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Smart devices revolutionise the SME field service business model

By Matthew McGann,

Sales manager, software house SmartTrade Ltd

May 2014

Matthew McGann from SmartTrade talks about the impact affordable consumer grade smart devices and improved mobile internet connectivity are having on the world of SME field service providers. The field service sector includes a host of business types offering installation and/or maintenance services. Statistics in the table below illustrate the growth in the smart device market.

There would be few if any business models with more to gain from the smart device phenomenon than the SME field service providers.

Until relatively recently sophisticated field service mobility solutions were largely the preserve of the larger corporations who could afford expensive IT solutions. Mobile phones didn’t have sufficient smarts to allow the smaller players to effectively manage their workflow from the field. As a result they were pretty much limited to using the voice and text functionalities on their mobile phones to communicate with their customers and suppliers.

The emergence of affordable consumer grade smart devices with reasonable processor capacity and vastly improved internet connectivity is revolutionising the way SME field service providers manage their businesses. It helps if the smart devices come with a ruggedized case!


Job management solutions hosted on smart devices expand the growth opportunities for the SME field service providers by enabling them to compete more effectively in the marketplace. This in turn is an enabler for progressive SMEs navigating the chasm of death from being small to big businesses.

There are a number of simple job management apps appearing in the market. An effective job management solution needs to be feature rich plus have excellent help desk support, the field service providers are using it every working day all day! Simple apps lacking a help desk don’t cut the ice!

A contributing factor is societal change. The first of the Gen Y’ers , the generation brought up with computers, are now in their early 30’s. They will increasingly make their presence felt in terms business ownership and management, plus in the field service game the techs tend to be young, mobile and computer savvy. A state-of-the-art smart device will often be an important part of the Gen Y’er’s persona! They will often happily employ their personal smart devices at work (the BYOD factor).

It doesn’t take an Einstein to work out that if your employees are linked at the hip with a productivity tool one would be foolish not to catch the wave!

In response job management software developers such as SmartTrade are increasingly tailoring our software products to work on smart devices. SmartTrade has superseded our earlier PDA based mobile products with solutions specifically designed for the Android and iOS platforms.

We have also developed Smeedi®, a document exchange platform, offering increased office productivity by automating the exchange of invoices between supplier and customer.

Smart device statistics

For the statistically inclined the following data demonstrates why smart devices are becoming truly ubiquitous.

  • 2013 was the first year smartphone sales exceeded 50% of all mobile phones sold!
  • 2013 was the first year the number of internet connection instances from smart devices exceeded those from desktop PCs!
  • More than 1.5 billion smart devices were shipped in 2013, dominated by 1 billion smartphones!
Smart connected device market by product category
(shipments in millions)
Types of device 2013 sales 2013 share 2017 sales 2017 share
Desktop PC 134.4 9% 123.1 5%
Portable PC 180.9 12% 196.6 8%
Tablet 227.3 15% 406.8 16.50%
Smartphone 1013.20 65% 1733.90 70.50%
Total 1556 100% 2460.50 100%
Source: © IDC (Sept 2013)

The trends are clear to see:

➤ Consumers are moving to smart devices at the expense of desktop PCs (and fixed landlines).
➤ Consumers are increasingly using their smart devices to surf the net.

This is far from a first world phenomenon. Some indicative estimates:

  • The International Telecommunications Union (May 2014) estimates there are nearly 7 billion mobile phone subscriptions worldwide.
  • Ericsson (February 2014) estimates 6.7 billion subscriptions worldwide with 4.5 billion unique mobile phone users once customers with more than one subscription and inactive accounts are factored out.
  • Ericsson estimates there will be 5.6 billion smartphone subscriptions by 2019 with most of the market growth coming from the developing nations.

By all measures the worldwide uptake of smart devices is extraordinary!

About SmartTrade

SmartTrade is an Auckland based software house, we began developing job management software for SMEs in 1999, starting with back office solutions designed primarily for tradees.

While SmartTrade’s office solution is now used by a wide range of SME’s the most common user is a field service business with two or three administrative staff receiving and scheduling jobs on our office solution. They then dispatch the jobs to a team of technicians in the field via our mobile solutions for smart devices, the techs return the job to the office once completed.

Our largest New Zealand customer has more than 150 staff using SmartTrade in the office and the field to manage their workflows.

