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Software in Service Based Industries

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In the service-based industries, the people in the field are always having to pass information to accounting so they can bill the client correctly. In some businesses this happens with timesheets or other paper forms that are handed in at the end of each day or week. Others may have tried out a mobile reporting tool like AirTable which organizes the data into spreadsheets for the accounting staff. Both of these solutions work decently well, but each has it’s downsides. Timesheets blow a way in the wind or aren’t accurately filled out. Tools like AirTable are better, but users still find them clunky.

You’ll notice that most larger companies create their own applications to handle information flow in their organizations. They do this because they can see the efficiencies it creates in their workflow. Just think of any time you’ve had to enter or re-enter information into another program just to create your invoices or make a new order. The great thing for smaller businesses is that building these tools is becoming more inexpensive every day. Comprehensive frameworks from companies like Facebook, Microsoft and Google make things like “our company app” or “our company billing system” a possibility for even small to medium sized businesses. It used to require a large team of developers and designers over a year to create a customized solution which can now be done by a small team in a number of months. Updates have changed from 6 months to a couple days.

What solutions are there?

Mobile applications

Many companies build mobile applications for their teams because they’re so easy and accessible for people on the floor or in the field. This can come as phone or tablet apps that are directly connected to the company’s central system.

The reason to use a mobile application, is to collect or distribute data quickly and efficiently to the people who need it. Information from the company’s central system is automatically sent to the relevant employees. Updates to relevant information is communicated to employees in realtime. Information recorded by employees is linked to the existing information the the company has.

An example of this might be a house cleaning service. The house cleaning service has employees who go to people’s homes and do cleaning service. Customers are billed based on the hours spent cleaning and any extra services required. The cleaner uses the company app to know what he or she is scheduled to go. At the home, he or she tracks his or her time using the company app. Extra services are selected on a pre-defined list. Updates of her progress are sent in realtime to her manager and the client. Upon completion of the job, she checks out of the job and the information is automatically sent to accounting. Since she used the company app, the software linked her work and extras to the schedule item she was fulfilling. While that doesn’t save her much time, it saves the accounting department a tonne of time.

Web based applications

Web applications are key to office-based workflows and integration with mobile applications. Web applications provide a centralized database that allows many people to work with the same data at the same time. These applications are efficient to build and very flexible in what they can do. Each department has a different view of the same data that is tailored to their workflow. Since the information is centrally connected, it is only entered once. No copying / re-entering.

An example of this might be an accounting workflow. The accounting person has a dashboard which includes things like “inbox” and “outstanding accounts”. He or she receives inbox items for each job completed by the service worker, as they’ve entered it in the company’s mobile app. The accounting person selects the inbox item and is presented with the job details, the time the employee spent on the job and any extras the employee did. Since the billable hourly rate for the employee and the price schedule for extras has been pre-entered in the software, all that’s left to do is confirm that the information looks correct. The accounting person makes adjustments if necessary and selects approve. The invoice is automatically created and added to the account; an email with the invoice and payment options is automatically sent to the customer; and the accounting person’s dashboard refreshes to show the new information.

How to I start?

The best place to start, is to look at the descriptions above. Ask yourself if those look like things your company could benefit from. Many others have come before you and made great strides in their respective industries as a result. If you aren’t in management, talk to your managers and co-workers about how these ideas could help your business. If you are a manager, have a chat with someone who builds software. You don’t need to commit to anything, just pick their brain about how your business could use these solutions.

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