Digital solutions for virtually any HVAC contracting need
LAS VEGAS — HVACR contractors and technicians are living in a Golden Age of software as products exist today to help contractors solve just about any business or technical need. In addition, the explosive growth of smartphones has led to hundreds of apps that can provide instant access to help anywhere and anytime it’s needed.
Here’s a look at what some of the HVACR software industry’s major players were displaying at the 2017 AHR Expo along with their insights into the trends that bear watching.
With the increasing adoption of building information modeling (BIM), building equipment manufacturers are increasingly being asked to provide BIM models of their products for consumption by building engineers and contractors, said Lisa Campbell, vice president of design and manufacturing, Autodesk Inc.
“This capability impacts building manufacturers’ abilities to win more work and get their products specified early on in building projects,” Campbell said. “While some manufacturers rely on third-party consultants to create BIM libraries of their products to respond to market demands, others partner with Autodesk to integrate BIM within their existing sales and design processes.”
Campbell added that building equipment manufacturers can now deliver BIM-compliant models directly from their engineering data. With Autodesk Inventor 2017 rules-based design and engineering automation, equipment manufacturers can publish 3-D product models for customers to configure online within their specifications and fabrication constraints as well as deliver BIM content of these models on demand. BIM libraries are hosted on manufacturers’ websites directly within their product configurators, which enable equipment manufacturers to remain in control of their product data while developing a BIM strategy for sustainable growth.
Mobile data processing and automation technology are mainstream tools for most service companies, and field employees generate volumes of data as part of their standard work processes. That means HVACR service software is trending toward analytics intelligence that can easily organize this raw information into practical images that reveal an in-depth view of the operational landscape, said David Jack, president of Data-Basics Inc.
“Service companies striving to stay on the cutting-edge need powerful tools to spot trends and anomalies in areas, such as service and inventory management, financial health, and more,” Jack said. “Companies that are best able to gather and process their information will have a significant advantage in the marketspace.”
DBAnalytics is designed to provide organizations with new insights and better answers, help manage risk, improve return on investment, and increase yield. Fully imbedded into SAMPro Enterprise Software, DBAnalytics includes hundreds of analytics that drill into accumulating data to address key business issues and processes in various departments and all field operations. According to Data-Basics reps, DBAnalytics allows key personnel to access instant, real-time business analysis reports with rich, easy-to-create, interactive management dashboards that run in any browser locally or in the field. Additional settings allow users to securely share information, receive automated updates, and create multi-level analytics to help make the supporting data and reports easily accessible.
There was a time when technology was used to create back-office efficiency. Today, technology is an added value used to create a better customer experience for consumers, said Jennifer Davis, president, Davisware Inc.
“Integrated field technology is the future. It’s providing clientele with reliable, real-time information via state-of-the-art GPS solutions, smart equipment technology, and an online web portal,” Davis said. “These technologies require solid back-end enterprise resource planning (ERP) to serve as the data warehouse, which is the source for data metrics and analytics to improve the contracting business.”
Davisware’s S2K Vision is the follow-up to S2K (formerly S2000). The new, enhanced platform is designed as a browser-based, structured, query-language database solution. Vision can be supported by the cloud or hosted locally with flexible subscription or licensed model pricing. According to Davis, Vision incorporates an integrated GPS solution, platform-agnostic field technology, a customer web portal, integrated credit card solutions, surveying/social media review offerings, and accounting solutions (either integrated or third-party compatible) to provide a comprehensive end-to-end ERP solution in the HVACR industry.
DISTRIBUTOR CORP. OF NEW ENGLAND
Nancy Kolligian, CEO, Distributor Corp. of New England (DCNE), said the software industry is moving away from packaged solutions and toward web-based applications that are more modular in nature.
“A strong application program interface (API) is the key to building flexible and scalable software,” she said. “It allows companies to integrate with best-in-breed solutions for non-core functions.”
According to Kolligian, the geospatial industry is a prime example of this.
“Big players are spending hundreds of millions of dollars to find new ways to quickly and accurately measure a space,” she said. “It’s still unclear which technology will achieve the highest level of adoption, and we do not want to box ourselves into a technology corner by picking just one. We would prefer to connect with all of them.”