Cyber Attack Alert


Many of our customers around the world and the critical systems they depend on have been victims of malicious “WannaCrypt” software. We are using the MSRC blog - Customer Guidance for WannaCrypt attacks to post information and resources in one place, to help customers respond to this latest threat.

The first and most important piece of guidance is to immediately deploy the security update associated with Microsoft Security Bulletin MS17-010, if you have not done so already. Customers that have automatic updates enabled or have deployed this update are already protected from the vulnerability these attacks are trying to exploit.

Malware Detection

Windows Defender, System Center Endpoint Protection, and Forefront Endpoint Protection detect this threat family as Ransom:Win32/WannaCrypt.

In addition, the free Microsoft Safety Scanner is designed to detect this threat as well as many others.


Review the Microsoft Security Response Center (MSRC) blog at Customer Guidance for WannaCrypt Attacks for an overview of the issue, details of the malware, suggested actions, and links to additional resources.

Keep systems up-to-date. Specifically, for this issue, ensure Microsoft Security Bulletin MS17-010 Security Update for Microsoft Windows SMB Server is installed.

Customers who believe they are affected can contact Customer Service and Support by using any method found at this location:

Microsoft Malware Detection and Removal Tools

Use the following free Microsoft tools to detect and remove this threat:

Additional Resources

Regarding Information Consistency

We strive to provide you with accurate information in static (this mail) and dynamic (web-based) content. Microsoft’s security content posted to the web is occasionally updated to reflect late-breaking information. If this results in an inconsistency between the information here and the information in Microsoft’s web-based security content, the information in Microsoft’s web-based security content is authoritative.

Support - it's super critical for any job management solution!

Never underestimate the importance of software support, it’s super critical!

When our customers encounter a problem it usually happens on the job so they don’t want to look up a manual, or log an email or online help ticket and then wait for a response! Many of our competitors think they can employ email or online ticketing systems to minimise their support overhead, this simply doesn’t work for field service providers!

When you call our support team on our toll-free phone numbers you get to talk to one of our support staff, if we can’t solve the problem immediately we will strive to get back to you as soon as possible.

We believe support is a SmartTrade No 1 point of difference, we value our reputation for support excellence, we always try to go the extra yard!

While we can’t claim our support is perfect, the large number of compliments and very few complaints we receive points to a high level of customer satisfaction.

We recently received the following email from Wendy Davids at Pearmans Electrical Services in Perth.

Subject: Thank you!

Importance: High

I would love the opportunity to say what a wonderful team you have there.

They are patient, understanding and very helpful. When my call is first answered I get a fabulous person on the other end sounding bright and happy to be taking my call. They are ever so helpful and when they are unable to be of an assistance, they do their best to get me to the right person as quickly as possible. I can be a bit demanding when I want things done and they proceed with such grace.

They have been wonderful beyond all measures going back years. When I first started here and tried to get my head around SmartTrade they were very helpful , they taught me to get so more out of SmartTrade by giving me new pointers. All this with patience.

Then we have Kevin putting up with all my demands for new forms and how I want to do certain things. He keeps coming back telling me it can be done, easy as that. There were times I did get “no it can't be done”, but we overcame those hiccups and went about it a different way. And I would like to finish with some little facts:

  • Phar Lap may have been born in New Zealand but he had to come to Australia to be great. Like so many others, that there are too many to mention them all.
  • The Pavlova is Australian, but I'll let you have it as your own as long as you acknowledge that we make it better.

I look forward to continuing our wonderful relationship.

Kind Regards

Wendy Davids

Pearmans Electrical Services, Perth WA

Many thanks to Wendy for the glowing complement, also for giving us permission to publish it in this newsletter and on our website.

We’re always striving to improve our support service so if you have some thoughts about it, good or bad, we’d love to hear from you.

