Equipped with the right tools, contractors can increase productivity and reduce errors.
“The number one benefit of information technology is that it empowers people to do what they want to do. It lets people be creative. It lets people be productive. It lets people learn things they didn’t think they could learn before, and so in a sense it is all about potential.” — Steve Ballmer, CEO of Microsoft Corp.
Potential, indeed. Contractors faced with increased workloads and fewer employees can potentially compete with companies two or three times their size. Large companies faced with communication issues and too much backoffice work can potentially create the small-company atmosphere that keeps employees loyal and happy. All of this is made possible by advances in technology— specifically advances in technology that matters to hvacr contractors.
To say we’ve come a long way is an understatement. Consider that the iPod has 7,500 times the storage of IBM’s largest computer in 1976, and you realize that potential is limitless. The only thing holding back many contractors: understanding what’s out there and what will benefit them the most.
And according to Bill Gates, technology paves the way for “No more misquoted forms, lost invoices, redundant entries, missing checks, or delays caused by incomplete paperwork.” What’s not to love?
Here is just a glimpse at some of the software, hardware, gizmos and gadgets that can create tremendous potential for contractors.
To that end, let us begin to tackle technology.
Company: Wrightsoft Corp. www.wrightsoft.com Product: Right-Suite Universal
Solution: HVAC software tool that combines residential and commercial load calculations and design with sales, proposal and comparison capabilities. The solution includes 15 total modules for residential and commercial load calculation methods, standard and highvelocity duct sizing and layouts, radiant heating layouts, geothermal loop calculations, bill of materials generation, proposals and in-home sales presentation and management tools.
Cool Feature: Hotlink Technology that enables all the modules in Right- Suite to be connected so that a change made in one area or module is instantly updated in other areas.
Contractor Says: Frank Fenzel, director of sales and engineering at Conditioned Air, Naples, Fla., has been using Wrightsoft solutions since 1999 and wonders how companies can do business without similar software. Prior to Wrightsoft, the company did everything manually.
“We use Wrightsoft for a lot of different things — for the design and load calculations, but also for energy calculations. It also does the take-off for us and lists all the bill of materials that are required and it also generates a proposal at the same time as we’re drawing it,” explains Fenzel.
Fenzel notes that the closing rates are better and to date the company has bid over $23 million.
“If we went back to manual, we would probably shut down,” says Fenzel. “There is no way we could generate this amount of work. We have five estimators— it would take 10 to 12 estimators to do the same amount of work in the same amount of time.”
Company: InfoStreet Inc. www.infostreet.com
Product: StreetSmart’s Small Business CRM (Customer Relationship Management)
Solution: Aimed at small businesses with limited technology dollars to spend, the solution is accessible from any Web browser, is highly customizable, allows users to share information, and lets you create and track business opportunities to document what the customer is specifically interested in purchasing as well as generating projected sales numbers for your organization.
Cool Feature: StreetSmart CRM helps managers and salespeople track leads and customers all at a cost of approximately $15 per user, according to the company.
Company: Dexter + Chaney www.dexterchaney.com
Product: Spectrum Construction Software, Service Contracts Module
Solution: Spectrum’s Service Contracts module provides control over all aspects of service-contract management, including billing, advanced scheduling, profi tability analysis, and warranty tracking. The solution has the ability to generate the initial contract proposal and the executed proposal (contract), and automatically perform billing as agreed upon in the contract. The contract renewal/expiration report ensures that customers are retained by listing contracts coming up for renewal.
Cool Feature: Service Contract Profi tability Report provides information by type of service contra ct showing profi t and profi t percentage. Information is presented about revenues, warranty work, full service contracts, labor, materials, and extra work performed that was not covered under contracts or warranties.
Company: Quote Software Inc. www.quotesoft.com
Solution: This estimating software enables users to automate the estimating process. Input labor costs once and use them in every bid. Input material costs only when necessary. The light commercial, commercial and industrial sheet metal estimating system uses advanced real-time database technology to show you the exact labor hours and material dollars for each item as it’s being input. With QuoteExpress you can see and adjust the labor hours and material dollars as you’re doing take-off.
QuoteExpress also offers Pocket Duct Quote for the Palm Pilot. Users can do a complete item takeoff from the job site and synchronize data for price estimating back at the main office.
Cool Feature: QuoteExpress offers live support and training 10 hours a day. The company claims it has no call queues — 95% of its support calls are handled instantly.
Contractor says: According to Steve Shank, Altoona, Pa.-based S.P. McCarl & Co. Inc., a plumbing and heating company that was formed in 1946, started with Quote Software’s Sheet Metal and added the Piping.
“My thought on estimating is to get into take-off and get it done,” says Shank. “I brought in one of my Foreman to do take-off and with less than half an hour of training, he took the entire job off. I couldn’t have done this with other systems. From field guys, project mangers, and full-time estimators, this is the total company estimating solution.”
Company: Alocet Inc. www.qxpress.com
Product: QXpress Solution: QXpress is a QuickBooks add-on that offers industry-specific management software by adding scheduling, job costing and invoicing capabilities. Users can bill for multiple services and materials per visit, track detailed job costs, and use custom fields to track information such as dispatch priority, call-aheads and service ready status. QXpress Platinum adds the ability to schedule multi-day installation projects, customize report and document generation, specify user login permissions, and track subcontractors.
Cool Feature: QX Mapping, an add-on module, takes all the services scheduled for a day and plots them onto a Microsoft MapPoint map. QX Mapping rearranges the services into the optimal order based on shortest distance and lowest driving cost and gives you the optimized map and driving directions as a result.
Company: Maxwell Systems Inc. www.maxwellsystems. com
Product: Estimation Logistics
Solution: The software allows contractors to automate the bidding process and lower costs associated with bidding and winning jobs. Included in the solution: purchasing software that offers complete materials management and project management software that tracks the progress of existing jobs. The solution also features internal integration among estimating, purchasing and accounting systems.
Cool Feature: The HVAC Estimating solution is designed with multi-level breakouts, a customizable database and round and oval fabrication.
Contractor Says: Bill Zellmer, project manager and senior estimator at Northern Air Corp. (NAC), Vadnais Heights, Minn., explains that prior to using Maxwell Systems software, NAC estimated longhand. With Estimation Logistics their estimating time was cut by more than half providing them more time to procure jobs and make sure clients’ interests were met.
“The details we get from our take-offs have taken the guessing out of the bidding,” says Zellmer. “We feel 100% confident with each bid. Estimation Logistics is one of the reasons for the continued success at NAC.” What does Zellmer value most about the software? The Assemblies and Design Specs features.
Traci Purdum is a former editor of HVACR Business Magazine.