Years ago, you could tell how well a contractor’s business was doing by the amount of paper left in the cab of his truck. As a second desk, the dashboard was often full of product brochures, work orders, appointment reminders and receipts.
Smartphones and software have streamlined much of that paper out of the day-today life of contractors, but making the switch to software can be tough for some crews. Here are some top tips to make that move as smooth as possible.
1. Know your needs
In choosing software, know what your goals are before even scheduling a demo, says Kevin Kohler, director of sales for Supportworks in Papillion, Nebraska. Look at your processes around retaining and developing employees, improving job tracking, or providing new cloud-based tools for office efficiency.
“It could be a combination of things,” he says. “But knowing the reason behind why you’re making a move will help drive which software is the right choice for you.”
He says in some cases, that’s going to mean prioritizing what will make the biggest difference for the business and finding software that focuses on that point, then building out from there. The biggest opportunity for many contractors is often looking for efficiency with paperwork.
Also near the top of the list is software that helps with customer relationship management, says Ed Rockhill, chief operating officer at Arborgold Software in Bloomington, Indiana, which would include steps like appointment scheduling and job costing.
It’s also important to think about what features could be helpful for future potential customer offerings, Kohler says. Think about what capabilities you want to have in your company in the next few years, and determine what software features you might need in order to make that happen.
Looking to the future is important even for smaller companies, says Rockhill. Consider more affordable options just to start to collect some level of data, so that when it’s time to move to a more robust system, there’s viable information to work with.
Ross Day, vice president of Oasis Landscape and Irrigation, Atlanta, who uses SingleOps, says he knew that he needed a platform that was cloud-based, that could be easily given to one of his crew members on a tablet and incorporated into everyday usage with customers. A wide range of features would be helpful, but he wanted a platform specifically that was easy to use and that looked professional when in front of customers.
For Kohler, a good software demo gives a contractor the opportunity to use a dummy account or trial to download and play with to see it in action. He recommends letting the software company walk through how its functions are used and then taking a step back to make sure those features still align with your main goal, as well as some of the less-important ones.
For Day, a dummy account was helpful in understanding how the various functions worked, and how he could incorporate them into his processes. His team also had live demonstrations by SingleOps, which helped some of his crew members see it in action.
In many cases, the first demo will be with a smaller team beneath the main decision-maker, says Rockhill. If the leader isn’t involved in the demo process, it’s easy to have the communication between that team and the company owner break down through a lack of understanding.
A demo is a good chance to look for what systems you’ll have to adapt to make the best use of the soft ware, says Kohler. It’s also the time to bring up any concern you run into, even if it feels trivial.
“Have that conversation and understand a little more about how customizable it is,” he says. “Take it as an opportunity to learn a little bit about what better profits your company. Really leverage their experience.”
Rockhill is always glad to hear questions from customers during demos, because it shows a level of engagement and gives clues about what features would be most helpful for the company.
Beyond the demo itself, Day followed up with some other companies that were using SingleOps and looked at how they had incorporated it. That gave him some insight as to other ways he would be able to use it in his own company and how well those companies had been able to integrate it into their systems.
Make sure you know what kind of support you’ll receive from the company, says David Crary, founder and CEO of HindSite Software, St. Paul, Minnesota, since it’s not a question of if you’ll need it, but when. Check into what the support process looks like and anticipate how it would work when you need it most. Will support be quick to respond at 7 a.m. as your teams are heading out to the job? Ask about the response time for support tickets and the processes involved for solving issues in the field.
Day considers working with a smaller startup a benefit for his company as well, as he’s able to be in direct communication with the developers on a regular basis about what his team needs to see in the next rollout of new features.
2. Get on board
The most important determining factor for a company successfully transitioning to new software is whether its management is on board, says Crary.
“The leadership of the company has to be 100% on board and committed to the change,” he says.
The company leaders need to recognize that new technology can be a big change and that there will be some bumps along the way, Crary says. The new software could make a huge difference for the company, but it’s going to take some work to get to that place, and some employees will push back on the change. While it’s great to get feedback from the crew on what software works best for them during the selection process, once the software has been picked, it needs to be driven by the company leadership.
The messaging has to come from the top to build any sort of buy-in by the crew, says Rockhill. Not only do leaders need to be the ones driving the change, they also need to understand the vision of what the software will improve well enough to explain it to crew members who ask. Make sure that the team working together to choose the program and drive software integration includes people from multiple levels of leadership, Rockhill says. That way, there’s already some level of buy-in throughout the organization before the change is even introduced.
“Effective leaders are great communicators. They are not dictators,” Rockhill says. “They look for collaborators.”
