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How to Pick the Best Solution for Your Business

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Computers and digital technology have been facts of life for HVAC contractors for decades now—but unlike the trusty van that can run for decades with oil changes and proper care, software systems can go moldy faster than you can say “floppy disc.” It’s a continual challenge, then, to treat the high-tech side of business as though you’re advising a homeowner with an aging central air unit: Update or upgrade now, lest you pay the price later.

Speaking of price, software systems tailored to the HVAC industry aren’t cheap. While you can request free demos to help you make your decision, the financial commitments even within one option can vary widely.

Here are eight key questions to consider when investing in new software for your HVAC operation:

How seamless does it integrate with devices in the field? A decade ago, software pertained to desktop devices in the home office. Today, many desktops have been replaced by laptops, and workers in the field now carry smartphones as well as tablets. In that case, the best software should knit mobile and home offices into a seamless, smooth-running network.

Does it require a gentle learning curve—or a hairpin turn? It’s critical to answer this question before you buy. Any software that’s unwieldy across the board, in areas from billing and record keeping to tracking workflow and parts inventory, will get a cold reception from the staff. While it’s true people don’t like change—and that there’s going to be a learning curve no matter what—second-rate software will turn short-term pain into ongoing frustration.

What’s the potential cost beyond what you pay for the product? The ideal software system should not require tons of tech savvy from your staff. If the product isn’t friendly and easy to use, it will slow down your operation. And in short order, lost time adds up to lost income from inefficiency—the very problem the software should rectify.

Does it need to be customized? With any software for your business, a one-size-fits-all solution may not exist. Be sure to talk to the vendor about how much tweaking the software will need, if any, to fit your unique needs and any special circumstances that you encounter on a daily basis.

How comprehensive a system do you need? Maybe you’re ready for all the bells and whistles—from managing your fleet and customer relations to keeping up with field operations to the minute—or require a simple solution that streamlines your billing and accounts. Size also matters here: If you have a small fleet, skip the sales pitch: You don’t need a system designed for integrating a complex network of departments and divisions.

How much first-class back up will you get? As you know the value of customer service from your own business, you’ll want to apply that savvy to evaluating how much tech support and help you’ll get from the software company. That’s especially important during the “burn in” period when you’re switching from the old platform to the new, and during any unexpected interruptions in service.

Is the software cloud based? If you don’t know much about cloud services, you’re not alone. Simply put, cloud-based software exists outside of your home base on server networks and is accessed via the Internet (hence the term “cloud”). That means you can access much more powerful, high-performance solutions, with software updates delivered at the touch of a mouse. While you may not need something cloud based, it can help you pivot as the technology and range of options change.

What do the reviews and users say? You may not want to quiz your competitors, though raves you overhear from their staff could help guide your decision. Regardless, online reviews—especially from companies similar in size and scope to your own—can help you make smart decisions.

Lou Carlozo

Posted In: Management, Technology

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