- How to recognize outdated methods that can be solved using technology.
- How to determine which technological solutions will best serve your workers.
- How to use Swimlane organization structures to simplify processes.
- How to implement technological changes to make everyone’s lives easier and your business more efficient.
“Tech-savvy” isn’t a word you would use to describe the business at Anderson.
Since the plumbing and heating company was founded over 30 years ago in Northwest Arkansas, it has conducted most of its business with pen and paper. Quaint, perhaps. But certainly inefficient.
The way that Anderson receives service calls, for example, was painfully disorganized. It was something that jumped out at Acquira co-founder Hayden Miyamoto right away.
Breaking down the process step-by-step, it looks like this:
- A service call comes in and Joene answers.
- The client explains what they need and where they live.
- Joene writes that information on a piece of paper.
- Joene sends a text message to John, the company’s service message.
- John sends a message to the technician who is closest to the address.
- Joene calls the client back and lets them know when to expect the technician.
- The service tech goes to the address and inspects the problem.
- The technician fills out a piece of paper with all the pertinent information.
- They return to the office and get a quote from the owner.
- They go back to the client’s address and give them the quote.
- If the client agrees, the technician goes out to get the necessary parts.
- They return to the address and begin working.
That’s twelve steps before the technician is actually able to start fixing the problem. Michelangelo took fewer steps to create the Statue of David (probably).
Paper, texts, and telephones. Throw in accumulated gas mileage for good measure. The flowchart of this process looks like the spiderwebs hanging in the corners of all the desolate office supply stores around the country right now. Because pen and paper have become obsolete.
It was a similar story at Missoula, Montana-based Plumb-Tech.
When Acting GM Quinn Huffman arrived, he quickly noted that the technicians would go out on a call, write out their reports by hand, and then hand them into the service manager at the end of the day to analyze. It was a way for the service manager to oversee the work on the jobs he couldn’t be there for. But it was incredibly time-consuming.
Quinn also realized that because the process was done at the end of the day it was liable to fall victim to distractions and the vagaries of short-term memory.
In Quinn’s case, he was able to create a simple form-based application that allowed workers to use their phones to fill out what information they needed as soon as they finished a job. The app allowed them to input the location, materials used, time it took to complete the work, and more.
It was a technological solution to an outdated problem.
Both Anderson and Plumb-Tech were using processes that were inefficient, time-consuming, and costly. If you want a business to grow, those are not the types of adjectives you want to be associated with its procedures.
The best way to address the inefficiency issues at a non-tech company is by introducing technology.
The two companies represent businesses at different points of the technology challenge. Both companies were non-tech businesses. Anderson still needs to be transitioned while Plumb-Tech is well on its way.
But as a new owner and technical founder in your own right, how do you go about introducing technology to a non-tech business? In many instances, employees have been working the way they have for decades, sometimes longer. Changing how things are done can be daunting, scary, downright intimidating.
Mitigating the fear around these changes should be a priority for any owner, but they are changes that need to be made regardless.
Learning The Process
Before you can begin making improvements, you need to understand how the company currently operates. It’s pointless to introduce changes unless those changes are actually going to improve the lives of those at the company.
In the case of Plumb-Tech, Quinn first had to understand why the technicians were filling out these forms every day. It was so the service manager could make sure all of the work was being done correctly.
He then had to familiarize himself with the process itself. The technicians would complete a job, return to the office, fill out the pertinent information, and submit it to the service manager.
By learning the existing process, he was able to analyze it and determine how to make it more efficient.
How Should It Work?
Once you’ve familiarized yourself with the existing structure, you can start figuring out how the process should work.
For Anderson, their service call process was developed before the technology existed to make things efficient. People became used to it and it never changed. When Hayden arrived, he started to break the procedure into a flowchart in order to identify each step.
He then took that flowchart and superimposed it onto swimlanes.
In BPMN (Business Process Model and Notation), swimlanes are a way to organize a workflow or business process. They are rectangular boxes, where each box represents a different participant in a business process.
Hayden took each piece of the flowchart and placed it into a corresponding swimlane for each person in the service call process. It helps to visualize exactly how complicated the initial process was:
Once it was redesigned, the process was much more simple. Both John and Mike were removed from the equation completely and there were only four swimlanes remaining: customer, tech, automation, and dispatcher.
By doing this, he’s able to identify which aspects of the process can be taken over by automation and start planning a solution.
In the case of Plumb-Tech, Quinn realized that the technicians would benefit from being able to fill out the information as soon as possible so it was still fresh in their minds. By identifying the problem, he was able to determine how the solution should work.
Many of the technology solutions you use will be databases and CRM systems. By going through the systems and inputting the data, you’ll be able to better understand how the company and its processes work.
Finding The Right Technology
Depending on the type of business, the technology solutions you implement will be different.
If it’s a home services business like Plumb-Tech, the solution could be different than what you use at a larger company like Anderson. The size and type of the company will dictate the technology you introduce.
In many of the home services businesses Acquira works with, we use a system called Service Titan. Service Titan is an all-in-one service that handles invoicing, scheduling, inventory management, and more.