The best way to bring the crew on board is by showing firsthand how the new software will make life easier, says Rockhill.
“As they begin to understand how this is going to benefit them positively and impact positively in their day-to-day, that’s where you encourage them to adopt a new process,” he says.
It’s the job of the main communicator to show how the new program will improve inefficiencies, not just in an abstract sense, but with specific, concrete examples such as paperwork entry or payroll management. Try to show, not just tell.
From the start, Day was establishing processes, including screenshots and checklists, that employees could reference as needed.
“We created the process for whoever is going to use the technology firsthand and show them, and then they have a reference to go back to all the time,” he says. “That’s really important to us internally.”
Even for steps as direct as clocking in and out, Day used screenshots to detail each part so that every team member could follow along regardless of aptitude with technology. His team created both digital and paper manuals for the processes, so they’re always available either on a smartphone or in the truck.
3 Share new skills
As smartphones and technology have been more integrated into our daily lives, training for new software should be less of a direct issue, says Crary. It still takes understanding and preparation to do properly.
Make sure to allocate plenty of time for training on new software, says Kohler. “With good software, it doesn’t take a ton of time to pick it up and understand how to use it. But on the flipside, being realistic, it’s a new tool and resource that you’re equipping your employees with.” If the software company doesn’t offer direct training, that’s a red flag. Take advantage of offered training sessions and try to schedule ride-alongs for your employees with representatives for coaching and feedback opportunities.
Try not to roll it out to the entire team all at once, and use a phased approach instead, Kohler says. Find a few people on each of the affected teams who are eager to learn and improve, and start with them for the first few weeks.
“Those people will become the spokespeople for the rest of your company,” Kohler says. “All the rest of your team is going to see their results, and you’ll get off on the right foot there.”
Day allocates some time weekly to check in with his team on the new software and covers any problem areas as they come up. He worked with each team’s managers to make sure they were comfortable with it before rolling it out to the entire company, taking care of mistakes along the way.
“It’s constant learning,” he says. “It’s not rocket science, but it’s also not worth getting upset over.”
That said, bringing on new software is something that should be reserved for the off-season, Day says. “It takes time, and I would suggest anybody should do this in the winter. Don’t do it in the middle of spring.”
For employees who aren’t as technologically savvy, be diligent about management and coaching, says Kohler. Be empathetic about their concerns with the new software, but also set realistic expectations and hold them accountable. Be clear about why the new software is important to the company, what it improves and how it will help in their daily work once they incorporate it. Have a specific timeline for rollout, training and active use in the company.
Patience is a major part of rolling out a new software platform within a company, says Day. Be aware of people who don’t have a high aptitude for technology, and also make sure that directions are available in the crew member’s preferred language.
“If you get frustrated with processes, you’re overwhelmed, we pull you back and walk through it over and over again,” says Day. “For anybody who’s inserting new technology into their company, patience has got to be the first priority.”
If a crew member is having an especially difficult time with the new platform, Day will partner them up in a buddy system with someone else on the crew who has a solid grasp of it to help throughout the day.
It’s important to know which processes have to be done a specific way and which can be more malleable, Crary says. Some crew members may not follow the exact outlined process, but they still get the correct end result. “I think that there’s got to be some give-and-take to make it really work correctly, and you need to be open about that.”
The author is editor-in-chief of Irrigation & Green Industry and can be reached at email@example.com.
Business owners should take the time regularly to consider what’s included in their current software and determine if it makes sense to find new ways to make old systems more efficient, says David Crary, founder and CEO of HindSite Software, St. Paul, Minnesota.
Many software platforms include system dashboards that managers can use to get an overhead view of how effectively it’s being used, with multiple reports available, says Ed Rockhill, chief operating officer at Arborgold Software in Bloomington, Indiana. Those reports provide plenty of data for end-users, and they can also show how some systems could be run more effectively. Be certain that a manager is watching those reports to find brand-new ways to use the platform.
Most customers use about 20% of the overall features of new software, Crary says, usually starting with a focus around a specific part of the business that needed streamlining. But once they have that working effectively, they often don’t follow up to ask what else the software can do.
There’s almost always another feature that can be integrated, especially working with SaaS, where a developer team is constantly working on the product and adding new functions on a daily basis, Crary says.
“But the ownership and leadership has to be open to trying to understand what’s new and wanting to figure out how it can be incorporated into their business,” he says.
Crary has regular “return on investment” audits with clients in which he looks at how the company is currently using the software’s functions and shows what else is already included in the software that might be useful.
“We’ll sit down with customers and say, ‘Here’s an idea that we don’t see you using, but we could do this for you,’” he says.