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Digitization Improves Operations and Profitability
Based in Pennsylvania, DeRock Electric Company was founded in 2008 by two master electricians. Since its founding, the team has grown into a first-class commercial and industrial electrical contractor with a team of more than 30 employees in the field, including five master electrician license holders in house.
From large construction projects to smaller service jobs, the DeRock Electric team runs a variety of concurrent projects. To continue to scale a profitable operation and deliver high service levels, every team member must have easy, real-time access to the information and materials they need to complete their work. And the company’s leadership must have data-backed insights to continually improve and grow the operation.
Manual and Disconnected Processes Hurt Operations and Profitability
Before Knack, DeRock Electric operated using a combination of manual processes, paper-based forms, Google Sheets, and information transferred from the field to the office via individual emails and text messages.
It’s an industry operated by small companies without a lot of resources, so paper-based processes and text and email workarounds are the norm. But the myriad of disconnected processes and systems made it difficult to keep everyone at DeRock in the loop. It impacted efficiency and meant that valuable job and operational data weren’t available for analysis and business insight.
DeRock scheduled and managed its jobs via a spreadsheet. “We’ve always got jobs running, and guys in vans going and pulling wire and hooking things up. It was all managed with Google Sheets,” said Scott McDowell, Project Manager. “We’d manually assign job numbers and workers to the jobs to keep things rolling”.
That process presented data integrity and operational challenges. Manual processes impacted everything from employee timesheets to tracking materials needed for individual jobs, and ensuring customers were properly billed for all parts used in their project.
Even a question about how many total hours were spent on a job required the accountant to calculate it in QuickBooks. “We’ve got three project managers, and they were getting their work done, but didn’t have a way to see how much time they’ve used on a job.” It fell to the accountant to prepare monthly business reviews – tallying the time spent on jobs and providing other summary metrics. That was helpful, but it kept critical information one step removed from the people running the job and their ability to proactively take action.
To scale the operation and provide the best experience to employees and customers, required a new approach to the operation.
Creating Digital, Unified Operational Processes
Scott began exploring how software could digitize and streamline the company’s processes. Initially, he planned to build a proof of concept for his idea to test what features they needed. He then planned to buy a solution that fit the requirements. Scott’s plan changed when he built his proof-of-concept app in Knack.
“We got Knack running and realized we’re not going to buy something, we have something that works and wanted to keep using it.” And once the initial app was deployed, it was easy to iterate and add more functionality. Integrating a texting capability via Make and a service called TextMagic made the full value shine. “It makes it so much better when folks out in the field get a real-time text notification to their phone,” said Scott.
Digitizing and centralizing all of their data in the Knack app drove improvements across the company.
Improved Job Scheduling and Visibility
Transferring all of DeRock’s job data from Google Sheets to Knack was the first step. Now, Knack automatically generates unique job numbers, and everyone can see schedules and jobs at a glance. And Knack’s robust search and filter features make it easy to get the information. “I have a scheduling tab and I just type in my name to see where I am assigned, or I can pull up the job and see everyone who’s assigned to it,” said Scott. Knack also enabled historical views to quickly see who was assigned to various jobs last week, a month ago, or any time period.
If a worker needs to be reassigned in the middle of the day because of an emergency call or other urgent situation, DeRock also used Knack to transform the dispatching process. With all job, employee and schedule information unified in the app, the office manager simply clicks a button to notify a worker of an assignment change. The text lets the person know their new job assignment, its location and the time they need to arrive onsite.
Streamlined Tool and Equipment Management
And it’s not just scheduling jobs and workers that’s so much more efficient in Knack. DeRock also maintains information about tools and equipment. Some jobs require special equipment like a bucket truck, scissor lift, trencher or underground locator.
In Knack, the person assigning the job clicks on the equipment needed and the job is assigned a unique color-code. That makes it easy for employees to get an at-a-glance view of the type of equipment needed on site. The coding also helps the accounting team since these types of equipment have daily use charges. “When the accountants see the color coding on a job report, it’s an instant trigger to include the added charge to the customer,” said Scott.
Day-to-day tools are also tracked in Knack. “We’ve got a couple hundred tools – drills, saws, scaffolding, ladders – things that are a part of our job but we don’t want to charge the customer for. For example, DeRock tracks over 200 ladders, because each van has a 6-foot, 8-foot and an extension ladder. Ensuring those ladders all get back on the van at the end of the job saves a lot of money in replacements. And it’s a time saver for limited quantity tools. ‘We’ve got two concrete saws and if a worker pulls it up in the app and neither is available, they can click on the item and find out where it is,” said Scott.
