On cloud nine

A cloud-based account management platform offers improved productivity for your business

Thousands of blog posts, hundreds of printed articles and dozens of books have been written about how software—and, more recently, mobile applications—can streamline processes, improve productivity and increase profitability for roofing contractors by collecting real-time data, generating reports and proposals, enabling customers to submit service calls, and more. Digital process automation and the availability of real-time information can create efficiencies and reduce expenses, but when it comes to software solutions for the roofing industry, there is no shortage of options to consider.

Many options

With a simple Google search, you can find a list of purveyors offering everything from large-scale end-to-end core technology solutions to specialty project management or estimating systems to simple mobile applications that calculate the slope of a roof. There are mobile applications that enable roof system inspectors or estimators to send customers on-site roof system inspection reports or complete applications for developing bid proposals—complete with pictures and in some cases video—with just a few taps to the mobile screen before leaving the roof.

Improving process efficiencies and reducing costs by leveraging technology is hardly a new phenomenon. Large-format digitizers became available in the early 1990s. More recently, satellite and aerial photographs have helped gather measurement data remotely, and now there are digital solutions for project management, GPS-enabled fleet tracking, customer contact management, job estimation, service dispatching and more. All these choices create a common question for roofing contractors looking to leverage technology to improve customer service and their bottom lines: How do I choose the right technology provider?

Many vendors

Every solution provider touts its unique, differentiating capabilities and "it pays for itself" value proposition, but proceed with caution—the purchasing decision you make could either prove to differentiate your company from the competition or potentially undermine your viability to survive in this increasingly competitive industry.

There are some basic characteristics to evaluate technology vendors, including:

  • How long has the company been in business?
  • Does the company have referrals from companies similar to yours that have been using its products or services for a reasonable amount of time?
  • If a company's solutions are Web-based, are the solutions based on a solid, integrated core technology? Or are they simply selling peripheral standalone devices (also referred to as "gadgets," which is software disconnected from the rest of your technical infrastructure)?
  • What are the average historical system downtime and upgrade intervals?

Another red flag to watch out for is "one-hit wonders," which are companies that develop valuable and unique solutions but over time demonstrate a lack of commitment to continuously improving their initial service offerings.

A successful vendor provides pre-installation training, ongoing dedicated live support, follow-up training, monthly webinars and conferences for partner companies to ensure you have every opportunity to learn more about functionalities and maximize the capabilities of the components you currently are using or can be using.

Many applications

Individual software solutions can be beneficial to remedy a specific problem area, but what you want is an overarching technical strategy to achieve greater information integration, true net productivity increases and bottom line cost savings during the long term. Otherwise, you will slowly and unintentionally fragment your critical business information by purchasing a series of fancy gadgets and end up with several disconnected repositories of information, which merely shifts your pain and process bottleneck and costs you more time and money.

Many gadgets on the market are slick-looking and can be productive for a specific function but actually further disconnect your data and, at an aggregate level, ultimately make them a significantly more expensive investment than you realize. Improving your company's ability to gather, organize and communicate information as efficiently, effectively and accurately as possible is critical to competing in 2013 and beyond. The ability to integrate your data and several critical business processes through one core technology should be paramount when selecting a technical solutions partner.

These business processes include fielding inquiries, inspecting a roof, bidding on a job, creating the proposal, negotiating contract and warranty details, invoicing customers, obtaining proper permits, scheduling jobs, ordering materials, processing payments and other paperwork, and so forth.

Each substep along the way requires some amount of information to be captured, processed or handed off—each creating a new opportunity for something to go wrong. Hundreds of hours and tens of thousands of dollars of productivity and out-of-pocket cash benefits can be realized by reducing errors and the time required to perform each subtask through simplified, automated business processes and centralized real-time information.

A comprehensive solution

One way to achieve this is through a cloud-based platform that combines online software and mobile applications with hardware and bundles them all into one integrated solution. This culminates into enhanced customer service, improved productivity and reduced costs by consolidating information and improving the efficiency of your workflow processing.

The benefits of a cloud-based platform include reduced duplicate data entry; centralized customer and property information, job hours, labor costs, work orders, bids and maintenance history; and streamlined service work scheduling and billing. A cloud-based solution streamlines your roofing company's business processes and centralizes your information regardless of where your company is on the technology adoption spectrum.

A cloud-based account management system incorporates all the individual processes and systems and combines them into one integrated program you can access from anywhere. Project managers and company principals want access 24/7 to job cost reports for current jobs from anywhere at any time, and a cloud-based system makes this possible. Efficiency is increased by not having to re-enter information in multiple places. With a cloud-based solution, employees working from remote locations have access to real-time data, such as work orders, so they can see their work schedules for the day along with descriptions of each service request.

In addition, many service managers want their service technicians to enter their hours, materials used, photos and descriptions of the work performed directly from the roof or other remote location at the end of each day, and a cloud-based application enables a simple review and approval by the service manager to generate an invoice for the customer. With a digitized workflow using real-time information, service managers' productivity increases, and mistakes are reduced because information is not re-entered from paper forms or e-mailed files.

With a cloud-based platform, productivity for service foremen remains consistent because they can enter the details from a roof at the end of the service call or between service calls. Estimators instantly can see the purchase order history of specific products to increase the efficiency when preparing estimates and bids. Project managers can view job cost reports to determine whether projects are within budget during production in real time, analyzing labor, materials and subcontract budgets versus actual figures. And superintendents can monitor budgeted and actual labor with their foremen on a regular basis, reviewing multiple projects in a single view.

Get your head in the clouds

Cloud-based account management systems already are transforming the way roofing contractors conduct business. When integrating such a platform into your business, you can expect to see a continued focus on new, improved and innovative ways to streamline your roofing company's business processes for years to come.

Chris Walker is vice president of business development and transformation at Starkweather Roofing Inc., Phoenix. Daryl Maronic, president of Dataforma Inc., York, Pa., contributed to this article.

There currently are many cloud-based software solutions offered to roofing contractors. Be sure to find one that incorporates:

  • A database system built specifically to house all key details related to projects such as work orders, warranties and documents
  • A work-order module to handle service requests, complete with digital photos, from the initial call to invoicing
  • Incorporation of technology to aid in quick searches
  • A multiple document one-step upload feature to enable bulk uploading of digital photos
  • A report writer for proposal writing and inspection reports
  • A client portal to enable your customers to access work orders, projects and invoices, as well an option to submit a service request from your website to you via an e-mail alert
  • A work-order calendar to schedule service crews in a daily, weekly or monthly view
  • A message board to reflect work orders and project summaries
  • Accounting functionality, including general ledger/chart of accounts; entity, division, department and location setup; and accounting security permissions
  • Detailed inspection reports and proposals, as well as the ability to embed images directly in reports
  • Mobile applications for uploading digital photos
  • Customer relationship management


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