With the rise of technology in the workplace, comes the rise of the modern plumber. There are apps for organizing office work and apps for personalizing tools. According to research done by Capterra, a free service company that helps businesses find the right software, nearly half of all software used by contractors is web-based software. It will likely be more than 50% in the next couple of years due to smartphone adoption.
“Smartphone use is critical in the office and on a jobsite,” says Matt DeBusk, vice president of sales at PipelineDeals. “Specialty contractors are well-served by the app ecosystem with innovative solutions for many specialties. Some of these apps are so powerful and useful that the office can now be an actual smartphone.”
Capterra lists the biggest benefits of field service management mobile apps as: estimating accuracy, project completion time, bidding and client communication. It cites that mobile apps help decrease estimates from an average of 9.3 hours to 4.5 hours.
“Providing customers with the best-possible experience is key to landing repeat orders that drive long-term success,” says JP Werlin, CEO and founder of PipelineDeals. “To do this, contractors need to make the most of every customer relationship, moving from one-time opportunities to clients for life. This can be challenging for one-person shops or small businesses, where staff must juggle various responsibilities — be it billing, sales, fieldwork and beyond.”
In a survey of more than 600 construction and real estate professionals conducted by Sage, a supplier of business management software for small and mid-sized companies, 33% of respondents feel the need to improve communication and collaboration, and 80% think mobile technology is a high or moderate priority (http://bit.ly/2cTCFA6). FSM apps are not the only tools available to contractors to benefit their businesses. The following mobile apps can help business owners manage their office work, fieldwork, technicians and tools:
PipelineDeals features a sales and job management app to help manage the bid process from start to close. It helps contractors manage the unique workflow of their plumbing and mechanical business, while starting and continuing to develop, grow and keep the customer relationship after the job is done. Also, users can access it from any device, making it easy to coordinate between office staff and contractors in the field.
“PLD is easy to use and offers powerful reporting features,” says Cash McCloy, sales lead of Topeka, Kan.-based Custom Dredge Works. “It allows me to track my selling activities and helps me stay connected while I’m on the road. Plus, their support is amazing.”
Milwaukee Tool’s ONE-KEY app is a digital platform for tools and equipment. It integrates tool electronics with a custom-built cloud-based program. It provides control and access to tool information and changes the way users interact with their tools, and can help solve user problems and frustrations through tool tracking, inventory management, tool reporting and customization options.
“I can’t say enough how easy it is to learn and use,” says Frank Dickerson, warehouse operations director for Granite City, Ill.-based Icon Mechanical, a full-service mechanical contractor and construction firm. “Just to see how easy it would be for my staff to use, I equipped them with some smartphones and got them up and running with One-Key. The adoption of the system has been received very well, and it’s made our jobs so much easier. My entire staff is now using it on a daily basis.”
Given the success he’s seen with the inventory management feature, Dickerson plans to introduce other features of the One-Key system to Icon Mechanical — from using the app to configure Milwaukee’s compatible tools to improving the end of line QC process to keeping a virtual eye on where these tools are in real-time.
The American Society of Plumbing Engineers put together a comprehensive guide for all things plumbing system design and installation projects. The Plumbing Systems Design Tables app is helpful during all parts of a project.
“It is great — fantastic for when I am in the field or in a meeting and need to double-check something,” says David Notheis, plumbing designer of St. Louis-based Ross & Baruzzini. “For a designer with 10 years of experience like myself, it comes in handy more than enough to always be installed on my phone, and for a junior level designer, this app is highly recommended.”
HVAC Check & Charge is an instant mobile refrigerant charge calculator for HVACR applications that is convenient and easy-to-use. “This is a nice app, very helpful and accurate,” says Alfred Torres, HVACR technician of Newark, N.J.-based Txx. “I always use it to compare the superheat and subcooling values with my Testo 550.”
PandaDoc is a quoting and invoice management app, in which users can create, send, and obtain signatures on quotes and contracts from any device. It is easy to use and can be accessed on mobile devices or tablets and helps automate contracts and quotes.
“We’ve seen at least a 50% reduction in time to create and send out contracts,” says Brian Minick, operations manager of Boca Raton, Fla.-based SproutLoud. “The PandaDoc team has been great to work with, and we couldn’t be happier with our decision.”
Navien’s NaviLink Wi-Fi control system allows for remote access for all the company’s tankless water heaters (NPE series), combi-boilers (NCB-E series) and gas condensing boilers (NHB series) through Wi-Fi control and the mobile app. It is able to report and monitor diagnostic data through the companion app along with error code notification. It is capable of reporting the following information: Current domestic hot water temperature, DHW flow rates, inlet water temperature, total DHW consumption, average firing rate, cumulative gas consumption and on-demand activation tracking. Users also can control temperatures remotely, access usage data and receive diagnostic notifications.
Wunderlist is an app for quick and easy task management. It can be hard to keep track of everything one needs to accomplish in a day. This app lets users quickly take notes on tasks to follow up on. It integrates well with both Google and Outlook.
BusyBusy is a jobsite tracking and mobile time clock app designed to be laser focused on the construction trades. It is meant to help managers track contractors in the field and keep track of their employees’ time.
“I love the offline mode,” says James Jessop, president of St. George, Utah-based Creative Excavating. “My guys are always in remote areas and are always doing lots of tasks throughout the day. BusyBusy makes it easy for them to change tasks often.”
Liberty Pumps’ NightEye app and cloud-based system allows internet connection of a pump via the home’s wireless router and provides alarm and other performance information to your mobile device. The system sends information via text, email and push notifications, to up to four different address/phone numbers — anywhere in the world. The system is easy to use and set up through your portable device. No need to log into a computer.
Plumbing and Mechanical as well as its sister magazines all have apps to supplement the print and digital issues. The app offers quick and easy access to information on managing and growing businesses in the plumbing, piping, hydronic/radiant heating, geothermal, solar thermal, and water treatment industries. Other helpful apps can be seen in Plumbing & Mechanical’s August issue.
This article was originally titled “The tech of the future” in the October print edition of Plumbing & Mechanical.