Digital dive

Eliminate tedious paperwork and mobilize your staff with labor management software.

Crews can file paperwork from a job site using labor management software.
Photos courtesy of x C. Caramanico & Sons

When Alex Fransen was ready to start his own business, he knew one of the first things he would do was set up a digital labor management system to handle all of his administrative tasks. A little over two years later, the staff at Fransen Group in Louisville, Kentucky, is still learning about all of the things Service Autopilot software can accomplish.

“It handles everything from scheduling to proposals to routing to accounting,” Fransen says. “One hundred percent, it has been one of the best things we’ve done. We pay $95 a month for a cloud-based software we can log into from anywhere. It is probably one of the best investments I’ve ever made.”

The moment crews pull up to a job, the software automatically clocks employees in based on a pre-programmed geo-location. Their phone or tablet will prompt them to check in and provide pertinent notes and information for that job, and will clock users out when they leave, Fransen says.

Beyond basic timekeeping, labor management software can also gather and analyze data from the information it tracks, which may allow managers to spot cost-saving opportunities. At C. Caramanico & Sons in Pennsylvania, mJobTime software not only tracks field personnel hours, but it breaks down their specific tasks such as planting trees, mowing or seasonal cleanup, says President John Caramanico, Jr.

“We can track where our crews are being efficient and where we have some lack of efficiencies so we can ultimately adjust our bidding to those time estimates,” Caramanico says. “We may find that we can plant trees quicker than what we estimated, but planting ground cover is taking longer, so we adjust. It has been particularly helpful in maintenance when it’s repeat job functions that they are doing year after year.”

The mJobTime software replaced the paper timesheets that Caramanico’s foreman had to fill out from memory at the end of the day. Now, employees are paid to the minute versus the quarter hour, and the time cards are more accurate because the hours are being entered immediately, Caramanico says.

File from the field.

Some labor management programs also allow companies to customize and build forms that managers can fill out from their phones.

That’s how Clean Scapes, headquartered in Austin, Texas, uses Laserfiche software to help its employees spend less time in the office filling out paperwork and more time out at their properties. At a job site, managers can complete purchase orders, process credit cards or even snap a photo of their Home Depot receipt to submit for filing, says Clean Scapes Information Technology and Special Projects Manager Travis Dyer.

“We saw Laserfiche as an opportunity to help our managers work better out in the field,” Dyer says.

“There is a forms wizard where you can easily create forms and map things out to where people can fill out a relatively complex form on their phone or tablet, and when they submit those forms they go through a workflow to get approved or alert people.”

Any information submitted through these forms can be exported out of Laserfiche and into Clean Scape’s accounting software. Additionally, whenever documents such as invoices are scanned in, Laserfiche will use optical character recognition on those documents to read all of the text, fill out most of the metadata and queue it up to be processed. This eliminates a lot of hand-entry and paper filing.

“All of our forms are highly customized and built from scratch, but Laserfiche does have a library of pre-built forms that are pretty standard across different industries,” Dyer says.

“You can do very simple submission forms to just stop using paper and start keeping things electronically, or you can have very robust forms that go through many people and stages of approval.”

Making the introduction.

While the end application may be easy to use, the implementation of new software can prove challenging for many companies. Fransen found himself doing tutorials and drilling himself for hours every day during his off-season to try to get Service Autopilot up and running.

“If you’re trying to administer this in the middle of the season with the full board running, you’re going to have a hard time,” Fransen says. “It is way too much information to digest. That’s why I started from the beginning so everyone is familiar with it and we can all learn together and be more successful. And it has been. It is a process that you have to devote the time to. If you don’t, you’re just spinning your wheels.”

Dyer also came to realize that not everyone will be excited to change because of new technology. Dyer recommends being strategic when changing the forms and choosing which departments are changing at what time.

“People get stuck in their ways, and anything to change the processes that they have done for years is going to alienate and frustrate some people,” he says. “Know that you will have to fight those battles, but it will be worth it in the end.”

C. Caramanico & Sons uses labor tracking software to improve time estimates and adjust bidding.
Photo courtesy of C. Caramanico & Sons

Some contractors may find that they need to overhaul their old processes and workflows because there may not be an even translation for them in the new software.

When making those changes, Dyer has learned the hard way the importance of having an approval process from all parties involved.

While he tries to think through the forms in a simple, linear fashion, feedback about the user experience has more than once required him to rework a process.

“We thought the implementation would go a lot quicker and we would be able to use a lot more forms than we did,” Dyer says. “It has been a little more of a challenge getting everything right before implementing. A lot of meetings have to happen and rolling things out takes longer than we expected.”

“People get stuck in their ways, and anything to change the processes that they have done for years is going to alienate and frustrate some people,” he says. “Know that you will have to fight those battles, but it will be worth it in the end.” Travis Dyer, Clean Scapes

While some companies may be looking for labor management programs that will work with their existing programs like QuickBooks, others may be looking for one program that can do it all, like Fransen.

“I tried to simplify it as much as possible instead of running tons of different programs. There’s several programs out there that all do one thing really well, but they don’t do a lot of things,” he says.

“That's what we liked the most about Service Autopilot. It handles everything. If you can simplify things, you can be a lot more successful, and you can be successful quicker if you can be profitable.”

The author is a freelance writer based in Kentucky.

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