The latest version of DCNE’s Cool Calc represents a complete redesign from the ground up and is focused around connectivity, according to Kolligian. She said the company wanted to be agnostic when it came to sources of dimensional data, so Cool Calc was rebuilt on a flexible API architecture that allows users to extend its capabilities using DCNE’s “Connector Exchange,” which is designed to work like an app store.
“Our original Google Maps connector has been revamped, and we also added connectors for OpenStreetMaps, MagicPlan, Stanley Floor Plan, and EagleView,” Kolligian said. “These connectors use the latest room-measuring technology, including augmented reality, Bluetooth lasers, and 3-D modeling from drone imagery.”
Software isn’t new to the HVACR industry, but now more than ever, contractors’ input will be crucial in deciding what features should be developed next, said Rameez Ansari, CEO, Desco LLC.
“Going forward, the software companies that succeed will be the ones that have embraced contractors as partners in developing their products,” Ansari said. “On the consumer-facing side, software is empowering technicians to provide better service through stored customer history, easy price presentation, and the ability to take payments in the field. Homeowners want to feel like they’re making informed decisions, and software plays a key role in doing that.”
FieldEdge, Desco’s new cloud-based product, is designed to help home service contractors run their entire businesses and to allow owners to quickly access and assess their companies’ performances. An intuitive dashboard highlights sources for additional revenue and gives insight into the performance of technicians and dispatchers. In addition, the product’s mobile app is designed to give technicians access to their work orders, tasks, services, and materials on the go. It also includes a fully customizable pricebook that allows techs to present good-better-best options, which Desco says leads to a better customer experience and more revenue.
HVACR software is increasingly becoming web-based, allowing it to work on any device, smartphone, tablet, or computer that has internet access. Bill Smith, president of Elite Software, said the first such products were primarily for mobile applications, where contractors were dealing with customers on-site and needed to retrieve equipment, warranty, and service information as well as perform billing and payment processing.
“Nowadays, even more applications that were traditionally done on desktop computers can now be done on internet-connected devices,” Smith said. “Many HVAC specific tasks, such as HVAC load calculations and estimating, are now web-based and desktop-capable, so contractors can enjoy the full power of a desktop computer along with the mobility and flexibility of their favorite mobile devices, such as smartphones.”
Elite Software’s latest offering, RHVAC Online, is a web-based software product designed to be used with all smartphones, tablets, and computers with internet access. It performs ACCA Manual J load calculations, Manual D duct sizing, and Manual S equipment selections. According to Smith, RHVAC Online has everything contractors need to comply with the latest international residential code requirements. Projects are saved in the cloud and can be imported and exported to Elite Software’s RHVAC Desktop software.
Vincent Wong, CEO, mHelpDesk, said HVAC businesses are switching from older software solutions to cloud-based systems to improve operational efficiencies. Disconnected systems are becoming a thing of the past.
“Much of that is driven by customer demand,” he said. “They want a true online experience, where communication, documentation, and customer service moves much faster than was even possible a decade ago.”
Wong added that mobile solutions powered by the cloud also allow HVAC businesses to deliver better service while in the field.
“Real-time digital data is reducing costs and increasing profits all while keeping customers and employees happier,” he said.
Launched in June 2016, the mHelpDesk mobile app is designed to provide everything an HVAC company needs to manage its business and team, even from the job site. With access to real-time customer and job information as well as the ability to schedule appointments, create and send estimates, and get signatures on their mobile devices, employees are more productive and save time, according to Wong. With offline mode, teams have access to job details, even when Wi-Fi and a cell signals are unavailable.
The HVAC industry has entered a new era in building automation system (BAS) software as HTML5 provides the ability to incorporate advanced special effects and user interaction within a web environment. BAS/HVAC graphics are no longer relied on by the control manufacturers. That’s the word from Dan McCarty, president and owner of QA Graphics.
According to McCarty, as building systems become more sophisticated, building operators require higher-quality building automation graphics. The detailed, custom graphics in QA Graphics’ new BAS Symbol Library v5 are designed to make it possible to monitor complicated systems with ease across multiple platforms while giving a system a unified look, regardless of the control software. These high-quality BAS and HVAC graphics, which McCarty said are built in-house with state-of-the-art 3-D software and rendering styles, allow users to differentiate themselves with appealing graphics that realistically represent the mechanical systems in place.
