By Michael S. Weil

executive editor

Dedication. If there was one word to describe Process Cooling and Heating (PCH), of Santa Ana, CA, it would be dedication. In the beginning that dedication focused on answering the needs of the telecommunications industry — providing installation and emergency services to customers who couldn’t tolerate a minute of downtime.

That focus has led PCH down a road of growth and prosperity. Today it’s a $5 million Design/Build contracting firm dedicated to providing turnkey mechanical systems design, installation, and maintenance services to the commercial, industrial, and telecommunications industries.

With 38 employees and 20 vehicles on the road, this contracting firm make use of the Internet and mobile wireless field service technology to service its customers.

But in 1992, installation and emergency service to customers in the telecommunications industry was all the fledgling company did.

That was fine, but Bryan Gilbert, vice president and general manager, says the niche was too narrow and he worried that PCH could be hurt if the economy took a bad turn. So he began a program of converting the installation/ emergency service company into a full-fledged HVACR contracting firm. He started by converting emergency service customers into preventive maintenance customers.

And in the process, Gilbert says he discovered that PCH had a unique niche that few others in his area had — a fully capable on-demand service organization that could deliver service 24 hours per day, seven days per week. And they could deliver it economically to customers throughout all of Greater Los Angeles and San Diego. “We even maintain a small fleet of four-wheel-drive trucks to handle the telecommunications towers located in the mountains throughout California and San Luis Obispo county,” he adds.

This organization evolved from the emergency service days, when Gilbert and company catered to companies that lose thousands of dollars every minute their systems are down. Telecommunications companies require on-demand service, quick response, and detailed information about problems and solutions. And, they need it fast.

“At that time, the only way to provide this level of service to them was to buy our technicians fax machines and have them either fax back the information or physically carry it to them after each job,” Gilbert explains. “We even built a website and posted problem/solution reports online. We became dedicated to finding ways to speed up the reporting process and answer our customers’ needs.”

Quick access to information was not just an issue for PCH’s telecom customers; it was an overall business process issue that encompassed the company’s commercial and industrial clients as well.

“Our biggest problem was that we took too long to deliver recommended repair quotes to customers and to get bills out the door,” says Gilbert. “To remain competitive, we couldn’t afford to rely on the old way of doing business. We had to think outside the box and look for new technology.”

That was when he discovered wireless mobile field automation. “Instead of fax machines or laptops, we found that handheld computers for our service technicians worked best. These computers, connect back to our office using wireless technology, allowing us to get information to our clients and billing out the door faster and more accurately than we ever could before.”

Gilbert attributes the introduction and use of this wireless technology to a number of “positive events” that have helped PCH grow. The first event was an immediate payback on payroll. “Using this technology enabled us to be smarter with how and where we dispatched technicians. We made the most use of our talent and managed to realize a savings of up to five labor hours per technician per week as a direct result.”

He also points out that call-backs have dropped off significantly and that PCH has been successful in speeding up the turnaround on invoicing. “It used to take two to three weeks to get invoices out,” he explains. “Now it takes two to three hours.”

Add to this the fact that PCH can now instantly e-mail customers the service reports they need almost instantaneously.

Technology’s
Human Benefits

Field service technicians in the HVACR industry often have hard lives — at least from the perspective of working on rooftops and in crawl spaces in all types of weather. Gilbert says that it has always been hard to recruit and keep good technicians, but that’s changing. “Handheld computers and other technological trends are helping to attract young people into this industry. That and good pay, challenging work, and decent benefits.”

To further the cause of recruiting technicians, Gilbert dedicates time to his local trade association — Cal-ACCA — to positively promote the industry. He says he is very active on the membership, education, and marketing committees, and works with other members on topics such as hiring practices, insurance issues, and other business-related topics. He admits that he has the time to do these things because of how he uses technology.

“With wireless and Internet technology, everything is organized and access to information is quick. Our work orders come back into the office in a matter of minutes instead of weeks. We’re able to instantly get our mission-critical customers the information they demand.”

Because the hand-held computers and their associated software automatically prompts the technician to record additional service opportunities, the number of new service quotes generated per week has more than tripled — from 12 to 40. Turnaround time to deliver a quote has dropped from weeks to minutes.

Says Gilbert, “I’ve had to hire a full-time person to do nothing but quotes based on recommended repairs captured by technicians. Every day he runs the reports and every day he sends all the quotes out. What’s amazing is he receives a response for 80% of the repairs he quotes. I believe this is directly tied to the fact that he is getting the bids out within the same day of the initial service call.”

That is vital to a company that does no new construction work and no plan-and-spec jobs. PCH targets commercial and industrial buildings, as well as strip centers that use up to 200 tons of cooling.

“We’ve found that mobile field service technology is the single most attractive thing to our potential new customers,” adds Gilbert. “I’d say 90% of them don’t ask, ‘What can PCH do for me,’ rather, they say ‘Tell me more about this wireless field service thing you have.’ Once we sit down and talk to them about it, and assure them there is no extra charge, 95% of them tell us to go ahead and prepare a proposal. They see the value so we get the business.”

This has given PCH a leg up on its competition.

“The secret isn’t really a secret,” he concludes. “It’s hard work. It’s focus. It’s dedication. It’s finding ways to answer your customers’ questions and fulfill their needs. For us, one of the tools that best helps us do this is wireless mobile field service technology. The rest is just old-fashioned American ingenuity and hard work.”


The FieldCentrix Solution

Bryan Gilbert didn’t choose his mobile field service technology lightly. Through industry word of mouth, he became aware of this technology. In particular, he heard the name FieldCentrix, a solution that automates call taking and dispatch functions and — using mobile computers, wireless communications, and the Internet — quickly delivers information, electronically, to and from the field.

Before making a decision on what to buy, he researched most of the other solutions. He looked at everything from cell phones, text messaging, to accounting packages with wireless dispatch and more. In the end, the FieldCentrix model won the day.

Gilbert says he was impressed with the integration to Maxwell Systems, which links FieldCentrix Enterprise Web-based mobile and dispatch software and Maxwell’s suite of flexible accounting and job-cost tracking software.

With FX Central®, FieldCentrix hosts PCH’s dispatch software and delivers the application over the Internet. FieldCentrix provides system administration and maintains all of the software, operating systems, computing hardware, networking, and communications.

In the office, FX Service Center® provides users with technician status, work order lists, job site information, scheduling, and industry-specific service and preventive maintenance templates — all from a Web browser.

For more information on FieldCentrix and its products and services, visit the company’s website at www.fieldcentrix.com. If interested in learning more about how wireless mobile technology has helped Bryan Gilbert grow his company, call him at 714/427-6370 or visit his website at www.processco.com.