More than just an advertising slogan, the phrase "There's an app for that"™ coined by tech giant Apple Inc. encapsulates the revolutionary effect mobile smart devices and apps have had within the U.S. in recent years. According to a November 2016 Pew Research Center survey, 77 percent of U.S. residents now own smartphones and 51 percent own tablet devices.
Smart device owners can load their devices with a variety of apps downloaded from app stores such as Google Play and the Apple App Store. Statistics portal Statista reports more than 2 million apps currently are available in app stores and billions of apps are downloaded annually. Social media apps, such as Facebook, consistently rank among the top downloads.
It's an app world
How often do apps cross the threshold from personal use to business use? Mobile-app developer Canvas conducted a 2015 survey of companies in construction, field services, retail and distribution, health care, manufacturing, government, and logistics to determine how many companies take advantage of mobile business apps. The survey found two-thirds of respondents used one to five mobile business apps and 20 percent of respondents used 10 or more mobile business apps during 2014.
In the construction industry, a 2016 study conducted by Sage Software found 48 percent of construction companies use mobile technology to access customer and job information; 47 percent use it for drawings, photos, schedules and documents; 38 percent use it for daily field reports; 36 percent use it for job cost and project reports; and 30 percent use it for timekeeping.
The top apps used daily by roofing contractors primarily fall into four categories: weather-tracking apps that inform contractors about weather conditions before leaving their houses in the morning and throughout the day; travel apps that help them arrive at meetings and job sites safely and promptly; on-the-job apps that help them complete their work; and management and communication apps that help them manage their companies. The common denominator among popular apps used in the industry is their ability to provide beneficial services that often are free or offered at reasonable prices.
Professional Roofing interviewed roofing contractors who have integrated apps into their companies; following is an overview of the apps they like most.
Eyes on the sky
Roofing contractors understand the importance of monitoring weather conditions before arriving at a job site. Temperature fluctuations, precipitation and wind can affect workers' ability to complete tasks safely and properly. Checking current weather conditions and the weather forecast daily can help ensure workers aren't caught off guard by changing weather conditions.
Accuweather is a popular weather-tracking app among roofing contractors. The app's MinuteCast® feature enables users to enter a specific street address and receive two-hour, minute-by-minute precipitation forecasts for a designated location. The information presented to the user includes the type, intensity, and start and end times of the precipitation. Accuweather also offers push notifications for severe weather alerts in the U.S. and access to current news and weather videos, many of which are available in English and Spanish. Roofing contractors praise Accuweather for its reliable, detailed weather forecasts that inform crews when precipitation is approaching their job sites.
Local weather-tracking app Rain Alarm also earns positive remarks from contractors. Designed to provide reliable short-term forecasts, Rain Alarm is ideal for monitoring local weather conditions. The app detects all types of precipitation, including rain, snow and hail, and can send warnings to mobile devices in the form of push notifications, vibrations or sounds.
J.J. Smithey, president of Frost Roofing Inc., Wapakoneta, Ohio, appreciates the accuracy and convenience of Rain Alarm.
"Nothing is worse than relying on a standard weather forecast, loading trucks and sending a crew to a job site just for it to rain as soon as they arrive. Rain postpones the job and forces the crew back to the shop, wasting time and money," he says. "Rain Alarm provides real-time, accurate weather information, including distance from your current location and precipitation alerts. It's a huge asset in warning us when precipitation is approaching, how far it is from our current location, how much is expected and the precipitation's strength, all delivered via push notifications."
On the move
At times, simply traveling to a job site or meeting can be a challenging experience if a traffic accident, inclement weather or construction work has caused unexpected road closures. Even on accident-free days with clear weather conditions, traffic can make it difficult to arrive at a destination on time. Yet arriving promptly to meet with a client or begin the workday at a job site or company office is essential to maintaining a professional reputation. As a result, travel apps that help users reach their destinations safely and on time have become popular.
Google Maps provides real-time GPS navigation, traffic conditions and transit options. The app automatically reroutes a path to the chosen destination to avoid road closures and traffic incidents. Users can switch from a standard map view showing the layout of streets and landmarks to the app's Street View option to view buildings as seen from street level.
