Should You Provide Employees in the Field a Mobile Device?


The question is, is it cost effective to give all of my crews and technicians a mobile device in the field? There are a lot of software solutions that now use mobile devices. I have two perspectives on this…one from owning Service Autopilot and then also, because of CitiTurf.

Between the two experiences that I’ve had, I think it’s an overwhelming yes to your question. Here’s why. In the early days of Cititurf, we were using a product called QXpress before Service Autopilot ever existed. In QXpress, we had to print out a route sheet and we then had to have our guys write times on route sheet. They had to write notes if a client asked for something and they had to write all of that out. They had to then bring that back to the office and somebody had to put all of that into the computer.

There were times that the paperwork would stack up for a couple of days before it would be entered. There were times that we couldn’t read the guy’s writing and there were all these different things that happened. Clients would call in with questions and we wouldn’t be able to answer because the data hadn’t been put into QXpress. And actually, back then, most people in the company couldn’t even get to QXpress. That’s one of the problems that we were experiencing.

The other one was the amount of time that it took to put in all of the necessary data. It was tedious work putting in start/end times, job skips, job notes, drive time, and product costs.

For many, many years, we never knew our job costing. We would periodically try to figure it out on a small set of data but we really didn’t know how we were doing. Then, we were paying quite a bit of money in payroll to put all of that data into the system. And, if the data had inaccuracies in it, we wouldn’t even look at it. What would happen sometimes is we would have data that was 90% accurate or 90% complete. But, that 10% just made us loose complete confidence and as a result, we would stop looking at certain reports.

I think job costing is one of the most important things in the business. For those reasons and many others, I feel that mobiles are really important and I think it’s worth the cost because I think it helps you react. By having accurate data, you can make far better business decisions.

Yes, you are spending more money on the mobile devices, but there are so many advantages coming to mobiles. For example, in Service Autopilot, and there are other systems that can do this, you can now take pictures in the field, track job times, and in August 2014 you can do signature capture.

You start to think about some of the things that are now coming to technology that are over and above just capturing start and end times. We also capture drive time, parts runs, time for breaks, and all the miscellaneous non-productive, non-billable times as well. Now, that has great value for the guys in the field to have to write all that down and be 100% accurate. Then you have somebody in the office put all of that in. That would be quite expensive and so, I think the cost to some degree is offset by the cost of the mobile device.

More important than that, even if the cost is not fully offset, it’s critical when growing the company and trying to maximize you profit margins that you understand the numbers of your business. You need to know who your good  and bad clients are and know what is making money and what isn’t. That’s my biggest argument for why I think it’s worth investing in mobiles.

The market is so ridiculously competitive that you have to take every competitive advance you can to optimize your processes and squeak out as much margin as you can to be as efficient as you can. I don’t see the cost of the mobile as a pure expense. I see it as being offset by all the advantages that come with it.

For me, I’m not as excited about a mobile where I can let my guys see the schedule on their phones. I couldn’t care less about that. I’m not one of those people that worries about the cost of paper.

I’m more worried about the economic benefits to the business. I wouldn’t buy mobiles, from my perspective, just to eliminate paper schedules even though there are a lot of companies that want to be completely paperless. It’s all the other things that I think are important. For example, taking pictures, signature capture, invoicing from the field, charging your credit card from the field. If those things are important to your business, you will find that mobiles are worth it for your business.

Another option that is happening is that companies will pay the employee a small portion of their phone bill so that the employee can use their personal phone for work purposes. They may pay $15 or $20 a month. I think that is a fantastic plan.

Also, this is a side note, think about the implications of having a guy shoot video from the field and send it to you. Or, they can shoot a video from the field, upload it to Youtube, and you look at it on Youtube to answer question without going out there. How much money does that save?

Then, what you do is, have several mobile devices in your office that are backups in case an employee doesn’t pay their bill or loses their phone. This way you can keep your employees fully functional. I would highly recommend looking at mobiles.

If you think about where technology is going, and I have a little different perspective because I am in this industry, what we’re going to be doing with Service Autopilot and what our competitors might be doing with their software systems in five years, is really pretty amazing. I mean, mobile is it. It’s where it’s at. You just think about the amount of work that you could shift out of your office in the coming years to your guys in the field. Your guys in the field aren’t hardly having do anything, but tap a few buttons and take a few pictures…the system’s doing a lot of automation for them.

If you want to be competitive and match offerings and customer service that your competitors have, you’ll have to be using mobile devices that can facilitate all of that.

I would research your different mobile plans and you definitely want to be in a group data plan. For example, if you are providing your mobile devices, for example I use AT&T, and we have all iPhones and Apple devices in our company. I believe we pay $30 per month for cellular service for a mobile and then the data plan is all shared. We buy big blocks of minutes and they’re shared across, I believe, 15 devices. We have several groups. Within those, there’s a block of minutes that about 15 devices can share and we have several of these blocks.

It’s not a scenario where you’re looking at paying $100 a month for a guy to have a mobile device. It’s a scenario where you’re paying $30 for them to have cellular service and the data is in a shared pool of minutes. The other thing that Service Autopilot is doing now and other systems are beginning to do this as well, there’s more and more scenarios out there where they could sync in the morning, they could work all day, and then at the end of the day, they could sync back up and so they have no cellular service.

I feel though, if you’re going to provide the device, you might as well go ahead and give them cellular. This way they can call and text you. You can see real time where they are, they can capture pictures that come back to the office in real time, you can update their schedules, and stay in contact with your team. There’s a lot of reasons why I think it’s worth spending, in my example, the extra $30 for cellular minutes.

I attribute it to marketing and customer service. The better you do as a company, the better your service. The faster you react, the better. Think about this too, if you can’t really get a hold of one of your guys in the field, he has to come back to the shop and then you have to send him all the way back out to the a job. How much money did that just cost you in payroll and drive time and fuel?

If you just think about all the little mistakes that you have made in your business, that if you can eliminate them and fix them and optimize them, and you can do it because you give somebody a $30 a month cellular connection, it’s a no-brainer to me. It’s an absolute no-brainer. For all those reasons, that’s why I highly recommend using mobile devices.

That’s a little information about how they work and the cost structure behind them. If you have any questions, please post your comments below and I’ll elaborate on this further.  Thanks.

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