The first thing to go digital in the commercial contractor universe was the development of enterprise resource planning tools (ERPs). It was driven by the need to manage contractors, project timelines + progression, and financials, all within one system. On top of that, ERPs set out to streamline an organization’s service operations and procedures. That’s a tall order when you’re relying on pen and paper alone!
Since then, a variety of advanced and specialized software has come out, helping contractors more effectively run their businesses. With all the factors and dependencies that go into a successful service operation and project completion, these platforms are key to mapping those out and managing them.
Today, operational software is a must-have to compete with the best contractors, but the question is how to find the right one for your needs.
This article takes an expert look at the challenge, breaking it down, simplifying it, and providing actionable solutions. Before you buy any software package, make sure you read this first.
Before Anything: Evaluate Your Business Needs
You may have heard this before, but it’s worth another mention: there is nothing like all-in-one software. Even in specific industries like construction or field service, software is more likely to apply to just one, or maybe some, parts of your business — but rarely all of them.
For that reason, you must know what your needs are, so that you can find what product is tailored to meet them. For example, consider the complexity of your business processes and everything that goes into each one.
A multi-functional platform that can handle every operation, from first dispatch to paid invoice, will drive efficiency across every part of the business and thus offer a much higher ROI.
If you’re a contractor with more than five technicians, this is likely the kind of solution to take your business to the next level. However, if you’re only doing house calls once a week as a side hustle, then perhaps that’s too much of an investment. It’s about knowing what you need.
Once you know what that is, you have your starting point and you’re on your way to finding the right system for you.
1. Use This Software Scoresheet For Comparison
Too often, well-meaning contractors go into the software-buying process with a strong sense of what they’re looking for. But they’re usually making these kinds of decisions from a place of pain rather than objective need and clear criteria.
Enter: A comprehensive checklist of features that you can/should expect from your software provider. With it, you can compare different platforms (of your choice) against a standard list of criteria and score them according to how well they meet your needs. When you’ve done your due diligence in evaluating each option, whichever scores the highest is likely going to be the best fit for your business. It’s a way to quantitatively compare something you might have only qualitatively assessed.
We drew up a software scoresheet based on the most important functions of commercial contractor scheduling and/or project management software for you to use. On the list are five broad categories where each function falls, and each function can be scored depending on how well you think a particular software platform performs.
- Long-term security – You want a vendor with strong capital investment and thus the capability to maintain, improve, and reinvest in the platform for a long time to come.
- Technology roadmap – Investigate the vendor’s technology roadmap and what developments or changes are planned for the future. If planned features and functionality upgrades align with your business needs, then you will have the support you need to grow and scale.
- Cloud-based platform – On-premise platforms are a thing of the past. Cloud-based software is easily portable, mobile, and virtually maintenance-free — not to mention the value of having your data accessible when and where you need it (looking at you, Shelter in Place 2020).
- Costs – Evaluate the software’s pricing plans and any additional fees. The best plans are simple and predictable with an all-inclusive price for easy budgeting and planning. The last thing you want are surprise fees popping up for every little thing, long after the initial purchase.
- Mobile-friendly – When you have field operations, mobility is important. A software platform with a mobile app, an offline mode, and the ability to upload documentation from the field is the gold standard in service technology.
There are many reasons why employees resist technology, but high complexity and poor workflow are among the most important. In the HVAC/plumbing/electrical industries, where old-school values are still held dear, that can be an even bigger challenge.
- Look for easy navigation and usability. Will your traditional, seasoned field workers use it just as efficiently as young, new hires?
- Automated functions and clear, gated paths for the workflows make it easy to navigate. This is especially important in fields like commercial plumbing to help standardize processes among your teams.
- A universal search bar is a must-have. Rather than wandering all over the platform to find what you’re looking for, universal search makes it feel like Google instead. Everyone knows how to use Google. And it sure beats remembering which folder on which property created by which tech holds the data you need.
