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Buried in Paper? It’s not just about saving trees. the effective way to go paperless using mobile apps.

In my previous post, I described how the use of mobile devices can help improve Communication, Collaboration and Control in your dealership. In this post, let’s take closer look at some actionable examples a marine business can deploy that work well with readily available apps to help increase both communication and collaboration in your dealership while maintaining a level of control to keep everyone focused.

I have visited hundreds of boat dealerships, boat yards and marine service centers during my 12-year career in the marine industry. Dealers are resourceful, and I have seen many innovative processes designed to help with the flow of information. But most of these processes utilize a paper form to get information from one place to another. The problem with paper is that it does not transfer from one place to another easily. Not only does it physically have to be carried from one place to another, but the information written on that paper eventually needs to get entered into a billing or dealer-management system.

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Scheduling people and events tends to be one of the most fluid aspects of running a boat dealership or boat yard. The schedule you started with at 7:30 a.m. is completely shot by 9:00. Things are constantly in flux as customer demands pop up, parts you expected to receive don’t arrive, equipment malfunctions and the weather changes. The most common tool used by both sales managers and service managers is a dry erase board and the eraser is used as much as the marker.

Many marine businesses have resorted to Excel spreadsheets to organize staff members, track employee time and maintain a schedule. Excel is versatile but it’s not a collaboration tool. While things like Office 365 have made collaborating and sharing spreadsheets easier, the problem is that it’s still a spreadsheet and not designed for coordinating and scheduling team members. Furthermore, they are hard to navigate from a mobile device and they don’t effectively alert team members when something is coming due.

To improve on how these schedule changes are communicated to your team, some dealers and boatyards have started to incorporate free tools like Google Calendar and Google Docs to share calendars with their staff, alert team members of when various tasks need to be started and communicate any changes rapidly to the team regardless of where they are located.

Google Calendar:

You can use Google Calendar to schedule and coordinate the daily job assignments and/or boat delivery schedule with your employees. Just set up a new calendar and start adding events as your jobs. You will need to include your employee’s email address as the attendee of the event. After you get your schedule set, invite your employees to subscribe to the calendar. Google Calendar has a native mobile app that works on both Apple and Android devices.

Cam_blog_image_2.jpg.pngFrom a management perspective, the ability to check your teams’ availably is powerful, plus you can assign a color to each person so they are easily recognizable on the calendar. This method works well for a team of up to 10 service technicians. If you are managing more than 10 team members, Google Calendar can be a bit tedious to navigate, as changes to the calendar are made throughout the day, and there will be constant changes; your team can see the most current schedule when they check the calendar.

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If you have mobile service techs, one of the nice things about Google Calendar on mobile is that it integrates with maps. If you put your customer’s address in the event being scheduled for your technician, they can tap on the address and it will bring up a Google Map that will navigate them to the boat.

Google Docs:

Tasking your employees to do something with an event is great, but just letting them know what is supposed to be done for whom and where might not be enough. In a business as detailed as a boat dealership or boat yard, your technicians and sales people need more detailed instructions of what they are supposed to do and how. This is where Google Docs comes in. Using Docs, you can share documents, spreadsheets, photos and videos with your team. These docs can either be shared “read only” or they can be given permission to edit. All you need to do is email them an invitation to their Gmail address and they will have access to the document.

Both Google Calendar and Google Docs are free if you use a Gmail address. But most marine businesses want to use email address associated with their company’s domain name. To do this, the paid version of Google Apps for Work is required. This feature is $5 per user per month and includes a business email addresses (name@yourcompany.com) and 30GB of online storage for file syncing and sharing.

Microsoft Office Integration:

As you read this you might think, “Hey, this sounds great but we use Outlook.” Not to worry, at MyTaskit we use Outlook as well but we sync our Outlook Calendars and Email to Google Calendar and Gmail. This is done using a free application provided by Google called Google Apps Sync for Microsoft Outlook (https://tools.google.com/dlpage/gappssync).

Real-world Example:

All of this may sound good in theory but how can these tools be used in a boat dealership or boat yard scenario? One of many uses is how service managers schedule jobs for their technicians. A service manager can schedule jobs for the technicians by inviting them to a Google Calendar event. In the example below, I have created an event called “370 Sundancer / Ron Lewis / WO #500513”. The name of the event incorporates the boat name, customer name and work order number.

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In the “Where” field I have included the actual location of the boat, in this case it’s Marina – Slip F35. In the right you will see “Add guests”. This is where one or more technicians can be invited to the event or in other words assigned a job or task. The technician would receive an email letting him know that he’s been scheduled to perform this work.

In the Description section is a link to a Work Order that is also shared with the technician using Google Docs.

When the technicians view their calendar they would see an event show up like the one below. Tapping on the event (task) takes you to a detailed view. Here you can see that a reminder has been set to 30 minutes before the event. You can also tell who assigned this task to you and whether any other technicians have also been assigned this task.

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Tapping on the link in the event will launch the Google Docs app on your mobile phone and take you into the Work Order that’s been created for this job. In this example there are four actual operations (jobs) on this work order and then a template that allows the tech to fill in the engine hours for record-keeping purposes. When the tech taps the blue edit button in the bottom right, he can edit the document, add how many hours it took him to do each job and add any additional notes to the job. This information is then shared instantly with a supervisor.

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Limitations to Consider:

While this collaborative approach to scheduling and coordinating jobs is more efficient than pushing paper back and forth, there are still some serious drawbacks that need to be considered:

  1. Lists vs. Calendars: Considering the fast-changing marine business, a calendar allocating a certain number of hours to one or more individual for a particular job is often not the most efficient way to manage priorities. It might be more useful to have your technicians work off a prioritized list as opposed to a calendar.
  2. Double-entry: Most boat dealers and boatyards use a dealer management system or billing system to track jobs, labor hours, parts, subcontractors and invoices. Even though Google Docs allows two or more team members to collaborate, someone still has to manually get the information from a billing system and enter it into Google Docs. For example, most businesses use the estimating and work (repair) order feature in their management system. Giving technicians access to this information using the Google Docs method requires the service manager to copy the work order (or a portion of it) into Google Docs before it can be shared.
  3. Engine Hours, Labor Entry and Tech Comments: The double-entry issue is also apparent as the technicians edit the work order in Google Docs. The hours entered and the comments need to be re-entered into a management system for billing purposes.
  4. Lots of steps: The service manager has to create a work order or some type of job request in Google Docs, share it with the employee, copy the link and then paste it into Google Calendar. There are a lot of steps involved because this particular workflow is not something that is built into the Google Apps.

Even with these shortcomings, using Google’s collaboration tools is more efficient and flexible than most paper processes. In my third post, I will review how MyTaskit overcame the issues mentioned above by creating a purpose built platform that allows service managers, technicians and even customers to share and coordinate tasks.