Software Provides an HVACR Field Advantage

Dec. 3, 2013
More HVACR contractors are incorporating field service automation software into their businesses. They find it puts important project information within much easier reach. We look at a few examples, though there are many choices out there.

Brian Samsa is the third-generation owner of a busy chiller service company — Samsa Mechanical Service, Appleton, WI. Its expertise extends to chillers, cooling towers, dry coolers, split systems, rooftop units, boilers, server room systems, industrial ice machines, and much more.
The business was founded in 1964 by Brian’s grandfather Donald Samsa. Later, Brian’s father, John Samsa, took over. Today, Brian guides the business. He recently moved into field automation software, and he’s glad he did.

Field automation software enables Brian Samsa, left, and an employee to instantly check the status of projects. Photo: Brian Samsa.
Detail of a ServiceMax dispatch/scheduling/dialogue program. Photo: ServiceMax
Dori Seegar: information access is the number one advantage of Spectrum Construction Software Version 14. Photo: Dexter + Chaney.
This field from Spectrum software shows the location and status of multiple technicians. Photo: Dexter+Chaney
Samsa has been using Service Max software for field service automation for two years. Prior to that time, service work was tracked by paper work orders, which Samsa eventually converted to electronic forms. But, he says, it “just wasn’t a great system,” so it was time for a change.“With paper or electronic forms, you really have to keep track of the work orders you send out, and those that are closed,” he shared. “Some were being forgotten and never billed. I would give a technician a work order, but there would be no way to track it until the job was complete. It was easy to miss things. There were also no checks and balances between billable time on work orders and time sheets.” Samsa Mechanical Service is reaping the benefits of its “real time” revolution. “Everything is up-to-date, in real time. If somebody enters their work for today, I can see it instantly,” Samsa says. Samsa describes to customers the process it has established with Service Max as a “service cloud.” “It’s an Internet-based system that allows us to issue work orders, and track services, customer equipment, materials, replacement parts, work performed, type of failures, preventive maintenance and service contracts electronically, and in real time on an iPad from the field,” he says. “This unique system, using analytics, allows the company to recognize common failures and service procedures company-wide, based on any criteria.” The service cloud offers many benefits to Samsa’s many customers.   “If a customer calls with a problem, we generate a work order, which is instantly dispatched to the technician providing all of the site, contact and problem details. Because we track all equipment serviced by serial number, as soon as the technician is onsite, he can enter the serial number into the iPad and see a complete work history on that specific piece of equipment. Samsa can also customize Service Max. “In the training sessions, they teach you how to do that, so you can track the information you need and want. Also, I have the ability to limit the information employees see through their ipad to whatever I want them to see,” he says.Floating on a Cloud With Spectrum Version 14 Another long-respected name in mechanical HVAC contracting is that of Yale Mechanical, Minneapolis, MN. Founded in 1939, Yale’s expertise extends to commercial, industrial, and institutional buildings. Dori Seegar is the accounting manager at Yale Mechanical, where they’re using Version 14 of Spectrum Construction Software by Dexter+Chaney, a cloud-based system. They’ve been Spectrum customers since 2008. A cloud-based system is a bit challenging, but Seegar says it’s working well. “There are, of course, differences to get used to with a cloud system, after using it another way for all those years, but the accessibility it provides from any location is a big positive,” she says. “Also, we have the ability to grow within the software, as far as deploying tablets in the field. And we can view plans in the field by being in the cloud. They can be viewed on iphones, but tablets work best.“The biggest advantage to Version 14 is its ability to access information. If you have a question that can only be answered with data, it’s an advantage to be able to get it immediately, rather than wait to get back to the office,” she says. Seegar adds that the new Version 14 loses nothing in terms of information capability. It can access information related to jobs, equipment service history, and even parts inventory, if the user wishes to have that access. “It was a big change to go to the web-based platform. As the days go by we’re more happy with it,” Seegar says. “With Spectrum, our operations and management personnel are able to get the information they need right away. They don’t need to wait for somebody in accounting to write up a report or spread sheet. We have approximately 65 custom reports that we’ve built using InfoLink or Crystal Reports, because it’s easy to do that with Spectrum. The databases are ODBC (open data base connectivity) compliant, and we can access it and put it into different formats. With Spectrum we can get a lot more work done. “Mobile Function Keeps It All Together Ray Thomas, business development director for MSI Data, Mequon, WI, believes HVAC contractors are looking to control four key business functions with field automation software: • the back office • the field • mobile operations • integration of all functions with the accounting/Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) environment. MSI Data provides businesses with all-in-one field service management software, which they call
Ray Thomas: today's companies can't justify being without software.
. “The back office and scheduling functions aren’t very new, and ERP integration has been around for as long as ERP systems themselves. But mobile is something that’s been taking off, with the popularity of mobile devices like iphone, iOS and Androids,” Thomas says.   “Mobile has been a huge driver for our business, as consumers enter the workforce expecting their workplace to enable them with mobile apps and devices.” “You can think of managing the back office, scheduling, field work, and ERP integration, as the ‘full service lifecycle,’ but without mobile, there’s a big gap. I think mobile was the one that a lot of people were missing until now," he says. "Thanks to the advances in technology of the past few years, we’re finally able to get to the place a lot of people envisioned a decade or two ago. We’ve reached a point of critical mass of companies that want to put technology into the hands of their technicians. They can’t justify not doing it any longer.”   Thomas looks at field automation and its connection to a brick-and-mortar base of operations as a constant “workflow,” that can only be improved by using software that can support the ERP, and share data between users. He describes a typical daily scenario: “
A screen view of the Service Pro visual scheduler. Photo: MSI Data.
A customer calls requesting service. The contractor creates a work order identifying the work to be done, the equipment, and they need to track the equipment at the site. Those are the kind of core functions of a back office environment that HVAC contractors are looking to improve. Having an application that allows them to record inventory, material usage, time sheets, labor usage, custom data collection such as refrigerant tracking, or voltage or amperage readings. Being able to do all of those things in one place on a mobile device really saves time, and spares the back office from doing it” Thomas offers the reminder that all software solutions are not the same. “Whenever you’re making a technology decision, it’s easy to think of it as ‘buying a product,’ but you’re really acquiring a business partner,” he says. “We counsel companies to not make a decision based on product, technology, or features alone, because there’s so much more to being successful with the project than just the product itself, and the vendor is a big piece of that. Having a company with a track record of being successful, getting customers up and running quickly and being able to show return on investment quickly is important. “If you’ve got a paper form today, finding a mobile solution that has a 100% match with your paper form is pretty low,” Thomas suggests. Therefore, it’s important to have a flexible solution ready, to be able to dictate what data gets collected in the field. “Many service companies will use ‘parts and materials,’  ‘labor,’ or have ‘trip charge’ or ‘mileage’ as the core information they want to see. But it’s nice to be able to collect other data, such as refrigerant tracking, voltage reading, or amp reading data. Having a place to store that is key,” he says. — TM

10 REASONS: Why HVACR Techs Need Field Service Applications
1) Get Paid Faster
2) Impress Your Customers with your Knowledge and Tech Savvy
3) Assign the Right Technician, Right Away
4) Stop Flying Blind – Make Decisions Based on Today’s Information
5) Run a More Lean Spare Parts Inventory
6) Turn Tech Observations into Actionable Business Intelligence
7) Trust but Verify
8) Rein in the Rogues (aka: Be More Consistent)
9) Keep your Team Connected, Without all the Busy Work
10) Realize More Profits by Leaving no Task Untracked
Source: Service Pro® Read more about each of the 10 Reasons by visiting