Small Business CIO, Technology

Reinventing a Small Business with Simple Technology

reinventLast year I helped a friend of mine reinvent his business. The funny thing about this “reinvention” is that we didn’t really do much more than change his approach to using technology.

My friend owns a plumbing company that has been in business since the 1940s and has been passed down to him from his father and grandfather. Needless to say, the company has been successful enough to stay in business for over 65 years.

By all measures, this “little” plumbing company, which is what my friend calls his business, is doing quite well. He has ten employees. and they have multiple generations of customers who continue to come to them for all of their plumbing needs. While profitable, the business had only seen single-digit growth in revenue over the past few years, and my friend was looking for ways to jump-start growth.

The only real complaint that anyone could ever make against my friend’s business was that it was stuck in “old” ways of doing business when it came to technology. Employees carried around their “order books” which contained their schedules, work logs, invoices, and payments for the day’s activities. These “order books” had been in use in one form or another since the founding of the company. There was no question that the approach worked, but by using pen and paper, the business was stuck in an outdated and inefficient approach to operations.

My buddy called me up one day and asked for help. He wanted to replace the order book with technology. I’m a fan of technology so I happily helped him kick off a project to replace his business’ pen and paper approach with a technology solution.

The solution was a fairly straightforward one. We built a custom app that connected the business’ Quickbooks accounting software with a custom scheduling application that allowed everyone in the company to have a complete view of each employee’s schedule and activity for each day. Using iPads and/or iPhones each technician could then access their order book via a custom-developed app.

The driving force behind the success of this approach was the ability of employees to access and use the order book application in real time, regardless of their location. For their hardware, wireless and data access needs, we turned to Verizon Wireless to provide the connection and the iPads/iPhones. My friend and I have both been long-time clients of Verizon and felt it was in the best position to help his business the most.

With this new order-book application, the technicians can see at a glance what their days look like, even as their days change due to customer cancellations or new appointments being set. The technicians no longer need to call into the office after each appointment, they can now just refresh their order books to see what the rest of their day looks like. Additionally, all technicians have the ability to enter payments into their iPads or iPhones while with clients rather than taking checks or asking clients to call into the office with credit card information.

The new order-book system has led to much more efficient service from each technician, more timely payments from clients, and much faster and effective service. The business has seen a rise in revenue from service calls that can be attributed to the more efficient use of technicians’ time while in the field.

My friend no longer has to worry about whether his technicians will get all their paperwork turned in at the end of their shifts. He no longer has to worry about making sure invoices and service calls are logged into the accounting system at the end of the day. He no longer has to worry that he’s missing out on clients because the business can’t respond to their needs fast enough.

Now my friend only has to worry about where he’s going to find another technician or two. His business has grown about 30% over the last year, and it looks like he’s going to need to expand fairly soon. It is amazing what some simple technology can do to help reinvent a business.

This is brought to you by Verizon – helping simplify the realities so you can keep dreaming big.

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About Eric D. Brown, D.Sc.

Eric D. Brown, D.Sc. is a data scientist, technology consultant and entrepreneur with an interest in using data and technology to solve problems. When not building cool things, Eric can be found outside with his camera(s) taking photographs of landscapes, nature and wildlife.
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Jonathan Giles
9 years ago

Working with small businesses the opportunity to upgrade technology to meet business needs is always there but the kicker is the ROI. When I see a custom application as the solution to a SMB need the concern is not only the initial investment but the “iceberg” of cost associated with ongoing maintenance and improvement. A major headache I have faced is removing a custom web application which was not part of a process improvement plan over the years and the technology moved on leaving the process difficult to integrate with new technology and susceptible to attacks. If SAS solution can… Read more »