“With service Titan, it's not just the software that’s important. It's more about the information that's going into it,” says Quinn. “So what you're doing with technology is actually sorting through everything that's happening in the company and putting it in a system, as opposed to it being in people's heads. The tech element to it is literally just putting it in a presentable way.”
Look For Small Wins
Once you’ve identified how the solution should work and you’ve found the right technology to help you get there, you can start looking for ways to introduce the solution.
These prototypes should be created in the simplest way possible. Can it be turned into a simple Google Form? Can we use something like Air Table to provide the functionality? The point here is to look for simple wins, explains Hayden.
“You start by prototyping and solving simple things,” he says. “They need to see a win. They need to see how technology makes their lives better.”
Many of the people who work in non-tech businesses didn’t grow up with technology the same way younger generations did. That can be a scary prospect for some. If you’re able to create value, they’ll be more likely to embrace the technology.
Ultimately, the solution you will implement will be some sort of ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) system, but those systems can take six to twelve months to put in place, which is too long to build confidence. You need to find one small process, turn it into a simple prototype, and give your employees a win.
In Quinn’s case, his simple application was enough to solve a big problem. It also helped show the workers at Plumb-Tech that technology could make their lives easier.
“One guy is waiting for this stuff to come in at the end of the day,” Quinn says about the service manager. “He was super excited to know that he didn’t have to wait until 5pm and then work till seven to get this stuff in. He can just do it gradually throughout the day.”
Rather than spending extra hours inputting the data after everyone else went home, the service technician was able to take the information that was provided throughout the day and enter it into the system. Saving valuable hours he could spend with his family.
The technicians also saw a benefit thanks to Quinn’s technology, he explains.
“If they've been out from 8 am to 5 pm, the last thing they want to do is sit down and write on a piece of paper what they did,” he says. “It's nice because now they just come in and they toss their keys on the wall and just take off. They don't have anything that they have to do after a long workday.”
Once you create a win, people start growing happier and more confident.
After you’ve introduced the technology, make sure you’re receptive to feedback, especially from those who aren’t tech-savvy. How does the technology operate? How can it be made even simpler? By iterating and improving, you’ll be moving closer to peak efficiency.
As Dr. Rose O. Sherman explains in her blog, “When you apply new skills or behaviors, it is important to reflect on their impact. Your interventions may be highly successful but sometimes you may find that your new behaviors are not effective. There may be other skills or behaviors that work better for you.”
This applies just as much to new technology. You may find that new technologies are not effective. There may be other solutions that work better. It’s about tweaking and improving as you go.
Outdated Tech: A Security and Time Threat
Another important consideration is that many of these companies, while not relying on technology for their daily operations, do have computers. Whether they’re for emails, bookkeeping, or research, these computers are hooked up to the internet and most of them are outdated.
And that presents a security risk.
“There is a huge issue with info security nowadays,” explains Quinn.
Malware, ransomware, phishing scams, and more have all become commonplace in recent years. And in many instances, it’s outdated computers that allow these bad actors access to local networks.
“The ones that I just replaced here were at least 10 years old,” says Quinn. “I would say that those updates are almost an immediate need.”
These outdated machines are also very slow. They can take painfully long to boot up and hours for updates. That is time wasted where your employees could be doing something productive.
“There's nothing worse than somebody that goes to turn on their computer and it says ‘updating,’” says Quinn. “And that update takes an hour while they just sit there twiddling their thumbs because there's nothing they can do.”
If you send a technician out to a site, you want to make sure they have the best tool for the job. It’s the exact same scenario in the office. After all, these computers actually need to be able to run the technology that you’re introducing.
“There are many situations where you might download software and then you find out your computer can’t even support it,” says Quinn. “That's a huge thing.”
The health and viability of office computers should be reassessed every three to five years. That way, you can be sure that your employees aren’t suffering unnecessary downtime and are working at their full potential.
You don’t need a tech-savvy workforce in order to utilize technology. You simply need to introduce it in a way that helps people understand its benefits.
By looking at existing processes, determining where shortfalls may exist, building a serviceable prototype, and being receptive to feedback, you’ll be able to instill confidence in your employees.
If you’re wondering where to start adding technology, some common problem areas that can be quick to fix include: invoicing, sending bids, marketing, service management reminders. A CRM like ServiceTitan can be a very effective tool in managing each of these.”
Introducing technology in a non-tech business is a great way to make things run more efficiently. It’s also a fantastic way to make the lives of those you work with easier and more fulfilling.
Have you ever been forced to work with outdated technology in the workplace? Let us know in the comments below.
If you found this article useful, feel free to share it with your friends. Or, if you’re thinking about starting on your own business purchase journey, check out Acquira’s Acceleration Gauntlet to see if it’s a good fit.
- The best way to address the inefficiency issues at a non-tech company is by introducing technology.
- It’s pointless to introduce changes unless those changes are actually going to improve the lives of those at the company.
- After you’ve introduced the technology, make sure you’re receptive to feedback.
- Start small, find small wins, and build from there.