For homeowners, there is no such thing as the "perfect" storm. But for roofing contractors, swiftly restoring habitats and inhabitants' lives following severe storms requires the perfect response. Recent advances in electronic records management (ERM) technology have made it possible for roofing contractors to mobilize quickly after a storm occurs to help those affected, which leads to business growth.
This is especially true for NRCA member Aspen Contracting Inc., Lees Summit, Mo., a residential reroofing contracting company based in the heart of "tornado alley." Using advanced ERM software, the company manages more than 10,000 roofing projects per year. Following are a few things the company has implemented to make its operations more efficient. Using these techniques could help your company streamline operations, further expanding your roofing contracting business.
Storms are the norm
In the U.S., tornadoes are more frequent than in any other country, totaling more than 1,200 annually—four times the amount seen in Europe, according to Horizon, a European research and innovation magazine. Along the Atlantic coast, the hurricane season delivers an annual average of 11 tropical cyclones, a handful of which reach hurricane status, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA's) Hurricane Research Division.
And every few years, Mother Nature usually delivers a Category 4 or 5 hurricane, which also occurs more often in the U.S. than in any other country, according to NOAA. In recent years, U.S. residents have seen firsthand the devastation of Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy. Aside from the displacement of residents from their homes—600,000 in the case of Hurricane Katrina—the damage to property has been catastrophic. According to 2005 and 2012 USA Today articles, estimates range upward of $125 billion for Hurricane Katrina and $50 billion for Hurricane Sandy.
And these only are the storms that register on the national media radar. The magnitude of such storms is illustrated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency's (FEMA's) disaster declarations. During the past 10 years, FEMA has declared an annual average of 43 severe storm disasters across the U.S. In the peak years of 2008 and 2010, the annual totals exceeded 60 storms. According to FEMA, during 2016, there were 103 severe storm declarations.
The true dollar magnitude is demonstrated by data compiled in U.S.-insured catastrophic losses. The data show 80 percent of all losses incurred are a result of severe thunderstorms, tornadoes, hurricanes and tropical storms. During the first half of 2016, total losses from severe thunderstorm disasters reached more than $11.6 billion, of which slightly more than $8.5 billion was insured.
The 10-year average for insured losses resulting from storm-related damages tallies more than $20 billion per year. And the property damage trend has increased sharply: Insured winter storm losses alone totaled $3.5 billion, an increase from $2.5 billion in 2014 versus an average of $2 billion during the previous 5 years, according to the Insurance Information Institute.
In the aftermath of nature's capriciousness, providing water, food and medical assistance are the most immediate public concerns. At the same time, there is a crucial need for the quickest possible rebuilding and recovery effort to secure adequate shelter for those displaced—a role fulfilled almost entirely by private building contractors, especially roofing companies. Roof systems suffer the most prevalent damage in wind storms as even the lowest EF0 tornado is classified by winds clocked at 65 to 85 mph (EF5 tornadoes feature winds of 200 or more mph).
For disaster-recovery specialists such as Aspen Contracting, the task is formidable as resources must be mobilized and coordinated swiftly. The company has permanent offices located on North Carolina's eastern seaboard, across Nebraska and Missouri and as far west as Montana. To address a particular disaster location, the company often must set up and staff temporary satellite offices.
"Storms are unpredictable, but it's certain they will hit somewhere," says L.C. Nussbeck, Aspen Contracting's CEO. "Be prepared—that's the key. It's an amazing task and one you never really complete."
So how does Aspen Contracting prepare for the unpredictable on such a large scale? The logistics are daunting. Mobilizing for storm work is tremendously demanding, especially considering it requires conducting business across states with varying labor, tax and contracting laws, and compliance regulations. Aspen Contracting must secure on-site facilities, deploy staff and hire new employees. Each project requires separate insurance companies, claims adjusters, mortgage companies and materials suppliers.
First, Aspen Contracting's employees know local soliciting laws, building codes and permit processes. The company warehouses $1 million worth of marketing materials, including postcards, yard signs and door hangers, as well as office equipment that can be staged for jobs of different sizes.
"Within 24 hours we can have a functioning office up and running, with or without electricity," Nussbeck says.
Amidst the chaos of a disaster, the company cannot lose sight of its primary focus—distressed homeowners. Aspen Contracting is committed to excellent customer service and satisfaction. According to Nussbeck, it's important its customers have good things to say about Aspen Contracting.
