Wireless system helping send troubles down the drain

Wireless workforce management software helping operations become more efficient

Founded in 1935, Roto-Rooter Group has flushed out the competition because its plumbers arrive on the same day of a cry for help to clear a clog or fix a leak.

In recent years, wireless workforce management software has made Roto-Rooter's operation even more efficient, according to the company's CIO of 24 years, Steve Poppe. The GPS-based system allows 1,900 technicians nationwide to use inexpensive cell phones to find out where the clog jobs are and to collect credit card payments right in a customer's bathroom.

"Most customers want us there quickly, and this wireless system really helps us," Poppe said in an interview today.

In recent months, as US petrol prices have soared, the system has provided a big cost savings for operating Roto-Rooter trucks, Poppe added. He estimates the wireless system has lowered the number of miles driven to get to jobs by 20 to 25 per cent in recent years, lowering the need for fuel.

Using hosted software from Gearworks and Sprint Nextel networks, dispatchers can take customer calls and find the nearest plumber through an assisted GPS capability, thereby lowering miles driven. When finished, a technician can take a credit card payment with a Bluetooth-capable card reader and printer, and send the invoice and payment information wirelessly to headquarters. In all, the job completion tasks take less than three minutes, down from as long as 20 minutes in some cases, Poppe said.

"You can imagine how much time you'd save if you clear a clog in a penthouse apartment and take the payment there, rather than go all the way back to the truck to do it," he said. Because the system is more accurate, he said the re-auditing rate is about 9 per cent, compared with 31 per cent previously.

Roto-Rooter has used Gearworks for about five years and recently upgraded to its Etrace 6.0 version, having helped recommend improvements for custom reports, workflow and other upgrades, Poppe said. While Poppe wouldn't state the cost savings seen with the system, he said there has been "very good" return on investment.

Roto-Rooter plumbers use Motorola i615 phones to communicate with the system, although Etrace works with a variety of Sprint phones, said Gearworks CEO Todd Krautkremer. He said the cost of the application, not including cellular costs, ranges from US$10 to $60 a month per worker, and that generally, the wireless data cost is US$10 a month per worker.

Gearworks has about 5,000 customers, and operates with 70 employees. The biggest competition comes from Telenav and Xora, Karutkremer said.

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Matt Hamblen

Computerworld

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