The switch to integrated software
14 April 2015
Rick Stoor, MD of Templa, reflects on a change of emphasis in the cleaning management software market
The last few years have seen a noticeable change in the way cleaning contractors are calculating the benefits of management software. The focus used to be on the basics – controls over payroll and billing. Then quality audit and mobile technology were the 'must have' features. Now, contractors are looking for something more sophisticated - software that genuinely integrates all their business processes, something that can only be achieved through the seamless sharing of data across their own staff, their suppliers and their clients. This is causing contractors to question the effectiveness of their current arrangements. So what are the reasons for this change?
A clearer understanding of the costs of using disparate, non-integrated systems
There are three ways in which non-integrated systems can drain cash from a business:
- The direct administration cost of time spent keying, rekeying and updating the same data into multiple systems to perform routine tasks such as paying staff, invoicing work, recharging consumables or collating client KPIs.
- The direct administration cost of manually downloading or exporting data from one system to another to either monitor spend or produce management information.
- The indirect cost of not being able to analyse the business and spot variances or trends fast enough to make timely management decisions, for example, poor visibility of payroll variances or site profitability.
Describing his business before purchasing integrated software, Jonathan Smith, MD of Office and General Cleaning, said: "It was like driving through fog with the headlights turned off."
More confidence in the use of software as a proactive profit driver, rather than just seeing it as an admin overhead
The costs I’ve outlined above relate to three fundamental problems – unconnected systems, the endless manual processing of tasks and an inadequate ability to monitor business performance. Truly integrated software eliminates these costly barriers to profit growth in four ways: firstly by centralising all data in one single contract database; secondly by automating admin tasks; thirdly by introducing an internal ‘workflow’ system that automatically distributes requests for action or authorisation and alerts users when their attention is required to move a task to the next stage – a feature that dramatically speeds up the decision making and approvals process; and fourthly by presenting summarised management information to staff in graphical format as a ‘dashboard’ on their screen when they log in to the system. This puts the onus firmly on managers to stay on top of costs and revenues.
So whereas growth in revenue was invariably accompanied by growth in administration and contract management costs – now with integrated software a business can confidently take on new contracts and increase its percentage net profit margin due to a static overhead.
The transformation of integrated software into an end-to-end business solution
With back office systems already joined up, the final piece of the software jigsaw has been to fully integrate the front line functions - operations and sales, and it goes without saying that the rollout of tablet technology to field managers has dramatically accelerated the benefits of the software in these areas. Field managers now benefit from online, real time access to key contract data which, when combined with the ability to complete many tasks out in the field using ‘intelligent’ electronic forms, has led to a double benefit - speedier administration and more time to spend with staff and clients.
The financial benefits of using data interchangeably between different areas of the business are clear and are being realised in practice by a growing number of UK contractors. The alternative is just as clear. Persisting with systems that at worst don’t talk to each other, or at best are crudely ‘bolted together’ will possibly save money in the short term, but will never realise the longer term financial benefits that integration is designed to achieve.