"People really appreciate a roofing contractor who tells them the truth and follows through," Nussbeck says.
For Aspen Contracting, operational efficiency is the key component to customer satisfaction and the reason the company can undertake so many disaster-recovery projects every year.
Aspen Contracting wholly embraces ERM through an enterprise content management (ECM) system by Laserfiche,® a global software design company based in Long Beach, Calif. Aspen Contracting used the system to convert and store paper-based accounting records saved as digital images. The ECM system facilitated the transfer of documents between Aspen Contracting's offices nationwide, supplanting its former reliance on delivery services and saving about $20,000 in FedEx charges per year. Aspen Contracting's in-house nickname for the system became known as "quick FedEx."
When the company hired Information Technology Director Laura Trotta in 2014, she immediately saw the potential to expand Aspen Contracting's electronic record keeping beyond document transfer to improve operational efficiencies across every department, especially human resources.
Many human resources processes, such as new hires, terminations, transfers and benefit enrollment, once required an incredible amount of paperwork and valuable man-hours. After implementing the ECM system, Aspen Contracting began using the processes to simplify and improve automation, resulting in significant savings and reductions of human error.
"New hires now input their information directly into the system, and that information is instantaneously captured so it can be used across the company's forms," Trotta says. "Because the human resources department no longer must print the necessary documents, the number of required pages has been reduced from 82 pages to eight."
With a switch to W-2 status, all new hires are offered a full benefits package, and enrollment greatly has been streamlined. A new employee can enroll using the software on his or her company-issued iPad. What was once a confusing and paper-intensive process now is simple and entirely digital, leading to a 60 percent increase in participation. Many Aspen Contracting employees are paid on a commission basis, and the payroll process allows the company to reduce the time between paydays by 50 percent, a key benefit to attracting and keeping the best roofing professionals.
In addition to improving many of the human re-sources processes, the new system has allowed Aspen Contracting to automate and digitize employee status-change forms.
"We currently have 34 active locations across the U.S., with more than 300 employees and growing," Trotta explains. "On an average day, we have more than 20 changes. We use the system exclusively for all employee changes: phone numbers, transfers, commission rates, terminations, etc. Now, when an employee completes a form, it is automatically routed to the correct department, saving time and eliminating the possibilities for human error."
Regulatory compliance is another beneficiary of the new system.
"It has saved us more than 100 man-hours in six months," Trotta says. "And we'll save an untold amount by completing forms properly that are required by the government. We previously had $58,000 in fines from one audit. Now the automated system ensures our forms will be completed properly each time."
The increased security regarding employee information, customer accounts and regulatory compliance also has led to a significant reduction in liability insurance premiums for Aspen Contracting.
Even more important, the implementation of Laserfiche Mobile in the field now empowers project consultants and field managers to deliver these efficiencies to the doors of Aspen Contracting's residential customers. By integrating the mobile system, the company has reduced its field reporting from three-day delays to instantaneous updates. Additional integration currently is in process, with the goal of fully integrating CRM field documentation with the ECM system.
"With this new system in place, we receive information more quickly and accurately, and the number of emails and questions being asked has been reduced," Trotta says. "Managers in the field easily can complete forms on their mobile devices and no longer say they will do it when they get back to the office. We've saved countless hours per week and can process more information with less hands. Homeowners requiring structural repairs need and appreciate actionable information delivered as soon as possible. The quicker we get our work done, the sooner they get back into their homes."
Building on this success, Aspen Contracting recently has upgraded its systems' capabilities with a Laserfiche server and software modules. It estimates an annual $75,000 in savings from the upgrade, recouping its return on investment in less than two years. The deployment still is a work-in-progress, but the goal is to make Aspen Contracting a truly paperless company.
Aspen Contracting's goal to go completely paperless is a result of seeking to achieve the perfect response to not-so-perfect storms. As the number of storms increases, so will the costs to correct the damage left behind, placing a premium on a roofing contractor's ability to respond efficiently, with enormous profit potential for those able to do so.
However, more important than man-hours saved is your company's ability to redeploy those man-hours to serve customers more efficiently, returning homeowners to their homes as quickly as possible while allowing your company to expand its business. After all, the best outcome after a perfect storm is a perfect recovery and, with the help of a comprehensive ECM system, you can expect to deliver just that.
Tim Wacker is a technical writer for NBN Communications, Newburyport, Mass.
For an article related to this topic, see "After the storm," February 2013 issue.
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