Scheduling. Job management. Estimating. Payroll. Billing. Taxes. Sales. Once upon a time the operations of a successful restoration firm could be managed through deft use of a sharp pencil and an accurate ledger. Today, however, the demands placed on businesses almost mandate the integration of software platforms. The rapid-fire pace and complexity under which the restoration industry operates demands the type of organization and efficiency that software developed with the industry in mind can provide.

That said, who hasn’t at one time or another, in full blood-boiling fury, wanted to reach through the screen to throttle the offending program while screaming, “Why won’t you just do what I need you to!?”?

To that end, R&R gathered four experts in the field – Next Gear Solutions’ Garret Gray, Randy Beres of Assured Software, Canam Systems’ Scott Pritchard and Service Software’s Matt Doerfler – and asked them about software, what’s important and what’s not when it comes to features, and how much say the restoration professional has in the development process.

Restoration & Remediation: Realistic or not, what are the top three things restoration contractors expect their software to “do” for them?

Garret Gray: It depends on who you’re asking. An owner will give you a different answer than an employee. If the owner’s involved, they’re looking for increased accountability, a simplification of processes and the ability to bring information to light very quickly. From the employee’s perspective, they want something that will make their job easier, obviously, and that takes less work, but not necessarily increased accountability.

The issue isn’t so much what they’re asking for as it is in how they’re asking it. You have to really know the psychology of the contractor to know what they’re actually asking for. If you just throw in what they’re asking for, you’re going to have a mess. But if you know what they’re really asking for, you’re able to tweak it, to give them what they want, even though they weren’t able to phrase it that way.

Randy Beres: What we hear from contractors is that they want software to “make their lives easier.” Specifically, they want the software to be able to save time for their entire organization, make it easier to track information and job workflow and minimize and/or eliminate duplication of work and effort and finally be able to better report back to the customer and the insurance provider as to the ongoing progress of the job at the customers site and ultimately the end result/payments. Ultimately, they hope this will make them more efficient and profitable.

Scott Pritchard: Three things? One, make them more money. Two, turn average employees into superstars, and three, significantly increase sales.

Matt Doerfler: The ability to run itself. Although software automates nearly every process of their business, contractors would like it to function on its own. One must learn how to tell the software what to do in order for it to do the work for them. They want it customized exactly to their business. Computer software is expensive and contractors typically do not understand the significant amount of time it takes to develop intuitive software. A contractor can develop a customized system themselves or, for a fraction of the price, lease a pre-packaged proven application. And they want total business packages. An automobile manufacturer does not sell the car, supply the insurance, provide a gas station and fix any issue in the body shop. That is not their business. That concept is similar with computer software. If every application covered all areas of business, it would not be easily customizable and the software company would likely not make money as it would be too specific for any given contractor.

R&R: What’s the one question contractors should be asking, but somehow never seem to, when it comes to software?

MD: What do I need to make myself successful using software? A company must be willing to assign the right people to use the system. If you are not using the application, you will not see the benefits it can provide (which are enormous). By spending the money and taking the time to use the system correctly, your return on investment will come sooner and your business will prosper. Contractors must be willing to slightly modify their business practices to that of the software and the expected result of growth and increased revenue will come to fruition.

RB: Contractors should be asking what the payback period is, or alternatively what is the ROI (Return on Investment). We believe with a passion that this type of software delivers value to the contractors in terms of improving profits, improving productivity and improving accuracy, all of which should deliver improvements to the bottom line profit of the contractor.

GG: The biggest thing they’re not asking is, How much time should I be setting aside for this transition? I think, in our case, when you take a demo, it looks really easy. It is easy, but no matter what, there is a timeframe that it takes either to move from no software to a software, or from one software to another. We find that, a lot of times, contractors aren’t really thinking about that time period, they just assume it’s an automatic switch with minimal set-up time, just plug it in and go, as opposed to asking, OK, how much time do I have to set aside, how many man-hours, how much training will we need to actually roll out this software? Basically, what’s the commitment on my end?

SP: What is my return on investment? This question is rarely understood if asked at all. If the questions they ask from Section 1 have real answers, then the ROI can be easily explained.

R&R: In your experience, how do most contractors shop for software for their company? By features? By price? Something else? What brings them to your door?

RB: Most contractors do shop with features and price questions in mind initially because that is often times what the vendors are leading with when we are talking with potential clients – the “fit” of the software program to the organization’s business operations is as (or more) critical for discussion in our experience. The available software offers a wide range of functionality and the fit for the contractor’s specific business is a very critical component of the solution consideration. As well, clients are often looking to expand and are looking for the software to support those new areas of business and the overall growth and expansion efforts in the business.

