Case Study: Data Capture For Air Conditioning Industry
Adcock Refrigeration and Air Conditioning have been a key client of Bantham Technologies for over eight years. Prior to moving to the Bantham paperless data capture solution for tablet, they replaced their paper based operation with a trial PDA system. Unfortunately they got their fingers burned. Happily, the tablet solution from Bantham Technologies proved to be a much cooler alternative.
Now in its fifth decade of trading and still in family ownership, the Adcock Group is the fastest growing independent refrigeration and air conditioning service company in the UK. Working out of a national network of twelve service centres, 100 engineers carry out servicing, maintenance and installation work for a wide mix of customers, many of whom have stayed loyal to the company since it started in 1964. They range from small businesses with a single air conditioning unit to major councils, facilities management companies, data centres, and some of the biggest NHS, pharmaceutical and construction names in British industry.
Adcock’s service and maintenance engineers working in the field are technical specialists in everything from air conditioning systems to refrigerant disposal and heat pumps. Trained at the company’s own academy near to their King’s Lynn branch, they visit customers’ sites to carry out either reactive service or planned preventative maintenance. Health and safety are prime considerations. There’s a sign on every Adcock van that says, “If it’s not safe, stop work.” Risk assessments are made before the start of every job.
Prior to the deployment of the PDA trial the task of recording work carried out and then reporting it back to base was done for many years by engineers writing out paper forms, and then faxing them to their local service centre from home or dropping them off – sometimes days later. This led to inevitable delays in invoicing. Worse, office staff weren’t kept up-do-date or able to deal quickly with follow-up actions or client queries. The paperwork was often in a poor condition after being in a van for a few days and was sometimes lost altogether.
In an attempt to resolve some of these issues, Adcock equipped their service and maintenance engineers with PDAs. The thinking was to integrate the data capture process with the company’s main software platform. Logical enough – but the experience of the engineers on the ground proved far from successful. As well as being let down by hardware failures, many felt that they were being checked up on. They could only see one small screen at a time, rather than the whole electronic form. Customers were asked to use a stylus to sign the PDA screen without always being able to see what they were signing. Many engineers felt so dissatisfied that they reverted to the old paper method. Only two out of twelve service centres stayed with the PDA system.
“We were at the end of our tether,” said Adcock’s Deputy Managing Director Paul Brant. “It was an inconsistent situation that didn’t work well for anyone and couldn’t be allowed to go on. We were even considering going back completely to the previous paper system. The turning point came when we took on some engineers from another company with a good experience of utilising tablet-based data capture system – and we started to look at them seriously. After getting similar good reports from a security company in Chelmsford, we knew we were onto something.”
Completely amazed – After doing a cost-benefit analysis Adcock placed their first order in February 2013 for seven digital subscriptions – to be used during a short pilot by seven engineers from the same office in Peterborough.
“They all loved it,” said Paul Brant. “There were no issues, and no problems. It was a blessed relief. We couldn’t wait to roll the system out to all our 84 service and maintenance engineers.”
The digital forms created by Bantham Technologies consist of a combined risk assessment and service sheet for reactive service, the same combination for planned preventative maintenance, a waste transfer sheet for refrigerant disposal, a time sheet, and a hot works advisory sheet that’s used when engineers are braising copper pipe. Engineers were consulted on the form design and given time to suggest refinements.
The Bantham system was then rolled out nationally. After completing a site visit, engineers fully complete the relevant digital forms on a tablet. After a quick on-screen validation of the job number, it’s sent onto our servers – together with any photos such as damaged equipment or parts that might be difficult to access and identify. Within less than a minute a copy of the completed digital form is emailed back in pdf format and is in the hands of the service centre management and administrators.
The routing of the completed digital form is determined by the needs of the individual job. While it always goes to the service admin team, it’s additionally sent to the service manager if a customer follow-up or a quote for further work is needed. Similarly, it’s sent to the store man if new parts are required. If the engineer from one service centre happens to be working for another centre on a particular job, the form is sent to both. In all cases the recipients can see the completed forms immediately on their smartphones so they can take action straightaway. Instead of waiting for days and then searching through paper forms to look for issues, managers can be proactive in checking the cost and availability of parts, putting in quotes, and being fully informed when customers call.
Adcock are saving time and money with the paperless data capture solution for tablet from Bantham. Admin is reduced, both in the office and for engineers on site. Running cost is only 65% of that previously incurred with PDAs. Invoicing is done daily – with big benefits for cash flow – rather than weekly or even monthly. Customers receive a smart tablet-based service sheet and can receive a copy quickly by e-mail. The workflow has even been designed to drop each form into specific SharePoint document libraries.
But it’s probably the positive reaction of engineers that proved to be the biggest gain.
Everyone knows that chasing engineers for paperwork can be a nightmare, but the Bantham system removed the problem completely. It’s streamlined and transformed everything. All they have to do is fill out their tablet, press send and it’s gone. They don’t have to think twice. We made the switch from PDA’s if we tried to take it away everyone would have been up in arms. To be honest I was completely amazed, and eight years later Bantham is an integral part of our operation. I had never bought any IT that actually did what it says it would do.