Software and Computer Technology as Organizational Aids

Computer software designed specifically for the cleaning industry has arrived, and Murray Gordon is here to talk about it.

About 16 years ago when I was first marketing software to the cleaning industry, we received a call from someone asking us the price of our software. When we quoted a price, he was shocked; he thought the price was way over the top. We explained what software really was and he was a bit wiser about the world of computer technology.

Nowadays, we would never get such a call. In fact, nearly everyone in every business, whatever the industry, must think about using computer systems to aid their business - from managing a sales desk and maintaining a customer list to using the Internet and its capabilities to enhance sales, to ordering supplies, or doing research on the latest technological advances for one's industry.

Note here that we talk of "computer systems." When computers first started being used in the cleaning industry, many viewed the physical computer as the most important thing. For some, selecting software was an afterthought. Nearly all carpet cleaning business owners now realize that it is the computer system -- the hardware components combined with the software -- that makes the crucial difference.

If you select your computer system well, you can make your cleaning business more efficient, and accomplish your daily tasks in less time. You can also provide better customer service with fewer staff. In short, an appropriately selected computer system can be the difference between profitably and effectiveness in the marketplace.

People in the floor care industry have long used the latest technology in their work, from vacuum cleaners to mechanized floor scrubbers and polishers. There is even a computerized robotic device that can, for example, be programmed to clean the floor of a basketball court overnight.

This illustrates a more general principle: We must first consider the initial cost of computer hardware and the cost of software, and take into account the time and expense involved in the training of staff in the use of the computerized system. Against this, we must consider the potential savings realized in material, personnel costs and supervision.

Purchasing hardware these days is relatively simple. There are a wide variety of well-made machines available offering a thousand times the power of the first PC, at only a fraction of the cost of the first IBM PC. It used to be a challenge to decide what hardware to buy. Today, if you purchase from one of the well-known computer manufacturers, such as IBM, Gateway, Dell, Compaq, HP, etc., it is a pretty safe bet -- nearly all manufacturers use similar components, and most offer a reasonable support plan.

However, one still needs to know if the computer is to be used as a file server or a voice server, for example. In this case, advice from a professional would be well worth the cost.

The human side of the computer system is also important to consider. Who is going to be operating and administering the system, ensuring procedures are correctly followed, backups are made, and so on? Any computer system emulates or replicates some sort of human system, generally providing two distinct advantages:

First, the computer does what it does with great speed.

The second point is sometimes overlooked: The computer program helps define and enforce a systematic method for accomplishing processes. Examining the processes that you want the software to accomplish before you purchase the software is important. There are many cases where purchased software had to be trashed because the user did not consider what processes the software was designed to accomplish. We know of several large corporations that have spent millions on software projects, only to have to abandon projects upon completion because the human processes the software was designed to complement or replace were not fully analyzed before the software development project began.

Like a well-run ship, any business, can benefit from analyzing, defining and improving their organizational processes. This occurs on two levels: Within the organization, and between the organization and its customers.

An example of the first type of software would be a computerized telephone time-keeping system. This system type allows employees to call in when they arrive at their worksite and again when they leave and provides multiple benefits to cleaning contractors.

* You pay workers only for time actually worked.
* You have greater control over the workforce.
* You are notified immediately of absentees through its "no show" feature.
* Although designed primarily for use inside the organization, this form of software improves customer satisfaction because you have greater control over potentially missed jobs, absent employees and employees performing a less than satisfactory job through not spending the scheduled time at the job site.

Many businesses, in the cleaning and home health care industry have realized huge savings in payroll costs, and big increases in organizational efficiency through the use of cleaner-specific software, to monitor the check-in and check-out times of employees working off-site.

The second type of software, which operates on the interface between you and your customers, includes scheduling and billing software. This software maintains job schedules, tracks all customer information including their likes, dislikes, peculiarities and payment history as well as all the financial information you need to track how much each client owes you. The software includes dozens of different styles of job tickets and several invoice and statement formats, so that you can pick the style that suits you best. Also, schedules can be viewed in a variety of different ways.

Some software falls between the two categories, and can be used for work loading, prior to bidding on a job and simultaneously used to generate a professional-looking quotation for the client.

Larger organizations can take advantage of Web-based technology. For example, such software can provide a web-enabled telephone time tracking system. Prior to this development, companies with multiple branches had to buy a telephone time keeping system for each branch, a costly and redundant solution requiring each branch to purchase and maintain its own hardware and software. With web-enabled software, a cleaning company can purchase a system running on a Windows 2000 server (which includes a web server) and that single machine will handle all telephone calls. The manager of each branch can then access the data relevant to his or her branch simply by logging onto the Website. Costs are drastically reduced as each branch manager needs only a Web browser to access his or her critical information and all computer and software maintenance can be handled at head office.

Within this article we have only touched the tip of the iceberg with regards to what cleaner-specific can do for you, software and how it can save your floor-cleaning business a lot of money.

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