All parties connected

All parties connected

Features - Technology

Business software helps your employees get on the same page.

April 1, 2014
Kristen Hampshire
Industry News

business softwareThe 60 trucks at Clean Scapes are virtual reporters – data collection centers on wheels, really. Since the Austin, Texas, firm replaced its under-the-hood GPS systems with sophisticated tracking software, the company knows exactly when a truck pulls onto a property and how long it spends there. The program produces travel reports, and timesheet projections that managers can compare to actuals. Plus, information can be instantly imported into accounting and payroll systems.

Sure, the trucks carry equipment and crews. But the information those vehicles gather on the road is critical for managing efficiency and streamlining the payroll process, says Travis Dyer, IT and special projects manager for Clean Scapes. “We save tons of time on labor because we aren’t constantly filling out timesheets, rounding (the numbers) up and down,” he says. “It saves managers time in the trucks and in the office.”

Time is the one aspect of business you can’t adjust – you only get so much of it to do the work. So software that helps companies understand how they use time, and to manage those hours and minutes more productively, is a real asset.

Besides, once a business reaches a certain size, the basic business software that suited the startup and small-scale operation no longer fits the bill. “We basically overloaded our QuickBooks and it crashed on us,” says Mark Paine of Sposato Landscape Co. in Milton, Del. Now, the company is embarking on a major transition to a landscape software program that will accommodate the $15 million-plus firm.

At Integrated Landscape Management (ILM), with offices in Arizona and Nevada, choosing software that integrated the disparate account managers’ spreadsheets to improve job costing is revealing any inconsistencies in pricing or performance. “We can see how jobs are performing at any time,” says Robert Clinkenbeard, co-owner.
 

Data-focused tracking.

Clean Scapes went from a paper to virtual timesheet process by using IQgistics and MS Track Pro. A few years ago, crews filled out paper time sheets that managers reviewed and signed off on before batching to payroll, which inputted the numbers. Today, time sheets are electronic. “Managers can open up an Excel report, refresh the GPS log, pick the truck and day, refresh the report and show the work they did,” Dyer says. The report is then saved so payroll can open up the report, as well. “Now, it takes about 10 seconds to import a time sheet, where before it would take five minutes or longer to key it in.”

Meanwhile, Dyer wrote an Excel program that extracts information read from tracking software. The program automatically fills out the time sheets based on data collected. Rigging the system first required “geo-fixing” properties the company services so that trucks entering a marked region would essentially clock in. “We time-stamped crews’ days as soon as they left the yard, from the first job and during their travels all day,” Dyer says.

Geo-fixing is basically like staking out a property, except it’s virtual connect-the-dots. Dyer geo-fixed accounts using a Google Satellite image. Each property was outlined so GPS-equipped trucks entering the boundaries get time-stamped. Travel information (time in and out of property, time on the road) is collected and then flowed into those synched Excel timesheets.

Now, the company can intelligently tweak routes to improve efficiency.

“We can see the percentage of travel each day for every truck, and we can look at the route and see if we have a travel pattern that is too high, we can streamline that,” Dyer says.

Managers can also produce projective schedules for crews, including how long it should take to travel to a job and the time a crew should spend working there. “Then, we can run a variance report on what the manager projects vs. what actually happens,” Dyer says. “We can look at that information gathered from the GPS and see how crews are actually doing versus how we think they are doing.”

Clean Scapes implemented the system in baby steps. Dyer geo-fixed routes for three trucks, watched the progress and tested to ensure data collected was accurate. Within two months, all 60 trucks at Clean Scapes were on the new GPS system. “Doing it on a small scale first gave us time to trouble shoot and fix any problems before we did a large-scale roll-out,” Dyer says.

Gathering route information is incredibly valuable – but transmitting that data into timesheets and reducing accounting/payroll labor sweetens the deal.
 

Merging information.

ILM is a growing company with 320 employees and a team of account managers among its three locations in Phoenix and Tempe, Ariz., and Las Vegas.

About four years ago, Clinkenbeard recognized that the company’s legacy software wasn’t going to cut it.

“We felt disjointed,” he says of the various account managers work documents, job costing and tracking. “We needed a tool to pull together all of that information.”

Job costing is a key benefit of the Boss LM software ILM chose, he says. The company can track how jobs are performing on a daily, weekly and monthly basis and keep tabs on gross margins for landscape maintenance contracts. “That really helps us adjust our labor,” he says.

Come annual contract time, a review of individual jobs reveals which ones were profitable and which contracts need retooling. Also, the software essentially standardizes pricing so account managers’ estimates and contracts stay in line.

“If you are a large company, you are somewhat relying on your key account managers to price accurately, so if they are off doing their own thing. …” Clinkenbeard says. “With a pricing framework in place, we have more control over job costing and there is less liability, so no one can underprice a contract just to get (the job and) commission.”

When ILM implemented the software, the company had an employee that acted as a “guru,” learning the program’s ins and outs.

This person became the in-house pro who could help others trouble-shoot and ease managers through the transition. The problem is, that guru left the business.

“We had no backup, so from that experience, we have changed that to having two key people who are gurus,” Clinkenbeard says.
 

Growing demands.

The QuickBooks crash was a sign. Sposato Landscape Co. had been considering new software for some time, but the information overload initiated an assertive effort to find another way.

“When you have been in business for 20 years and you are up to $15 million, that is a lot of information for QuickBooks, and while we are still using it, it’s difficult now,” Paine says.

Sposato decided on Asset (he's using Quickbooks until Asset is implemented) by Include after visiting Mariani Landscape in Chicago, Ill.

“They introduced us to several of their admins and account managers, and each discussed how a piece of the software works, from accounts receivables to payroll and job costing,” Paine says.

Seeing it at work, in person, helped Sposato Landscape make a decision. The company also talked with a similar-sized firm in the Washington, D.C., area that uses pieces of the program.

Meanwhile, Sposato invested in hiring an IT specialist who will eventually manage some of the tasks currently outsourced, along with driving the transition to this new software. It’s a major under-taking for a business.

“We want to be a more paperless type of operation, and we have been using quite a few Excel spreadsheets for job costing, tracking and whatnot,” Paine says.

“We won’t need those anymore, and our people will have more access to customer information.”