How Alpine Mechanical Services worked with technology partners to extend the BlackBerry’s capabilities.
Each year, Alpine Mechanical Services invests between $50,000 and $100,000 in technology to stay one step ahead of our competitors in the hvacr industry while changing and setting new standards for our industry. We are always looking for new technology to better serve our retail customers. We don’t think about the cost as an expense. Rather, it’s an investment in our company’s future and the future of our industry. In the Sept. 2010 issue of in HVACR Business, I described how Alpine uses the BlackBerry smart phone to connect information gathered by our technicians with our office and ultimately the retail client. That simple communication is really not so simple. It involves merging off-the-shelf technology with the BlackBerry. Here’s the story of how we did it. Work-Order-Management System Bridge Getting the BlackBerry ready to do what we wanted took two projects because technicians use the BlackBerry in two different ways. For daily activities, we performed an integration of the BlackBerry and our work-order management system. We use Data Basics to enter service calls, dispatch technicians, track work-order histories, generate PM work orders — all the things hvacr companies do on a day-to-day basis. We recognized the potential of sending e-mails to field technicians to communicate daily schedules, freeing the technician from calling the office or logging into a computer to check an e-mail account. To accomplish this task, we hired a thirdparty company called Mirefex to write a software bridge between the BlackBerry and Data Basics. We relied on Data Basics to identify Mirefex for the project, and the two companies worked together. The implementation took about two-and-a-half months, and we were able to do all of the training in-house. This implementation allows work orders, hvacr service histories, and other information to be sent directly to the technician’s BlackBerry — wherever they might be located. They also get their next day’s schedule on their computers and BlackBerries. Then, as they maneuver through their work day, work orders are automatically updated. The software bridge also enables the technician to see the history of the unit they are servicing from every technician who may have performed work on that specific unit. Another Integration: Mapping System and Work Orders Using Microsoft MapPoint, we created a system that takes open work orders from Data Basics and inputs them into the mapping system. For this, our company worked directly with Data Basics. Now, with a simple glance, we can see every open work order that exists throughout our organization. Using the BlackBerry’s global positioning system, we see where every technician is on the map for instantaneous tracking. This creates two major advantages for the customer. Because we can see every work order location and technician, we dispatch the nearest technician to handle the order. Plus, we can see if there is any other work in that area that needs to be done for greater efficiency and economies of scale both for our company and the retail customer. But What Should I Do? Right now you are probably asking, “How do I know what technology to select? Where do I find the technology? Should I do the same thing for my company?” The best advice I can give is to determine what you want to do and then, through research, find a company or companies to do it. Ask your current technology providers what their capabilities are. Do online research. Ask around at association and peer-group meetings what others are doing. The needs of each business are unique, and the providers are numerous and varied, so every company should go for whatever will make them most competitive. Another piece of advice — keep up on technology trends from the major players. When they upgrade their operating systems or devices, it tends to cause a wave of innovation throughout the technology spectrum. For example, RIM, the developer of the BlackBerry, is coming out with a new BlackBerry. Is it possible this is the technology rollout that will take the hvacr industry to the next level? What are the advantages in the next generation of BlackBerrys that may be useful? As industry and company leaders, these are questions we must ask. A Final Word On Consultants Do you need to hire a consultant to help your company embrace or discover these new technologies? It really comes down to the business owner. If an owner knows exactly what he wants to accomplish, a consultant may not be necessary. If, on the other hand, you are just seeking solutions, a consultant could be useful. If you decide to hire a consultant, here are some helpful tips: What is the consultant’s special area of expertise? Does the consultant’s area of expertise match what you want them to do for you? Ask if the consultant has done similar work in the hvacr or similar industry. Ask for a sample of the consultant’s work and references. Request reports, case studies, and other materials to review. Ask for the names and contact information for other clients that relate to what you are seeking. Ask the reference if they were satisfied with the consultant’s work. If not, why? Specify what you want. Outline what you want from the consultant so there is no room for confusion over what you will be getting for your investment. Set a reasonable timeline. Make sure the consultant can deliver the results you want in a timely manner. Negotiate the price. The price quoted by the consultant is usually subject to negotiation. Be aggressive. Do comparison- shopping with other consultants. Consulting fees often vary considerably from consultant to consultant. Does investing in new technology pay off? Yes. It’s not a question of whether the industry should invest in new technology — it’s a matter of how quickly our industry can change to serve our customers, grow our businesses, and stay competitive. n Mark Barraclough is the owner and president of Alpine Mechanical Services. Mark has been involved in the business operations side of the hvac industry for more than 28 years. Mark has made the list of Philadelphia’s Top 100 Fastest Growing Companies 12 times, was inducted into the Philadelphia 100 Hall of Fame and, just this year, was listed in the Inc. 5000 National Fast Growing Companies.
Mark Barraclough is the owner and president of Alpine Mechanical Services. Mark has been involved in the business operations side of the hvac industry for more than 28 years. Mark has made the list of Philadelphia’s Top 100 Fastest Growing Companies 12 times, was inducted into the Philadelphia 100 Hall of Fame and, just this year, was listed in the Inc. 5000 National Fast Growing Companies.