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Bill Morris remembers only too well “the bad old days”. This was before his business, Compass Gas and Plumbing, was using mobile job management software and had to rely on its mobile staff and subcontractors to collect notes and photos while out on the job.

“They would drop photos back in the office,” Morris says. “We’d have to put it all together – arrange the photos, get the notes, type all of it up [for the client]. The issue was they couldn’t remember what section of the building [they were in] . . . they couldn’t remember what they were referring to. We’d try to decipher the photos for them but it was just very time-consuming.” This was assuming the plumbers remembered to load photos into the system once they were back at base … or remembered to take photos in the first place.

Trades and services businesses say that one of their biggest challenges is getting their staff to collect accurate information while they are out in the field.

Trades and services businesses say that one of their biggest challenges is getting their staff to collect accurate information while they are out in the field.

When it’s done thoroughly and methodically, accurate and timely mobile data collection offers significant time and resource savings. It saves businesses money because they don’t need to pay contractors to deliver on-site information more than once, or require their clients to collect details for them. It helps resolve client issues because information is gathered and date- and time-stamped, verifying job status and attendance.

Collecting data from the field via modern mobile devices, particularly smartphones and tablets equipped with high-quality cameras, also allows for better decision-making. Managers are working with precise information, taking the guesswork out of decisions that can save the business time, money and energy.

Compass Gas and Plumbing, based in Picton in Sydney’s south-west, has up to 15 trucks on the road. Much of its specialist plumbing work is through government contracts and they often work at schools and jails, where accurate reporting is paramount. As well as its private customers, Compass has done work for Spotless Services, Sydney Harbour Foreshore Authority, Progroup Management and Penrith City Council.

“It’s important for us to collect data in real time,” Morris says. “It’s good that [our staff and subcontractors] can make their own notes and it’s available to us straight away. We have a lot of client service managers dealing with our office directly, and we can just send them notes and a photo in a job report straight away. We can be discussing the issues and getting an approval straight away to go ahead and fix a problem, as opposed to the old days when we’d have to get all the data back here and get it to them, as well as try to produce some photos.”

Morris says one of the attractions of using mobile job management software, in this case GeoOp, is that it provides a timed record of job performance. On every jobsheet, Compass takes note of every conversation and the name of every person staff speak to, and the times its plumbers are on site. They also include a photographic record of their work – before, during and on completion.

“We use it as a recording system,” Morris says. “If something happens – a school or customer rings us and says ‘Don’t come today, we’ve got something on’ and puts us off, we make a note of it. It heads off a lot of problems down the track if people say ‘It’s been two weeks now and you haven’t been here’. There will be notes in there saying ‘We tried to attend but the school (or the jail) threw us out. They requested it.’ It saves our skin lots of times.”

Morris says taking notes and photos at every stage of a job is a good work discipline for his plumbers: “It gets them in a habit of taking lots of photos.” He also says it’s very useful if a client ever claims his company is responsible for not doing the work required or causes damage.

Morris says taking notes and photos at every stage of a job is a good work discipline for his plumbers: “It gets them in a habit of taking lots of photos.” He also says it’s very useful if a client ever claims his company is responsible for not doing the work required or causes damage. “It’s just a good way [to protect yourself],” he says. “Someone might say ‘You guys did this damage – it wasn’t there before you came’. Well, we have photos before and after.”

If you’re looking for proof of why it’s important to collect accurate information in real-time, there it is.