We all would love to go paperless, meet the legal requirements, and have our software with us at all times. Wouldn’t that be magic? So, what does it take to ‘go mobile’ and what are the perils? Is it as valuable as everyone says? In a word, Yes! Mobile is the single biggest thing to benefit our industry in years. Read on….
Consider a short list of what you could do in the field: View your schedule as a tech for the the whole week, or even next week. List your products used on a job without typing of names or EPA Reg. numbers. Find any customer’s phone number or email address. Put in new customers and locations. Edit existing customers and their contact details. Add notes about customers and locations to provide better service in the future. Add new entries to your schedule book. Provide customers with sales options. And the list goes on and on. What about those changes you make? They quickly zoom back to the office when you sync! (And the changes made in the office flow down to your mobile copy, too!) We’ve all dreamed of such tool. Mobile with Syncing is that tool.
Before software developers could successfully create true Syncing Mobile products, three lessons had to be learned and addressed: 1) Continuous connections over cellular will always fail because of caches and dead spots, and 2) Laptops and printers were not built for truck use. 3) Even the best wireless connection in a truck will have brief glitches, so all syncing must be transactional. Lets look at these one at a time.
Continuous Connections: For several years techs have tried carrying laptops in their trucks with a ‘hotspot’ connection over cellular. This works fine for surfing the web. Each click on a link just loads a page. This is because ‘surfing’ is based upon ‘state-less’ connections. A state-less connection is like sending or receiving an email. The only connection is during the brief moment it goes out or comes in. It is not a constant connection. You are literally connected to the website only for the fraction of a second that it takes to load your page. Then your computer ‘hangs up’, while you look at the resulting page. So, you are connected only seconds per minute, and each action you take is based upon a brand new connection. But linking to a database (such as pest control software) requires a two-way communication mode, like a phone call, where we have a continuous connection. In your office, this is fine, because your computer is not driving through network shadows with bunches of large metal objects (cars) moving around you, disrupting your network signal! So, from the perspective of connections, network interruptions are harmless while ‘surfing’ the web. And in most cases you will not be aware of it. But a network interruption, when you are connected to a database, is serious and potential damaging. A broken connection can easily damage your master database. Yikes! And file corruption can quickly grow into a nightmare that includes data loss. Most users of laptops in trucks have discovered this serious shortcoming. Everywhere you go, you will find cellular coverage shadows. So when working remote, how you connect is extremely important. The solution is not to use an ongoing constant-type of network connection, but instead, have your mobile solution update and sync in brief moments.
Laptops and Printers: What machine should you carry in your trucks? Should it be a laptop or an iPad? The vast majority of people using laptops in trucks find that they just don’t hold up to the temperature extremes, dust, and vibrations that our trucks often have. iPads, in contrast, manage bad conditions dramatically better because they have no moving parts, and almost no ports to let dust in. So if your mobile software will run on a iPad, definitely use them. When you purchase your iPad, you will not need a cellular-connected model. Wi-Fi is all you will need. Instead of a cellular connection and a laptop, keep your own separate and unique copy of your mobile database on an iPad, with the ability to sync over Wi-Fi when you return at the end of the day. Do not use a laptop with a constant connections over cellular. Note, the new MacBook laptop from Apple with its sealed design may prove to be the exception. More on that in a later post.
What about printers? Will printers work in your truck? Sometimes, but not reliably. There are three main types of portable printers you might buy, and each has serious shortcomings. Laser printers are not yet available in small sizes. Ink Jets quickly clog up with road dust, (and the printouts smear in the presence of moisture). And, Thermal printers are highly heat-sensitive, such that your printouts and even unused blank paper will turn totally black in a hot truck! (And old printouts often fade to unreadability after only a few months.) And all of the printers on the market have serious trouble dealing with vibrations and bumps. The vast majority of printers in trucks today are a bad experience. Maybe someday…. For now, our recommendation, is to use a mobile solution on an iPad, and send the customer’s work orders via email. If legal restrictions forbid the emailing of Work Orders, you are back to using WOs printed in the office on the laser printer.
Transactional Syncing: But there is still one more issue to address. Early adopters were thrilled with mobile, but not happy with its occasional glitches. It worked well for weeks, but would then occasionally and unexpectedly fail, causing a mess. Some, but not all records would sync. Some records would disappear. In each case, it turned out that the wireless connection had briefly failed, causing the data hic-up. Transactional Syncing is the solution to this problem. Transactional Syncing means all the sync data is packaged and delivered (both ways), but NOT unpacked until all packages have been verified as complete and correct. Only then do we unpack on Master and Mobile. If a package arrives with damage, it is destroyed, and a new copy is requested (automatically and invisibly). Only when ALL packages have been validated, do the Master and Mobile copies get updated.
So, the best answer is a an iPad (or iPhone) with a stand-alone copy of your mobile software, that stays in sync with the Master. You can then sync when you are back in the office each day, or if you choose, even in the middle of the day wherever you have solid Wi-Fi signal. Synchronization of your remote copy with the office requires only a single click, and typically completes in one or two minutes. Afterwards, both your iPad and the Master copies are updated with all the new data.
Consider these advantages:
-Technicians servicing distant routes no longer need to come into the office to turn in their work orders, and to get the next day’s WOs and route sheets. They just sync!
-Office workers have far less to do when the products, amounts, and charges just flow into the the master invoices. This is a HUGE time saver in the office.
-Technicians are empowered to schedule future return visits on the spot, which leads to higher customer satisfaction and new sales.
-You company moves up in your customer eye’s because you use modern tools.
-iPads are vastly superior to most laptops, because they have no moving parts.
-Since sync is always only over Wi-Fi, you do NOT need cellular plans for your iPads. And, since WI-FI iPads are lower in cost, and you save both upfront, and every month.
‘Gotchas’ to consider:
-Does your state allow work orders to be emailed? This is important when moving to ‘paperless’.
-Be sure to plan for a way for remote technicians to send in their cash and checks they have collected, if the aren’t coming into the office each day.
-Work Orders in the field are ‘completed’. After being synced they will still need to be posted in the office. It is at posting that stats are compiled, and is necessary for security, and to verify that the work was properly done.
What about using iPhones instead of iPads? Many software companies, including PestaRoo, are extending mobile support to include iPhones in their syncing family. Since over half of all technicians in the USA already use iPhones, this means the purchase of iPads may not be needed!
It has been said over and over that Mobile is the future of software. Having your software available on mobile devices may well be the most valuable business step you can take this year. And it appears to be the most important development for our industry in the last ten years.
Don’t let this wave leave you behind.