management, A.W.E.’s general administrative costs have declined by 42% from 2008 to 2011. During this same time period, A.W.E. has been able to reduce their dispatch staff by more than half, while call volume has increased by 26%, to 16,000 calls per year.

    “Now, we’re doing the work of 11 with five people,” Firmature says. Furthermore, MobileTech is expected to contribute significant advantages of its own. Firmature anticipates increased efficiency by having technicians update information in the system through their computers, rather than filling out paperwork in the field and returning to the office to drop it off.

    He says, “The goal is to dispatch technicians from home and have them in the office less.” MobileTech will also aid in taking payment from the field. Currently, technicians accept cash, check or credit card, but Firmature hopes to add credit card swipe capabilities in the near future. He’s also looking into improving the customer experience with various options for printed and email-generated receipts.

    Finally, perhaps one of the greatest benefits the WennSoft Signature solution provides A.W.E. is the ability to adapt and grow with the company. Since implementation, A.W.E. has already experienced about 10% growth — despite the concurrent economic turmoil —and it strives to grow three- to five-times larger. Nonetheless, Firmature says, “I don’t think it’s possible for us to outgrow the WennSoft platform. It puts us in the right position for growth, and we know we have a support base that’s not going anywhere.”