Don Mitroff, financial controller for Antis Roofing & Waterproofing Inc., Irvine, Calif., uses Google Maps daily to make sure he arrives at work on time.
"I can see where the traffic is before I leave so I can minimize the likelihood of being late, or at least have the option of taking a different route if conditions change on my way to a location," he says.
For roofing contractors, the Street View feature is particularly helpful. Street View allows contractors to view a job-site location before arriving there to determine a structure's size and precise location and even figure out where to park.
"I use Google Maps for property information and location sharing," Smithey explains. "It's helpful for pinpointing properties and getting an initial idea of the locations and structures."
Sometimes, business requires employees to travel far from their homes. Various airlines and hotels offer apps that are valuable for roofing contracting company executives such as Kent Schwickert, senior vice president—national business unit for Schwickert's Tecta America, Mankato, Minn., who travel frequently.
"I travel two to four days per week," Schwickert says. "I like that hotel apps provide advance check-in and room selection options. Airline apps also allow advance check-in, as well as provide schedule updates and luggage arrival information."
Perhaps the most relevant and useful apps for roofing contractors are those that directly assist workers with their tasks. The top apps in this category help contractors determine roof slope measurements, install products at job sites, complete safety tasks and access essential product information.
Taking accurate measurements of a building's roof system is an important component of a roofing project. Designed to assist with slope measurements, the Pitch Gauge app calculates the total size and slope of any roof using two digital slope finders and a square calculator. The app enables contractors to calculate slope measurements from the ground, eliminating the potential safety risk of making slope measurements from the rooftop.
"Pitch Gauge is a great tool for measuring properties and finding approximate slope," Smithey says.
Roofing contractors also must determine the proper conditions for using a product. For Kelly Braddy Van Winkle, vice president—contracts for King of Texas Roofing Company LP, Grand Prairie, the Johns Manville Roof TechXpert app is a valuable planning tool.
"The Johns Manville Roof TechXpert app tells us ambient temperature and humidity, as well as the estimated flash time for adhesives to dry," she says. "Foremen can plan production better when they can estimate how long it takes for glue to dry."
The Johns Manville Roof TechXpert app aids contractors preparing to install adhesives. The app can estimate the flash time for different types of adhesive by interpreting real-time temperature and humidity data at a user's location.
Schwickert says the app is particularly helpful for contractors completing work in cold climates.
"The best work-related app for the field I have seen is the Johns Manville Roof TechXpert app," he says. "It helps field crews with multiple tasks, the most beneficial of which is understanding temperature minimums for different adhesives. The app ties to your existing location and monitors the outside temperatures. We are in a colder climate market, and adhesive applications are critical to successful roof system installations."
Safety on job sites is a never-ending concern for roofing contractors. Workers must understand how to protect themselves and other people from injury at job sites while adhering to Occupational Safety and Health Administration standards.
Safety app Harness Up is praised by contractors for its ability to store a company's safety information, toolbox talks, inspection records, incident reports, safety data sheets and other documents for easy access by workers. The app also can track worker training to ensure everyone understands the most recent safety protocols and recommendations.
Roofing contractors must be able to install a variety of products from a variety of manufacturers to ensure they can provide the type of roof system each unique roofing project needs. However, remembering all the essential product information for successful roof system installations can be difficult if not impossible.
Brad Sutter, executive vice president of Sutter Roofing Co. of Florida, Sarasota, suggests roofing contractors use the apps offered by several major manufacturers to access products' technical information.
"The access to technical details and general system information available from major manufacturers is helpful, especially if you need it right away while working on a project," he says.
Manufacturers such as Firestone Building Products Co. LLC, Indianapolis, and GAF, Parsippany, N.J., offer mobile apps containing product information for contractors to access. Contractors may be able to locate similar apps on a project-by-project basis by visiting product manufacturers' websites.
When it comes to running a productive and profitable business, effective management and communication is vital. A well-managed company has records and documents that are organized and easily accessible to owners and employees so everyone has access to up-to-date information and operations can run smoothly. Communication within a company and between employees and their customers is essential for building trust and maintaining good relationships.