- Optical character recognition (OCR) is the simple, but valuable feature you already recognize as what allows you to deposit a check on your phone. In this case, built-in OCR allows techs to snap a picture of an asset plate and automatically extract the critical data they’d otherwise be writing down (in chicken scratch, no doubt).
- Speech-to-text transcription capabilities are a big plus for hands-free operation.
While most software tools are built for general use, a lot of customization is often needed for the platform to suit unique business needs. The more customization options you have, the better you can tailor the software to meet your needs.
- Custom forms for data input and quality assurance.
- Reporting that visually captures the key metrics crucial to your business.
- Integrations with other business software you already have or plan on acquiring, such as Quickbooks for accounting.
- Multi-tenant functionality that lets you have multiple locations/properties under a single customer account, perfect for contractors that work with franchises, universities, hospitals, etc.
Comprehensive customer support is crucial. From initial onboarding to ongoing support , you should expect your provider to be there when you need them and know exactly what to expect.
- Implementation costs inclusive of data migration, customization, training, and additional training for new employees.
- Ongoing support offered priced into the subscription price.
Those basics will take you far if you’re going from pen and paper to your first operational technology. But if you’re going to invest time and money in a platform, you don’t want to have to go through the same investment a couple years later because your basic platform can’t keep up.
With more advanced functionality, comes less. need for multiple software tools that add unnecessary costs and complexity (not to mention inefficiency) . For example, customer management features can be instrumental in helping you transform your customer service.
Depending on your specific business, you might also like:
- Opportunity/sales management with mobile access, custom templates, and proposal management.
- Smart scheduling and dispatch for field teams.
- Invoicing and the ability to sync seamlessly with your integrated accounting system
- KPI and budget tracking as part of project management tools.
- Dynamic scheduling based on labor needs, capacity, project phase, etc.
- A customer portal for residential customers to keep track of their invoices, quotes, and work history.
2. Use the Scorecard to Guide Your Software Evaluation
As you evaluate the software solutions available, use the scoresheet to ask the right questions and get answers on any other issues you might have (there’s even a place for notes on the last page).
- Security: What kind of information is visible, and to whom? Can I issue and withdraw access permission? For how long do you hold onto the data in my account? What do you do with my data?
- Efficiency: How will your platform help me and my team do our jobs better? How does this benefit my whole business as opposed to one or two departments
- Reputation: Can you give me some examples of similar clients who have used it before and what their experience has been.
- Usability: What kind of technical knowledge does my team need to operate this tool?
- Time Commitment: How long will it take to onboard and train my team? If I were to sign on the dotted line today, how long would it take to get up and running, and what does that process look like?
Such probing questions will help you go below the surface and understand on a much deeper level what each platform can do for you and how your options stack up.
3. Request a Live Demonstration of Various Software Products
Have your team try out the software and give their honest feedback about its usability and functionality. A live demo gives you time to assess how effectively the software platform meets your business needs.
This is also the time to discover and talk about any challenges your team may face. Since you have no obligation to buy the product if it doesn’t satisfy your needs, the demo is a valuable opportunity to “try before you buy.”
Based on the information you’ve collected in the scoresheet thus far, use this opportunity to ask any questions that will help you determine if the software is a good fit. Be honest here! There’s no harm in being transparent when it comes to what you don’t understand.
4. Compare Scores to Pick the Most Suitable Commercial Contractor Software
When your extensive product evaluation and testing phase is over, it should be very easy to pick the option that suits you best. Your software scoresheet will tell you right away which option is superior.
The hands-on experience will also let you have a feel of what works best for your team in terms of usability, pricing, support, and scaling needs. This method of software evaluation is especially useful in picking the excellent products from the “good” ones because you get to test every important feature.
At BuildOps, we are not afraid of being evaluated against such a demanding scoresheet because we developed and built our commercial contractor service and scheduling software specifically for contractors in legacy industries.
Ours is a niche product that has already won the hearts of many veteran contracting businesses, and we are confident that we can serve you better than any other solution out there.
Schedule your live demo with the BuildOps team today and experience the freedom of capable, all-in-one operations software built purposely for the modern commercial contractor.