What’s On Your Phone?
An eye-popping 56 million apps were downloaded to smartphones in 2013, based on estimates by the Mobile Applications Research Service of ABI Research. During the same period, tablet users downloaded an estimated 14 billion apps to their devices.
HVAC contractors alone can choose from a myriad apps related to selecting equipment and specifying components—typically developed by manufacturers and therefore related to their own products. “Manufacturer and more technical apps have come a long way for our techs in the field. While many aren’t quite there yet,
they will become a valuable field tool sooner rather than later,” observes Eric Detmer, president of Detmer and Sons, Inc., Fairborn, OH.
While HVAC-specific apps continue to evolve, you’ll find options galore for apps to help run your business more efficiently and cost-effectively. For example, when LBA Air Conditioning, Heating & Plumbing installed a new phone system last year, General Manager Brad McGhee bade farewell to his desk phone. Th e VoIP system automatically transfers calls to his Android phone, a feature he can easily turn on or off using a proprietary app.
“I can see this leading to cost savings in the future, because we won’t have to buy desk phones anymore,” says McGhee. “Also, when managers are in the field, this app makes it look like they’re calling from the office.” That shields the employee’s cell number from customers while decreasing the number of messages that may pile up at the company’s headquarters in Mission, KS, while someone is in the field.
Out and About
LBA’s 20 service technicians use Android tablets and phones, the latter of which McGhee recently outfitted with SMS Bot Widget (free). He explains, “It’s one of those little things that can save a lot of time. Instead of texting a message from the field to the warehouse, our techs can just press a button to send a pre-set message.”
The app converts regularly sent texts, such as “I’m headed back to the shop” or “I’m timing out,” into shortcuts that save many keystrokes.
Like LBA, Innovative Service Solutions (ISS) in Orlando, FL, aims to go paperless in the field and has equipped its techs with Android tablets and phones. Out of the seemingly hundreds of fi le management apps available, Bart Gedeon, office and IT manager, favors ES File Explorer (free; Android only). “We use a lot of PDF forms, and the techs can drag, drop, copy, look up, and save content in different folders,” says Gedeon. “We also have a SharePoint plugin, so the techs can access our shared internal website to see things like our calendar and a list of open projects.”
A few months ago, Air Conditioning by Jay (ACBYJ) in Scottsdale, AZ, replaced the laptops and printers its 12 technicians had carried in their trucks with iPhones and mini-keyboards. Some carry an iPad as well. “The technicians found they didn’t really need printers, because about 95 percent of our customers receive an e-mail invoice,” says Cherri Marrese, general manager of ACBYJ.
While ACBYJ’s techs and installers appreciate the real estate apps Zillow (free)—to doublecheck residential square footage—and Google Earth (free)—to know whether a job relates to a package unit or split system—Marrese says her favorite field app is PayFox (free, once you have established a credit card processing account and purchased mobile card readers).
She explains, “By accepting credit cards in the field, the money is in the account right away. Also, we pay about 1 percent less on credit card transactions compared to running a card in the office—and that 1 percent adds up, especially on larger-ticket items like installs.” An added bonus: sending a receipt electronically enables the company to capture a customer’s e-mail address for future marketing purposes.
Last, but certainly not least on the list of field essentials, is a weather app. “As an HVAC man, I must look at my Weather Channel app (free) 10 times a day, looking at the 10-day forecast to get an idea of what Mother Nature will be throwing at us and to better plan our upcoming workloads,” Detmer observes.
Gedeon encourages ISS technicians to download WeatherBug (free) to know if bad weather is approaching, although he personally favors NOAA Weather Center ($1.99), noting, “NOAA may not have the prettiest graphics, but it works well every time.”
In the Office
Given the many mobile devices in use at ISS, Gedeon has high hopes for Meraki Systems Manager (free), which enables him to manage multiple devices from a web-based dashboard. The app gives an administrator the ability to track the GPS location of a device, send notifications, and review network traffic patterns, such as which devices typically use the most bandwidth. Here are other contractor favorites for office use:
Dropbox (free)— Photos, documents, and videos saved to Dropbox can be easily shared, accessed from any device, and stored for safety should a phone or tablet go missing. “It limits the number of fi les and folders I have to carry around, while giving me instant access,” says Detmer.
Ignition ($129.99)—Although it carries a heft y price tag, this app “mirrors your desktop while you’re working on your iPad, say from home, giving you access to any fi les or programs on your office desktop,” Marrese explains. In addition to providing remote access, Ignition prints to “Air Print” compatible printers.
QuickVoice (free)—Marrese first used this app—which turns a tablet into a recording device—to help her remember what was said during an ACBYJ termination. “I was afraid we wouldn’t be able to hear anything,” she recalls, “but the clarity of the recording blew me away.” Now, she oft en uses this app to capture meeting discussions and brainstorming sessions if someone isn’t taking detailed notes. QuickVoice enables you to start, stop, or pause recordings, and it can run in the background while you use other apps on your device.
Evernote (free; $5/month for premium)— McGhee takes all his notes on this app, which provides one searchable home for notes, to-do lists, voice reminders, and photos. For to-do lists specifically, he prefers the reminder and sharing capabilities of Wunderlist (free; $4.99/ month for premium).
CamCard (free; $7.99 for premium)— McGhee ditched his deskbound Rolodex in favor of this app, which digitizes the information on a business card. Snap a picture of the card, and the app saves the relevant information in your phone’s address book or e-mail contact list.
SageQuest Mobile (free; available only to SageQuest customers)—Both McGhee and Gedeon recommend using this app to track GPS-equipped vehicles without having to log on to a computer. “It’s nice to know where your guys are, especially if you have a question or a client has an emergency,” says Gedeon. “Also, if there’s ever a question about time spent on a job, I can look back historically and tell the client exactly when the tech arrived and when he left .”
IPCameraViewer (free)—ISS uses sophisticated perimeter surveillance cameras that can distinguish between animal and human movement. Should the monitoring company detect anything suspicious, this app enables managers to view the footage—from up to 16 cameras— on their phones and decide whether the situation warrants a call to the police.
GoToMeeting (free)—With this app, simply tapping a link in an e-mail invitation or on her calendar enables Marrese to remotely participate in a webinar or meeting. “If I can’t get there in person, I can attend the meeting on my iPad,” she says. “It’s visual as well as audio—you’re able to interact with others, ask and answer questions, and see any PowerPoint presentations.”
Google Analytics Widget ($1.49)—Whenever his phone is handy, McGhee can use this app to easily review LBA’s website statistics, including number of visitors, number of page views, and average time on site.
Postagram (free)—McGhee likes the marketing potential of this app: You take a picture, upload it to Postagram, and then the company prints and mails a postcard to the addresses you supply. “Say you send a postcard of a finished project to the five closest neighbors—at only $1 per postcard, that’s pretty economical,” he says.
McGhee, who oft en downloads widgets on top of widgets, admits his phone is packed with obscure apps that most people probably haven’t heard of. Even if you and your employees aren’t as tech-savvy, just trying several of these recommendations might make life a little bit easier.
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