Several commercial roofing contracting companies have come to rely on FCS Control Software, an enterprise operating system, to help with day-to-day operations. FCS Control Software provides three platforms—Sales, Service & Project Management, and Estimating—that feed into a portal allowing employees and customers to access different types of company information. Contractors can use the system to build proposals, create drawings and schedule service calls, among other options. A mobile app is included as part of the system.
"We use FCS for literally everything—all our notes, property information, project statuses and quotes," Smithey says. "If there is information we want to keep, this is where it goes. Customers can even request service through our client portal using FCS."
Sutter agrees the system is useful and says his company is gradually adding more information to its FCS portal.
"Our company uses the FCS platform for our service operations," he says. "The FCS app handles a large portion of our business so I find myself using it more as we develop a larger footprint in the system with increasing data and project information. The tracking and information that used to take hours to locate and assemble are now available with a few clicks. We also use the customer relationship management capabilities to track our sales and customer interactions. Having real-time access to that data has been a real game-changer for our management team."
To pay or not to pay?
Most of the apps previously mentioned are free to use or offer free basic service to entice users to download and begin using the app. This allows users to decide whether they find the app beneficial enough to justify paying for a premium level of service that can be shared with a larger number of employees. Roofing contractors can use this to their advantage by downloading and testing the effectiveness of several apps that offer free basic service to determine which apps work best for their companies.
In a society where smart devices have become commonplace, it is no surprise the technology increasingly has been integrated into the business world. The roofing industry is beginning to do the same, and the results so far are positive.
"Apps are an affordable way to keep crews informed, updated and organized," Smithey concludes. "I highly recommend finding apps that work well for you and your own team."
Sara Baldwin is Professional Roofing's editorial assistant.
The advance of AI
Artificial intelligence (AI) may be the next tech trend to take hold in offices, according to The Wall Street Journal. A recent article, "How AI is Transforming the Workplace," suggests AI can help managers do their jobs more effectively—assisting with tasks such as hiring new employees and monitoring employees' performance.
AI uses the same technology found in navigation apps and shopping websites to analyze vast amounts of data and locate patterns. Designed to learn from experience to get an ever-improving idea of what its users are seeking, AI helps managers systematize processes that often are driven by instinct.
Several AI options already are available to companies that want to find and hire people with the right talents; analyze the performance of their workers; or determine how to retain top employees. Company managers seeking new recruits can try SAP's Resume Matcher software, which is designed to analyze thousands of resumes and rank top candidates for a job opening, or Entelo Inc.'s software, which scours the internet for individuals qualified to fill a job opening based on their job titles, employers and other criteria. Entelo's approach allows managers to reach out to potential candidates rather than waiting for applicants to approach the company.
Managers also can use AI to monitor current employees' performance. Software produced by Veriato can log employees' computer activity and take periodic screenshots for managers to analyze. Managers can then resolve problems by approaching employees who need redirection, explaining what the software has found and offering their assistance. Veriato also can analyze email and other messages to determine individual employees' attitudes toward their jobs by looking for key words and phrases.
Entelo, International Business Machines Corp. and Workday all produce software that can determine the likelihood an employee will depart from a company. Workday, for instance, bases its retention-risk analyses on data collected from 100,000 individuals during 25 years. The software calculates a risk score for individual employees by analyzing factors such as job title, compensation and time between promotions and suggests potential next steps in an employee's career path based on what people in similar situations have done.
Despite AI's potential, managers must be aware of its drawbacks. The privacy of employees must be considered when AI is used to track and analyze employees' behavior to ensure compliance with privacy policies and laws. AI systems that locate or sort job candidates can be biased, and managers may not necessarily have the capacity to properly interpret the results produced by AI software.
The use of AI in the workplace is new, and it has not yet been determined whether AI makes decisions that are as good as or better than human managers. But the technology can help managers do their jobs effectively, most likely in combination with more traditional personnel-management tools such as references, work-product tests and strong personal relationships between managers and their employees.
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