By Charles Freedman
Charles Freeman presented the following article at a SAIRAC Technical Talk at ACRA on 16 February, 2023.
If you’re old enough (like me) to remember the world before mobile phones, you’ll probably cringe at the sloth-like pace things used to get done. First came mobile phones, then software, smartphones, the cloud and apps. Today there is an app for (almost) everything. How the world works — and how people work across it — has changed and continues to change at an exponential rate.
So what does it mean for the HVAC installation industry in South Africa? What are the technologies and trends shaping installation, service and maintenance teams globally and how will they shape South African businesses today and in the future?
At ServCraft we spend our days thinking deeply about how suppliers, distributors, installers and end users can benefit from technology to create more value for themselves and the industry. We see four steps playing out over the next few years that represent both our vision for the HVAC installation space and how we see it evolving.
Step 1: Blissful isolation
This level should sound familiar. Customer leads scribbled down on paper. Paper job cards handed out physically. Scribbles turned into quotes and invoices generated on your accounting system or excel. Email and WhatsApp used to manage teams and suppliers.
It feels clunky because it is. Sage estimates that South African HVAC installers spend an average of R750 000 on administration. In spite of marginal gains in efficiency and effectiveness using emails, WhatsApp messages and accounting software, activity remains disjointed within and across businesses, suppliers and customers. Opportunities fall through the cracks, it takes too much time to win work, order and collect stock and get paid. Meanwhile, customers have a mediocre experience.
Step 2: Optimised individualism
Now we’re talking. Software takes things to a whole new level. Leads, jobs, quotes and invoices are captured and managed in one place helping you to win more work, get paid faster and have happier customers. Integration with your accounting software means real time insight of your financials and no double entry. Automated communications keep customers in the loop every step of the way. Customer payments are made from digital invoices straight from their phones.
This isn’t the future. It’s today.
In the US, 48% of field service businesses use job management software and 90% of those share that they’ve experienced growth as a result. At ServCraft, we estimate that less than 10% of South African HVAC installation businesses use software to power their operations. The opportunity to create value and differentiate is real.
Step 3: Meaningful connections
Here’s where things get interesting. As more HVAC installers adopt technology, there’s a growing opportunity to connect them with suppliers. Today, technicians tell administrators what to quote on, they generate quotes and then purchase orders are sent by whatsapp and email. Customers complain about having to wait days or weeks to get a quote. Integrating installer’s software with suppliers will give installers access to price and availability of items in real time. Installers can raise and approve quotes, buy stock and schedule deliveries, all while standing in front of the customer.
It may seem far-fetched but it’s not. Companies like snap-it (https://www.snap-it.app) are transforming plumbing in the UK, reducing time and effort to order and collect parts for plumbers. It won’t be long before HVAC businesses will be able to focus on the jobs rather than spending hours driving and queuing for parts.
Step 4: Platform-led partnerships
Technology platforms allow different companies to plug in products and services from one place. They aren’t new. Uber is a platform connecting cars, scooters, couriers, drivers and restaurants to end users. They don’t always own the service but they connect it to people who get value from it.
Imagine this for HVAC installation. Imagine installers tapping into lead generation, marketing, customer relationship management, job management and learning tools. Imagine seamless transactions between installers, suppliers and customers. Imagine access to working capital and invoice finance to grow your business. Imagine offering ‘buy now, pay later’ options.
This vision of the future is not science fiction. The technology to achieve it exists today. Advancing the industry requires closer collaboration across manufacturers, suppliers and installers. We need to stop operating in isolation and ask, not only: ‘How do we take bigger slices of the pie?’ But also, ‘How do we make it bigger for everyone?’
At ServCraft we’re not imagining the future. We’re building it.
Charles Freedman is the CEO of ServCraft
(www.servcraft.co.za), a South African-designed and built job management software provider for HVAC installation and other field service businesses.