Equipment status is also tracked. If something breaks, it goes into an injured-reserve category, which flags it for repair. That keeps visibility high so workers aren’t caught unprepared for a job by finding they’ve checked out equipment that doesn’t work. It also prevents the cost of last-minute equipment rentals.
Effective Materials Tracking and Management
DeRock doesn’t keep a materials inventory. All parts are ordered to complete specific jobs. Ideally, materials ship directly to the jobsite, but that’s not always possible, so they’re often delivered to the shop. Before Knack, the project manager had no way of knowing if the material had arrived or where it was in the shop. “It gets put on a shelf and someone has to remember that it came in and where it was placed,” said Scott. The lack of control wasn’t efficient and led to items getting lost or misplaced.
Knack solved the challenge. Now, the person receiving a delivery takes a picture of the packing slip and the contents. When they save the images in Knack, an automated text notification is sent to the project manager for that job. “Now we’re able to let people know that material has arrived at the shop, and have a history of it. That was a game changer for us,” said Scott.
Digitized Employee Timesheets Save Time and Increase Accuracy
Before Knack, employees submitted a timesheet at the end of each week. The employee filled out a form, took a picture, and texted it to the office.
Today, workers log their time at the end of each day in Knack. And if a timesheet is missing, it’s as easy as hitting a button in the app and the employee receives a text reminder. “We don’t chase timesheets anymore. And daily reporting makes us more accurate with our time and materials jobs. When timesheets were due on Friday evening, it meant work completed on Tuesday often wasn’t recorded until days later,” said Scott. Daily submissions through Knack eliminate the reliance on memory recall.
New Business Insights from Centralized Estimate Data
DeRock’s jobs are a mix of fixed-fee projects and those billed on time and materials. The estimators handling fixed-fee jobs used to track estimates and notes about assumptions made in coming up with the fee in their own independent records. Now that information is logged in the Knack app and linked with the other job data.
Centralizing it in Knack keeps the work processes streamlined and means they can now easily track wins and losses. “At the end of the month we can look back and see the jobs we bid, and those we didn’t get. It’s useful for gathering feedback on why we’re getting some work and not getting others. Before tracking it in Knack if you didn’t get the job, you didn’t look back, you just kept bidding,” said Scott.
Seeing monthly stats and being able to analyze for patterns behind the wins and losses lets DeRock continuously make adjustments and improvements to their processes. “It’s just another tab in our Knack app. We can look at estimates and see where things are. And we can look at volume. If we’re not bidding as many jobs, why? Is the economy slowing down, or is there another reason they can address?” Scott said.
Increased Profitability with More Accurate Materials Billing
It’s common for workers to grab parts from their van when completing a job. That van stock comes from a worker buying material for a job, or having extra parts at a job. “When they need a receptacle or a box, or some wire, they pull it off their van. The problem is those parts aren’t assigned to that job, so the customer isn’t charged for the material used,” said Scott.
Van stock is now tracked in Knack. When they’re on a job and take material off the van they list the material used – 100 feet of wire, two boxes, light switches, etc. Those are marked as van stock and it’s assigned to the job. The information is sent to the accountants with a materials list, including quantities and descriptions so they can price out and charge the customer. “It adds profitability and helps us track and manage things,” said Scott.
Comprehensive Safety Training and Insurance Savings
Keeping workers and job sites safe is a top priority for DeRock. To complete weekly trainings, the company used to have a safety app with training topics they licensed. But the app was clunky and didn’t work well.
They took matters into their own hands, found the safety content they needed and created 60 topics in PDF documents. The content is stored in Knack, and each week a topic is assigned automatically and the team is notified via text message.
At the press of a button, the content is available and everyone signs off on attendance. Now there’s a safety training history for each employee. “We have the content, the delivery mechanism, and the history of everyone doing it, so it’s pretty well done,” said Scott. Having a fully implemented safety program also gives DeRock a 5% discount on their Workman’s Comp insurance.
What’s Next for DeRock Electric and Knack?
Implementing digital processes across the operation has delivered significant value in terms of saving time, increasing profitability and improving the employee and customer experience. Seeing the benefit of having its data centralized in one connected database sparks ideas for additional aspects of the business that can move into the Knack app going forward – and Knack makes it easy to iterate the app to add new capabilities that continue to build on the already significant achievements.