Tips for successfully mobilising your business

For a service business to remain competitive, mobilising is a question of when, not if. Fortunately it is largely common sense, and most businesses mobilise successfully without hiring consultants or writing a detailed change management plan. Some tips are:
Define your key business objectives. Simple, measurable goals such as increasing the % of time charged out or issuing invoices quicker are best. Identify possible concerns. Some users may be apprehensive, say clerical staff wondering if their hours will be cut. The table over the page lists possible concerns and responses. Do this early on, but keep it in balance – don’t doom the project by raising too many potential problems, focus on 2 or 3 obvious ones. Select suitable mobile devices (see the table over the page). The likelihood is that any device more than say 2 years old will be a problem; trying to save money by using under spec’d devices is false economy.
Define workflows
A mobile application is just a tool that can be used well or badly. Mobilising is an opportunity to streamline workflows, not just to reduce paperwork. Decide on a sensible workflow, but be open to suggestions on how to improve this as you gain experience.
Set expectations
Ensure your employees understand the goals, and consider having a policy, part of the employment agreement, covering the use of mobile devices, particularly if you intend to use GPS tracking. The privacy of employees has to be protected, particularly if the employee owns the mobile device. Attached is a sample agreement covering mobile devices. Ensure that employees understand that running multiple applications and downloading large non-work files will degrade performance, particularly on older devices. Most reported performance problems are due to users running applications such as movies or having a number of browser tabs open.
Involve and reward the users
Involving employees is important, but don’t lose sight of the key objectives and never surrender control of the change process. Hold regular feedback sessions; say weekly at first and then fortnightly. Acknowledge that there will be some hiccups and frustrations along the way. Deal with genuine issues promptly, but also highlight what has worked and celebrate successes!
A natural question is “What’s in it for me?” Be honest as it goes without saying that the main reason for mobilising is to improve performance and profits, but there are benefits for users as well (see below) Be firm with resistors and work out ways to get them on board. But if this proves impossible, consider replacing them. As the owner of a US business that mobilised recalled, “We lost a few foremen because of it, but honestly they were people who probably needed to go anyway. They left because they knew what was about to happen, and we’d see what they were doing during the day.”
Trial and then roll out in stages
Mobilising all field staff in one go sometimes works, but is risky if there is resistance. Identify one or two employees who are technology savvy and get them to trial the system. Once they have it working and the benefits are apparent, roll it out to the other employees.
A few short training sessions help to get people up to speed quickly and to allay fears. Some employees will get to grips with the new system quickly. Others will take longer or struggle, so schedule training on a needs basis. The software provider should offer training materials, such as on-line videos, and some businesses develop in-house manuals detailing their preferred workflows. In practice few use these resources after an initial period, and it can be a burden to keep up them to date given the rapid evolution of software. The best answer is for the application to be user friendly and intuitive, with adequate help information built in, so that users quickly learn from on-the-job experience.

Tips for successfully mobilising your business

Employee concerns Affects Responses
Can I cope with this technology? Older employees
  • Implement in easy to digest stages, such as starting with time sheets.
  • Train, with the focus on non-embarrassing self-teach tools
I prefer the current processes and don’t want to change All
  • Trial with supportive employees to prove the system
  • Use team incentives
Slashing paperwork will reduce my hours or may even make me redundant Office staff
  • Identify productive alternatives, such as a customer care call sprogram
  • If hours are reduced, offer more flexibility
The real agenda is to make me work harder Field staff
  • Share the productivity savings.
  • Offer more work flexibility.
There goes my overtime Field staff
  • The goal is to increase sales, not reduce hours.
I will miss the social interaction from coming into the office every day. Field staff
  • Structure regular opportunities to socialise within work hours(say 2 hours every fortnight). Increasing utilisation by say 10% equates to at least 8 hours per fortnight).
  • Keep employees connected via other means
It will be used to track my whereabouts and invade my privacy Field staff
  • Stress how GPS tracking enhances customer service.
  • Ensure employees understand the policy.
  • Ensure employees owning devices can turn off GPS tracking.
  • As a last resort, state the obvious: those who don’t abuse company time have nothing to worry about.
What’s in it for me? All
  • Happy boss!
  • More flexibility, less time spent travelling and in traffic jams
  • Better information on the job, less reliance on the office.
  • Enhanced customer service and fewer unhappy customers.
Employee concerns   Responses
How do I deal with an essential employee who refuses to mobilise?  
  • Offer individual training.
  • Try a buddy system.
  • Start by using the mobile as a simple notification system (jobs and schedule) and then move to timesheet entry and then, the job data entry.

Device issues Solution
Some users may struggle to read the small fonts on Smartphones, even with a high definition screen. Depending on the application and the user, a tablet may be a better option.
Some smartphones and tablets keyboards have small keys that can’t be upsized, and the standard Android keyboard has a limitation on inserting a decimal point. 3rd party keyboards can be downloaded either free or for a few dollars (SmartTrade recommends SwiftKey).
Performance problems such as SmartTrade Mobile slow to load or appearing to freeze from time to time Check whether the user has other applications running and if so, close them. If this doesn’t work, call our support team
Internet browsers behave differently, and some suit an application better than others. Ask the application provider to recommend a browser (SmartTrade recommends Chrome for all devices).
Smartphones (tablets) are prone to being damaged Protective cases are available, ranging from soft covers through to waterproof cases such as those sold by Otter and LifeProof.