Our industry relies heavily on referrals, and we find many customers come to us by referral, as well as by researching on the Internet.

GG: There’s two different players out there. There’s the under-$1 million player, where price is the biggest concern. These guys don’t have a lot of expendable income, and they’re not necessarily after all the features that maybe $2-3-million-and-up companies are looking for. Mostly they’re looking for a basic software to do some job management, some CRM and maybe a little marketing, but really not all the bells and whistles that the big guys are looking for.

When you’re talking about someone in the $2.5 million and up range, that’s when features become more important. Price is a concern for everybody, sure, but in the end features will win out.

SP: They are looking for features and functionality they don’t currently have. They are looking for a “quick fix.” For smaller contractors, less than $2.5 million revenue per year, price is always an issue. During this current recession leasing has become a good alternative for these contractors. They consult the industry and, in particular, they talk to other contractors, even competitors. We encourage prospects to talk to references and to industry consultants.

MD: Features. Typically, the software company ends up finding them through referrals, marketing and sales campaigns and trade shows. A particular feature of the system will catch the eye of a contractor and initiate the qualifying process. The restoration industry is driven by hard-working individuals who use their hands to get the job done. This is also an industry that lacks in the progression of IT as a business additive. Many companies finally realize that they will be left behind and not progress like their competitors who invest in practices that will make them grow.

R&R: What’s the biggest complaint you hear from contractors about software?

SP: For contractors not on our software, the biggest complaints are that it doesn’t do what they promised, it doesn’t meet the expectation they had when they purchased the software, and that it took longer to get up and running than anticipated.

MD: Most contractors say that software is too difficult to use and too busy. At a glance, in a 15-minute demonstration, without knowing how to use the system; it will seem difficult. This industry is not simple. The restoration business is complex itself. Through proper training and support, anyone can use software.

RB: Software is a mystery to most people and this is the biggest complaint we hear from contractors. Both the software itself and the support teams working with the contractor’s staff need to be able to understand and demonstrate how to effectively use the software to create the improvements promised by making it easy to use.

GG: There’s two complaints. One relates to the transition time; people aren’t asking about transition time, how much training time will be needed, so there is a surprise factor there when they find out that it’s not just “plug-and-play,” that it’s customizable to how they do business, but that they need to tell it how they do business in order to make that happen.

The other thing we hear is, Why aren’t we all a little more connected? There’s lots of different softwares out there, some have overlap, some don’t, there’s different functionalities, but as an industry we’re not as connected as we could be. The cultural phenomenon outside of our industry with software is in connectivity: your Facebook account can connect with your Twitter account, your Microsoft Word can connect with different things, your Quickbooks can connect with a million different softwares. But you find that some of the softwares in our industry are blocked for one reason or another.

R&R: In developing software for the restoration industry, how much input would you say you solicit from the contractors themselves? What do you ask them?

RB: We’ve been working closely with the restoration industry for over 10 years to develop our product line. We ask contractors, What do you do? What do you want to do? What are industry best practices you want and need the software to support? Our job is to build the tools contractors tell us they need. Our business is to deliver new functionality and support our clients in adapting and incorporating new trends in the industry to their specific business operation.

SP: We solicit more than 60 percent of our input from contractors, and maybe 15 percent from the industry via trade shows and educational events. Because of this, we’ve taken a very different approach. We hold an annual User Conference which allows each user to have input into the next version. We listen to the frontline people, the people that use the software everyday, to understand and address those issues.

It is the restoration contractor who knows the industry the best. We simply supply the tools to allow them to make their business more profitable through accountability.

GG: We’re a little bit different in that we spun out of consulting company, so when we built the company we built it with a consultants’ perspective and on what we’d heard from contractors about their software or issues that they had in general, and so our whole software is built on client feedback. Going forward we’re doing a couple of things. We do what we call master classes, which is a little misleading because it’s more than a class, it’s also a feedback session. It gives us a chance to not only hear what they’re saying, it lets us discuss it with them. Having those conversations and getting multiple contractors involved helps us get to the bottom line with regard to what they’re really asking for.

With that same group, we develop a “sandbox” in which they can go ahead and play with these new features, try them out and discuss them. It allows us the chance to make any adjustments we might need to before we release it to the general population.

MD: We demonstrate that our software was built by contractors for contractors. Any process where improvement can lead to a better ROI is the goal when creating an application. Although every company runs their business slightly different, the objective to create a universal system that everyone can use is the desired result.

For More Information

Assured Software – www.assuredsoftware.com
Service Software – www.servicesoftwareinc.com
Next Gear Solutions/DASH – www.d-a-s-h.net
Canam Systems – www.canamsys.com
Client Runner – www.clientrunner.com
Top Tier Software – www.toptiersoftwaresolutions.com