What happens when you invest in new technology only to find it doesn’t work? Everyone’s life is miserable, from the accountants to the end users. Adcock Refrigeration and Air Conditioning thought that PDAs might be the answer to their outdated paper system, but got their fingers burned. Luckily, digital pens supplied by INKWRX™, 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, 130 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 high street chains, councils, health authorities, facilities management companies, data centres, and some of the biggest names in British industry.
Adcock’s 84 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 at their Cambridge HQ, 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.
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 recording 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 left without a paper copy, and were asked to use a stylus to sign the PDA screen without always being able to see what they was 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 commercial 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 digital pens – 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.”
After doing a cost-benefit analysis with INKWRX™, they placed their first order in February for seven digital pens – 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.”
As part of the process, INKWRX™ converted Adcock’s forms to a digital format for use with digital pens. The forms 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 INKWRX™ system was then rolled out nationally. After completing a site visit, engineers now write out the relevant forms using digital pens. The customer can sign and receive a paper copy. Simply by ticking a box on the bottom of each form, the electronic data stored in the pen is then transmitted via Bluetooth to the engineer’s mobile device. After a quick on-screen validation of the job number, it’s sent on to the INKWRX™ secure 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 handwritten form is emailed back in pdf format and is in the hands of the service centre management and administrators.
The routing of the completed 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 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 have saved time and money with digital pen solution from INKWRX™. Admin is reduced, both in the office and for engineers on site. Running cost is only 65% of that previously incurred with PDAs. Invoicing can now be done daily – with big benefits for cash flow – rather than weekly or even monthly. Customers receive a smart-looking service sheet and know what they’re signing. If they’re not seen on site, they can get a copy fast by email.
But it’s probably the positive reaction of engineers that has proved to be the biggest gain. “Everyone knows that chasing engineers for paperwork can be a nightmare,” said Paul Brant, “but the INKWRX™ system has removed the problem completely. It’s streamlined and transformed everything. All they have to do now is write on a piece of paper, tick a box and it’s gone. They don’t have to think twice. It’s so much easier and more straightforward than PDAs. If we tried to take it away now, everyone would be up in arms. To be honest I’m completely amazed. I’ve never bought any IT before that actually does what it says it’s going to do.”