Example of mobile device agreement (obtain advice from your lawyer)

Employer: _________________________________ (We, Us)
Employee: _________________________________ (You, Your)
Device(s) used by you in your job (“Devices”)
Owned by
Device type Make and Model Serial# Ancillary items Insured
 Us  Laptop  Tablet        Yes
 You  SmartPhone
       No
 Us  Laptop  Tablet        Yes
 You  SmartPhone
       No
 Us  Laptop  Tablet        Yes
 You  SmartPhone
       No

 Mobile connection
 Telco  Vodafone  Telstra  Optus   Virgin   Spark  2Degrees Other: ___________________
 Plan:____________________ which includes  Voice/TXT  Mobile data (Mb/Gb/month)
 Cost of plan met by  Us  You  Shared ___________________

1. We may:

  1. For reasonable business purposes monitor email, messaging systems and data on Devices.
  2. GPS track Devices during work hours.

2. You consent to us monitoring email, messaging systems and data on Devices.

3. You must in respect of each Device, depending on whether or not we own it:

  We own it
  Yes No
a. Take good care of it, and advise us immediately if it is damaged, lost, or stolen  
b. Not use it during work hours for personal purposes, other than answering incoming calls and making emergency calls  
c. Not without our written consent make personal use of any data plan paid for by us.
d. Not disable GPS tracking of it during work hours.
e. Only load data essential to your job.
f. Not load pirated software or illegal content, nor hack the operating system.  
g. Keep it password protected and ensure that we have the current password at all times.
h. Report any suspected unauthorized access to our data.
i. Keep it up-to-date with approved patches and upgrades
j. Return it to us immediately on ceasing employment with us.  
k. Delete all our data residing on it immediately on ceasing employment with us.  
l. Not use it when driving any of our vehicles.

4. This document forms part of your employment agreement with us

_______________________________             _______________________________

Signed by or on behalf of UsSigned by You

Date: __________________________Date: __________________________

How to streamline your payroll operation using SmartTrade Mobile’s timesheet feature together with SmartTrade Essential or Ultimate’s payroll export feature!

Many SmartTrade users already use SmartTrade’s payroll export feature to export their employee timesheet data directly to their payroll package.

Employees using SmartTrade Mobile can enter timesheets easily on their mobile device using SmartTrade Mobile, or the simpler SmartTime timesheet app, and return the timesheet data to SmartTrade in the office.

It’s then a simple step to export the timesheet data from SmartTrade into your payroll package making it a seamless operation! Even if you manually enter your timesheet data into SmartTrade there are significant benefits in exporting the data to your payroll system.

SmartTrade currently supports the following payroll packages:

  • IMS Payroll
  • iPayroll
  • MYOB 
  • Ace Payroll

If you have another payroll system provided it allows data to be imported then it’s very likely we can design an Advanced Report to enable timesheet information captured in SmartTrade to be exported to your payroll package

Just imagine the time and double data entry saved by having your field staff enter their own timesheets and then being able to export the data from SmartTrade into your payroll package!

Lee Sarson of Rhino Fire & Security Ltd summed up the benefits:

“We used to get technicians into the office on Wednesday morning to hand-in hand written jobs sheets
           and timesheets!”

“We used to have 30-45 minutes down time per tech each Wednesday filling out bits of paper and trying
           to find the ones they lost!”

“We then manually transferred the hours to large project job sheets and tried to decipher the technicians’
           hand writing!”

“The process took admin staff the entire day!”

“We now have the job done by 9.30am!"

“Time sheets are filled out by techs as they go from job to job, no more problems with techs trying to
           recall what they did a few days ago becausethey lost some paper work!”

"Job information is loaded into the system as soon as a job is completed, allowing the invoice to be
          generated and sent same day, this improves cash flow!"

"Now time spent returning job information is billed to clients!"

"Filing in the office has dropped 95%!"

"I can’t believe we used to work with such outdated systems, the change was dramatic and instant!"

Please don’t hesitate to call our support team to discuss what’s possible in terms of streamlining your timesheet and payroll workflow activity!

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