“It has become progressively apparent that companies see the need for more sophisticated building automation software with a unified look and feel for the graphics along with building graphics in HTML5 as a key operative,” McCarty said. “As the technology proves to be a powerful tool, it will advance the end user to become faster, smarter, and better.”
SAWIN SERVICE AUTOMATION
The ongoing trend in software is the marriage of proven business processes with the fast-paced evolution of technology — specifically mobile solutions, according to David Haycraft, president, Sawin Service Automation Inc. For example, the customers of commercial HVACR firms want personal access to equipment logs, planned maintenance schedules, completed and pending work orders, and other details, Haycraft said. Therefore, as part of its Pro Enterprise software, Sawin developed a customer portal that allows contractors to offer the transparency their clients are seeking.
In the field, utilizing a mobile work order on a smartphone, tablet, or PC is now the standard, and most firms have some form of this technology in place, Haycraft added. Meanwhile, in the office, the trend continues to be data analysis.
Sawin Mobile is designed to provide technicians with features that allow them to fulfill their objectives on each ticket, collect as much data as possible, increase sales on the spot, and channel the sales lead to the correct party within their firms. Pro Enterprise software then allows the data gathered in the field to be easily compiled and presented in reports that can identify trends in the business and problem areas to improve upon as well as provide an overview of the company’s strengths and weaknesses for strategic planning, according to Haycraft.
“Our ideology has always been that a truly integrated solution is the best way to achieve the results our clients want,” Haycraft said. “The future for our industry will be better utilization of the evolving technology of delivery and collection of data to attain tangible and measurable results.”
BuildingReports.com Inc. unveiled HVACScan™, the latest addition to its ScanSeries® suite of mobile applications for Android™ and iOS®. According to BuildingReports, the HVACScan application and software-as-a-service solution is designed to offer HVACR service providers a competitive advantage in securing new contracts and generating more recurring revenue. Through a barcoding point-and-scan process, HVACScan allows technicians to provide verifiable electronic documentation for commercial and industrial systems and devices.
“Because all service reporting, warranty and recall information, photographic documentation, and maintenance details are available online instead of within a binder or filing cabinet, facility management companies and professionals have immediate, 24/7 access to all service and system records,” said Jason Kronz, BuildingReports’ president and chief technology officer.
Kony Inc., an enterprise mobility company, and KMC Controls have developed the KMC Connect Lite mobile application, which is designed to speed up the pre-commissioning process of KMC Conquest controllers by simplifying field configuration and installation. The KMC Connect Lite app is the first in a series of mobile applications and Internet of Things (IoT) solutions that KMC Controls plans to develop using Kony’s cloud-based platform. According to KMC Controls, customers using the Connect Lite mobile app can significantly reduce system installation setup time.
LG Electronics USA Air Conditioning Systems launched its Telepresence mobile application at the AHR Expo. Now, via the app, contractors will benefit from immediate assistance from an LG technician for fast, on-site troubleshooting. According to LG, the app allows LG experts to provide contractors real-time feedback and step-by-step instructions quickly and efficiently.
The Telepresence app is available to download for Android or iOS users and online at telepresence.lge.com.
Regal Beloit Corp. has added two new features to its Browning Toolbox Technician app-based toolset for HVAC contractors and maintenance professionals.
Enhancements to the app include a mobile motor interchange that enables users to identify a Marathon® motor equivalent while in the field. This feature provides detailed information related to the Marathon Integral Horsepower Motor (IHP) equivalent for the majority of commercial HVAC motors, including efficiency levels, dimensions, line drawings, bearing type, and mounting.
In addition, the new retrofit audit sheet is designed to simplify the belt optimization process. Technicians can now fill out the standard form for a belt-drive optimization electronically versus manually and submit that information to a Regal professional for evaluation and follow-up all within the app. Regal can then provide an assessment with recommendations on selecting the optimal drive based on current design criteria to reduce the cost of components and increase belt drive efficiencies.