Chapter Corner

Boost Productivity with Smartphones

Posted in: Features, March 2014

smartphones.pngMobile devices are a key to profits for today’s businesses. We are all aware that minutes are the underlying success or failure to any business. Converting even a small amount of minutes per day per worker from lost time to productivity will increase the bottom line.

If a business has a 10-worker crew on a job and each crew member is capable of converting 15 minutes of their day from nonproductive time to productive time, the increase in profitability is immense.

The cost of this nonproduction to a business for a 10-worker crew for the lost 15 minutes (equaling a total of two and a half hours for the crew), at a cost of $32 per hour per worker, is an increase of $80 for that fifteen minutes. Being able to convert this time to production allows for an increase in profitability. The same 10-worker crew, being billed out at $60 per hour can then turn a loss of $80 for those fifteen minutes to a profit of $150. If this happens in a five-day work week, it is an increase of $750 per week; $39,000 per year for one 10-worker crew.

One of the most versatile tools that almost every business has available from the management staff to the newest apprentice is a smartphone. This device, when used properly, is able to save every person time. Smartphones can increase communication while reducing interruptions, improve accuracy of communication and documentation, and streamline the transfer of information without the loss of travel time.

Staying Out of the Office

Some of the ways businesses are able to utilize smartphones are by keeping people in the field and not in the office. Having lead people use their smartphone or tablets to get documents to the office instead of delivering paperwork by hand helps tremendously. There are several applications available for download where users can take pictures of receipts, sales orders, packing slips, material orders, timesheets, and vacation requests. These high-resolution images can then be converted to PDF files and sent either through an e-mail or to cloud storage. If something needs to be fabricated at the shop, a worker on a jobsite can draw it up, take a picture of the plans, and have them e-mailed into the office.

Every time the field staff stops by the office, not only are they losing production time for themselves and whomever is traveling with them, but also the office staff they need to speak to as well as anyone they stop to chat with along the way. The possible cost to a company by having someone come to the office versus using their smartphone to send documents is extensive. For example, having a lead worker with another person travel to the office is $120 (two man hours). Add in truck fuel of $10, 30 minutes at the office for $60, 15 minutes of administrative time for $12, and 15 minutes for conversing with others for $50 (possibly more) totals out at $252 for one document to be delivered to the office. In the same instance, if a smartphone is used instead, the time is five minutes for a total cost of $3.

Efficient Communication

Smartphones also eliminate miscommunication and interruptions by corresponding through text and/ or e-mail. Utilizing e-mail for work orders, contact information, instructions, driving directions, and even for service manuals is an important aspect all businesses should partake in.

As a person in management, there is nothing more distracting than being in the middle of a project when the phone rings. Then you have to stop what you are doing and listen to the problem while taking notes. When you finally hang up, it’s a struggle to remember what you were doing and where you were before you were interrupted. For field staff, it is even worse. They could be standing on a ladder or hanging a pipe, and the project manager could call. This would require them to stop what they are doing and get down from the ladder just to answer the phone. It also probably requires a crew of people working alongside them to stop as well. Then they would need to find a pencil and paper, take notes, and finally climb back onto the ladder to continue their work. Once he/she is done with the task at hand, they would have to go searching for the scrap of paper and hope they would be able to decipher the notes.

If the project manager typed a quick e-mail to the foreman defining what they wanted and when, time and money could be saved and accurate documentation could be referred to later on, if need be.

Field staff can also e-mail material requests to multiple vendors all while copying in their project managers. This eliminates the need to call and risk miscommunication. Foreman can easily state what material is needed, when it is needed, and where it needs to be delivered. They can also state who needs to approve the material request. This e-mail chain makes it easier for follow-ups or to see which vendors are not responding in a timely manner.

Electronic Timesheets

There are several great electronic timekeeping systems that are excellent for the construction industry in particular. One example uses smartphones to track employee and equipment time. It then digitally transfers the information into a business’ payroll. Not only does it streamline the payroll process by eliminating the need for data entry of paper timesheets, it also improves the accuracy of the timekeeping itself. It records exactly where and when an employee clocked in. This system also allows for the input of what task was performed as well, all with little to no assistance from the office staff. A great aspect of this application is that it allows for office personnel to see this information in real time.

This type of time tracking allows for the project manager and foreman to use the information to monitor and react to low field production quickly instead of waiting to get the information when it is processed. This same method can also shorten the billing cycle by making the actual hours used on a job available to accounting on a daily or even hourly basis.

Smartphone Service

In addition, the use of a smartphone or tablet can improve the function of a service department. Having a customer take a picture of their issue and forwarding them to your service manager will not only save the customer money but also your service department’s time. Once a service technician arrives onsite, they will be capable of using their own smartphone to take pictures of the existing conditions. They also could search service manuals and order parts, if needed. Once the job is completed, they could then proceed to document how the site looks, as well as create an invoice, process payments, and procure a signature from the customer without involving multiple people and data entries in the process.

It gets easier every day for the field staff to have complete and up-to-date project documents. My firm uses a service called Syncplicity, which allows the field staff access to selected project documents that are current and provides them and the project manager with a complete listing of any edits that have been made to a document. This increases the visibility of changes and makes sure everyone is using the same accurate information. Tracked documents include plans, specifications, submittals, requests for information, operations and maintenance manuals, subcontractor information, and punch lists. The elimination of rework can make a significant impact on the profitability of a project and, in turn, a company.

Using a smartphone to document progress on a project and take photos of completed or damaged work is something every business should utilize. This helps leadmen to receive direction without the need for a joint meeting.

Save Time With Smartphones

Phones are not just for talking any more. They are a time-saving tool! Even the newest employee can use a smartphone for a business’ benefit. There are hundreds of applications available that provide trade-specific knowledge. Electrical calculations; conduit bending; safety; rigging; heating, ventilation, and air conditioning; and framing are just a few examples of applications that are available for download. These can keep employees working efficiently without having to interrupt any other workers and therefore increasing profitability for a company.

Teaching employees both in the field and in the office to use smartphones or tablets helps to increase production, communicate more accurately, and document their work will ultimately improve the bottom line.

Jeremy Price is the Owner of Price Industrial Electric. He started his company in 1996 at the age of 23. During the past 17 years, the company has grown to over 100 employees and includes multiple divisions. The Price Industrial division focuses on work in manufacturing and water treatment facilities as well as directional boring and other utility installations. Price Electric focuses on commercial, residential, and agricultural opportunities. HITECH Communications focuses on various types of low-voltage installations including fiber optics and data cabling.