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Small contractors need robust software to grow: Consultant

Don Wall
Small contractors  need robust software to grow: Consultant
DON WALL - U.S.-based consultant Woody Woodall, the managing principal of Customer Focused Solutions, addressed a MCAC session on technology during the association’s recent conference in Halifax.

The fatal flaw of too many otherwise aggressive small and medium-sized (SME) firms looking to take the next step in growth is outdated co-ordinating software, U.S.-based consultant Woody Woodall told an audience during a session at the recent Mechanical Contractors Association of Canada conference held in Halifax.

Back in the U.S., Woodall said, there are lots of contractors still using pen and paper. But firms reach a certain phase in their growth when pen and paper no longer meet their needs. Customers are demanding more.

“Change comes hard. And folks are used to doing things a certain way in your companies,” said Woodall.

The consultant said his role during the presentation was not to recommend one platform over another but rather to discuss criteria for selecting a software package.

“It’s important to be able to understand and validate what each of the providers brings to the table and how they’re going to help your company become better, stronger, quicker, faster.”

“Let’s not fool ourselves. That’s what we’re looking to do. Our competition is trying to do it every single day. They’re trying to do it smarter, they’re trying to do it faster, quicker, and they’re trying to make more money.”

Looking around the room, the one-time pipefitter and UA member suggested many firms had outgrown their existing software system and could not go any further in building their projects and services customer base. There were too many pinch points.

Today’s integrated software must meet the needs of all divisions in a firm — management, sales, accounting, dispatchers, mechanical workers in the field, admin — and should be sourced after consultation with all company stakeholders, Woodall said.

“Instead of being a 10-man shop, there are 30 of you,” he said. “You want something that will grow with you.”

The session was billed as Technology Solutions for Service Contractors but Woodall said his remarks were targeted at integrated firms with service and projects divisions, and geared towards helping them minimize the number of systems needed to operate their business.

Woodall asked around the room for criteria the delegates thought was important in selecting a software package.

In the end, he presented his list: implementation, experience, training, customer-focused, innovative and adaptive, responsive, price, support, and long-term partners.

“I would suggest it’s not just the lowest common denominators, not just the technicians, but it’s your dispatchers, your accountants, your salespeople. Management, how easily can they pull reports off and track KPIs (key performance indicators)?”

The goal is full company buy-in.

“I would encourage everybody to put together a group of people…to be able to identify what they would like to see in a new piece of software,” said Woodall.

“Was the system designed specifically for service?

“Was it actually a system that was developed for commercial HVAC, or commercial and residential as well?

“At the end of the day, we’re looking for somebody that lives in our world, commercial, HVAC, electrical, whatever you might be doing.”

Dispatch is a huge piece of the puzzle, Woodall said.

“When I was working in the field, there was one truck going one way from Virginia into Maryland, and another guy from Maryland going into Virginia. What the heck is going on there? You know darn well we’re not dispatching correctly, in a fashion that’s going to be good for our customers.”

Sales is also integral, Woodall said. If sales is at a site but does not have access to pricing, what does the client do?

“They move on. They go to your competition. Once your competition has an opportunity to change out that rooftop unit, what are they going to do? They’re going to take their service contract elsewhere.”

Support from the software provider is imperative, Woodall said. Will they take training seriously? Or will they say after signing the deal, as one delegate suggested, “We’re about six weeks away.”

In sum, Woodall said, firms should do their homework, be thorough, listen to everyone on staff and ask around for recommendations. Don’t be tempted by a good price, but rather consider value.

Follow the author on Twitter @DonWall_DCN

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