Using technology makes your life easier wherever you use it. The question is — are you using technology to the fullest in your snow management company?
Think about it. You’re using technology right now. Instead of using a shovel, you use a plow or a pusher. Instead of spreading salt by hand, you use a push spreader or a spreader on a truck.
Now what about technology back in the office? Are you using a snow management software solution? If not, you should be.
Snow management software will help your office work more efficiently. It saves time. It saves paper. It eliminates errors because you no longer have to read handwritten notes. Even better, the right snow management software will help almost all areas of your company work more efficiently.
Built from the back office out
When building a house, you need to start with the foundation. Starting with the roof, and then trying to build the supporting structure will lead to problems, or even a collapse.
The same thing is essential when building snow management software. It should be built with an understanding as to what is involved in snow management.
The problem with software is that you can start building with the roof, or more appropriately, the screen. The user sees the screen, not what’s behind the screen. The screen looks nice. But does the software have the framework to support what you need it to do?
You should be able to store all of your customers’ information (photos, documents, PDFs, service agreements, notes, etc.) within the software’s digital file for each customer. The objective is to replace the file cabinet sitting in the office. That’s what your snow management software needs to do.
The database is an important part of that foundation. It stores all the tables of data for running the software and for generating reports. The database interacts with your hardware to pass data back and forth. It is a digital file cabinet on steroids.
Manage snow events
Think about all the things you do in the office: You prepare for the season, prepare for a snow event, manage all aspects of live snow events, invoicing and billing after a snow event and preparing for the next snow event. Snow management software should be able to do all of those things.
Your office needs to be able to react to, and manage, the unscheduled nature of snowstorms and ice storms — while they are happening. Snow management software must be able to do the same thing. That means the software must be built with a focus on the unpredictability of the winter season. The software can’t require or expect you to do the same thing every day, or week or month. Weather doesn’t work that way.
You should avoid time-clock software or schedule-based software. They are too focused on by-the-clock, timely events, that occur the same time every day, or week or month. Even with a snow management add-on, they don’t play in snow as well as software that was built for the volatility of snow management.
As a side note — if you provide both snow services and green-season services, you still should look for a snow management software system that was built originally for snow management, and can also manage scheduled events for the green season.
Now let’s add some things that would make it easier to run the office.
Look for software that has an option to create new snow events automatically. That would save you from having to do that. Generally, you provide the same services to your customers for every snow event. Rather than you having to remember to start and stop events, an automated event process can be set to start and stop at the same time of day every day, or every week, or every month. This is extremely helpful in busy snow seasons.
Now let’s add mobile phones and tablets. With a mobile app your crews can:
- have realtime access to event data and crews,
- view their properties and a description of the services to be performed,
- enter start and stop times for services,
- enter materials used,
- enter weather conditions,
- view documentation about the property (property map, special notes, etc.),
- add their own notes about the property,
- upload photos of the property and site conditions,
- clock in at the beginning of the day and clock out at the end of the day.
The mobile app should not be a stand-alone item. To provide you with the most benefits, it should be paired with a web portal and with a database.
The web portal should interact with a database and a mobile app. Data should be uploaded periodically, or on demand, from the database to the web portal. The web portal should receive data — realtime from a mobile app; and periodically, or on demand, from the database.
The web portal should display the status of customer properties, services and your crews. There should also be a map of customer properties, GPS tracking showing where your crews are and access to photos taken by the mobile app users.
The web portal should allow for customer access so that they can see the status of their services.
Materials and equipment
Another thing you do in your office is manage materials, equipment, invoicing and billing. Snow management software should be able to:
- calculate the amount of material needed to service a site, along with the cost to you and the price to your customer for the material used;
- designate equipment needed to perform services, and calculate the cost to you and the price to your customers for that equipment;
- calculate the cost for employees and vendor crews to perform services.
Invoicing and billing
Invoicing and billing is critical for your company. Without money coming in, you won’t survive. It also takes time to do this correctly. You want your software to validate that calculations are done correctly for services performed, materials used and for crews. If errors exist, the software should show you where those errors are. Next you need to generate billing and invoices for sending to your accounting system, or for printing or exporting. The sooner you get invoices to your customers, the sooner you get paid.
Communication is — with your crews and with your customers. Your software should allow you to send notifications to your crews about anything — changes in their routes, additional information about a site or service, etc. The software should also be able to automatically send alerts to your customers’ cellphone or email address telling them when a service has started and/or completed. In addition, the portal should provide access for your customers, allowing them to see that the work has been started and completed for all of their properties.
