Technology pays, and keeps on paying - if you do it right. As such, if you haven't considered upgrading your technology - and I mean all of your technology - you could wind up with excess expense, more time on a job than necessary and, in the end, less profits.
A lot of you made the trek to CONEXPO-CON/AGG in March to explore the equipment offerings. I pounded the pavement for two days and, in addition to talking to equipment vendors, I spent some time in the "soft" area of the show where the latest in information technology was exhibited. In short, I was quite impressed with what is available to just about every contractor in the business. Both equipment and software vendors had new or planned technology additions or services on display.
Technology saves time and costs
JLG, for example, has a new "gizmo" it is adding to its bigger units that will inform the owner about machine status and display maintenance codes that need attention. Not only will it inform you about what needs fixing, it will provide the maintenance steps required, including what parts need work or replacement. There is even some thought about adding a flat rate time requirement to complete the repair ? you would know what it will cost you when equipment breaks down. Overall, using this technological advance helps you to spot problems before they get worse, and thus add to your bottom line.
On the software side, there are very cost-effective systems available that can prepare cost estimates and bids, with the ability to make adjustments on the fly. Most also have a billing component that will use the cost data that has been entered to generate invoices based on the billing parameters you set up. Getting cost estimates off of a set of plans is also readily available.
Using computers in the field is now standard operating procedure. They allow you to:
- order or call off rental equipment
- get the home office to send materials
- keep current time records
- look up maintenance records
- review plans and changes
- check the status of customer and/or subcontractor billing
- check delivery schedules
In conclusion, just about any data you need is available on the laptop you take with you into the field. Heck, you can even get pictures if you need them. When you think of the time and effort that goes into finding the same data using phones and pieces of paper vs. using electronic means, it's easy to see how your efficiency improves by using technology.
How about fuel costs? A minor investment in a GPS system to track people and units goes a long way toward managing these costs. I was absolutely amazed at what these systems can do to track vehicles; determine how long they are parked in any one location; record how long a vehicle is idling; assess each unit's fuel burn rate; and notify you about maintenance issues. At the same time, they can provide directions via direct and alternate routes. I know of one company that was able to cut fuel costs substantially using one of these systems.
Ensure continued payback
Technology can work. But it will only do so if it is properly implemented and maintained, and there is an active, ongoing training program in place to keep your staff (especially new employees) familiar with the system, how it works and what data is available. Fail to keep the system/technology in the forefront of your operation, and you run the risk of losing the value of that investment.
Keeping the system at a peak performance level takes money. Either internal or external contractors should be working on it according to a set program. Training should follow a similar pattern. It is not unusual for a company to make the initial investment, get the system up and running, then fail to get the full benefit due to a lack of follow up and training.
A good way to maximize your technology investment is to follow a series of implementation steps to keep improving the output. Start with the basic system, then take steps to see what other features are available that you are not using. This will require a consistent investment, but it will be well worth it.
Want to reduce costs and improve efficiency? Then make the decision to investigate the technology available for your type of business. If you do decide to move ahead, devise a game plan that will maximize the benefits. If you need help, ask the third grader in your house. He/she will provide more insight than you can believe. ?
Garry Bartecki is director of dealer/distributor services at BDO Seidman, LLP of Chicago, as well as a consultant to the AED. He has also worked as an independent CPA and consultant to equipment dealers. He can be reached at (312) 616-4677 or firstname.lastname@example.org.