Special Feature
Part of a ZDNet Special Feature: Small business: going big on mobility

Mobility move streamlines SJP Air operation

Moving to mobility and incorporating cloud-based services helped air conditioning installation and repair business SJP Air streamline its end-to-end operation.

Steven Partridge runs SJP Air, a successful air conditioning installation and repair business that went from a solely run gig to a 12-man operation in the space of six years. But as is the case with any fast-growing small business, the internal processes and systems just weren't cutting it, leading to inefficiencies and a mounting pile of paperwork.

Partridge said that internal systems were completely manual, consisting of writing down active jobs in a diary and using his trusty white-out to manage his scheduling.

(Image: Supplied)

"I knew I had money tied up in paper on my desk and I had to fix this," said Partridge. "I did not even have job sheets. I wrote down the jobs that the guys needed to do, and then called them, constantly informing them of what to do, where, and then following them up.

"They wrote down their time sheets in a notebook. As you can imagine, writing this down, having 10 phone calls to confirm the details of the job, its status, and the employee time sheets as they were was a massive cost that was also full of inaccuracies," he said.

Partridge wanted to streamline operations end to end, from job creation through to invoicing, so he turned to cloud-based applications such as job management app Loc8, Xero for financials, and Dropbox for file sharing. All employees were also equipped with iPhones. The mobile-friendly apps "replaced whatever used to be done by carbon copy", he said.

Loc8 creates the jobs and automates field service reporting, along with Partridge's clients' periodic air-con preventative maintenance, by automatically sending an alert, creating the incident, and scheduling the job, while providing a compliance audit trail.

"I can see where and when my team has clocked in and out of a job to allocate them to the next," he said. "The real-time location updates of a technician allows me to route the closest resource to a reactive job, so I can reduce downtime for clients."

The move to mobility improved job profitability and accountability, and also aided collaboration amongst Partridge's workers, who spend most of their time on the road.

"Someone gets directed to a job, but when he gets there (or even before, when he's at the previous job), he'll look at the requirements of the job and need answers. By virtue that they are in the field all of the time, they must have mobile collaboration tools in order to ask and answer questions.

"Sometimes it's phone calls, but more often than not now, it's FaceTime video calls, photos, and notes added to the job in Loc8, or text chats. There is little need to drive inspiration to use it, because it's critical for the guys to get their job done," he said.

While the drive to use the technology was there, it took some time to build the adequate processes and training necessary to support the transition, which Partridge admitted required a few attempts and iterations to get right.

Seeking out the right application that suits the specific needs of a business can be a long and arduous process, something to which SJP Air wasn't immune. Running into costly and complex apps pitched at bigger businesses or smaller-scale apps with limited scalability is a common theme.

In Partridge's experience, finding a middle-ground solution that can start simple and grow with the business is one that requires initial investment in time and process, but its one that's well worth making.

He also found value in reaching out to the relevant vendor for support wherever possible.

"You're running your business through these things, and if something is not right or you need support, you need to feel like you can speak to someone and be supported. I have learned that no matter what you choose, software has issues," he said.

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