Another useful feature would be the ability to create and send reminders. You can set reminders for routine maintenance of equipment, for doing a specific task for a property location for a customer, for following up on a complaint, for doing a sales call for additional services for a customer, and so on. You should be able to automatically send the reminder to one or more people, to a cellphone or email address, and automatically be prompted when you open the software.
You also need the ability to edit information realtime in a live snow event, or for past snow events. This would include editing data at the service level — clock a crew in or out; start or stop a service; edit materials used; edit crew that performed the work; add a service note.
Reports and record keeping are also essential. The software should provide reports for all areas — prior to live events, during live events, after live events, for billing and invoicing. An important feature of reporting is that you should be able to regenerate a report at any time. That means if you print a report today for a specific date range, then you will get the same results when you print the report tomorrow, next week, next month, next year.
You should be able to print and export reports or report data. You want to be able to show results in a spreadsheet, text file or some other tool. Being able to directly export into one or more tools provides you more reporting flexibility. Exporting the data from a report allows you to import that data into other software.
You want to know that the software developers are keeping the software up to date with the latest technology and latest ideas. This means you should see two to four minor software updates each year, and a major software update every one to two years. What you want to avoid are companies that are sending daily, weekly or monthly updates. This could mean they are having to fix a lot of bugs, add missing features or fix poorly laid out screens.
Frequent updates like this can also cause frequent software crashes. Sometimes the crashes occur with every update. This happens because they fix one thing, but end up breaking another. Or they add a new feature that breaks an existing feature. Or they didn’t have enough time to do adequate testing, if they did any testing at all.
Remember earlier when we said you want the software built from the back office out? Frequent software updates usually means the software was built based on what you see on the screen. It looks pretty, but it doesn’t have the architecture, framework and processes to manage your entire snow business. This kind of software development is relying on you, the user, to help them test, build and fix their software.
Sales and prospecting
Another great feature to have in snow management software is an area to track your sales and prospecting without having to use another software tool. The prospecting area should be very similar in layout and content to the customer area. You should be able to enter all the information about potential customers: name, address, contact info, property photos and maps, and everything about their current snow contract. You should be able to set reminders for following up with those prospects. When the prospects become a client, you should be able to easily move all of their snow contract information to the customer area, without having to retype the information.
Snow service agreements
You should be able to enter all snow service agreement information that is contained in your snow contracts. If needed, you should also have the ability to print the service agreement. The system should also easily allow you to renew service agreements.
Importing and exporting data
Snow management software should have the ability to import data, as long as the user has followed the data specifications for creating the import document. In some cases, the software can be directly interfaced with other software, which simplifies the import (and export) process between the two software systems.
As mentioned earlier, data export capabilities should be available as part of the reporting process. It is also useful to be able to export data directly from screens within the snow management software. It also might be possible to create an export process to interface with other software.
If you use a call center for your crews, the software needs to have a call center area to easily manage all areas of a live snow event. This includes clicking crews in and out; starting and stopping services; reassigning services; communicating with crews and customers; reviewing and entering information about properties, services, crews, documents, notes, site conditions, etc.
The right technology can make your life easier. The right plow; the right truck; the right snow management software. The more work that technology can do for you, the quicker and more efficiently you can grow your business.
The right snow management software system will manage the mundane tasks quickly and correctly. It will help you become the company you want to become.
It’s the company behind the software that really makes the difference. You want a software company that has been developing snow management software for many years. You want a company that understands the snow business, and the snow management business. The software company you choose should be focused on making your life in snow management easy.
You want more than just a snow management software system. You want a snow management partner.
What is the Right Snow Management Software Solution?
Here’s what to look for. The software solution should:
- Be built from the back office out.
- Have a database for storing data and accessing data.
- Manage all aspects of snow events.
- Be built with a focus on unscheduled events like snow storms and ice storms.
- Provide realtime data to and from mobile devices.
- Provide realtime communications with crews, customers and management.
- Provide realtime information on crew locations and status of services.
- Have reporting.
- Provide software improvements.
- Handle pricing, invoicing and vendor billing.
- Have a prospecting and sales tracking area.
- Provide time tracking for crews and services.
- Provide property and service document upload to mobile devices.
- Allow for importing and exporting data.