By Michael Merrill
I loathe the sound of a fax ringing in the office. Like it or not we have entered an age where a career in snow & ice management requires a certain level of tech savvy to be regarded as a professional. I’m almost offended when a document as important as a contract or scope of work arrives via fax. I have to spend more time trying to look past the black streaks from the sender’s use of Wite-Out instead of reviewing the indemnification clause for undesirable language.
More and more of our clients, however, are turning to technology to manage their vendors. Snow & ice professionals who are looking to break into commercial work or want to partner with national service providers or multiunit clients directly will find that doing so may come with technological requirements.
Taking the time to become familiar with the basic terms, technology and digital tools that you’ll be expected to utilize will help you decide whether your company can follow the client’s required processes throughout the contract term. Can you cover the overhead required to comply with these new systems (hardware, software, training)? Can the team understand and work within the processes? Do you have the administrative staff to complete these functions within the defined time frame?
Working with these clients can result in an “alphabet soup” of acronyms and terms that must be understood to ensure you’re speaking the same language and everyone is on the same page. Following are some of those terms and related expenses that may come with them. Most carry no hard costs, but there will be an investment of time for education and training so you’re comfortable with the processes. I’ve divided them into low, medium and high costs to invest.
ACH (Automated Clearing House): An electronic network for financial transactions in the United States. ACH processes large vol-umes of credit and debit transactions. ACH credit transfers include direct deposit payroll and vendor payments. Be prepared to hand out your company’s account and routing numbers, monitor remittance advice emails, and enter amounts into your accounting software at the proper times since you will not receive a paper check. Low (Training only)
Apps (Applications): Apps are programs optimized to run on smart devices. You may be required to report every service performed through an app created specifically for the company you’re working for. To comply you may have to supply a smart device to employees that do not have one. Medium (Cost dependent on type of equipment and software purchased.)
.csv (Comma Separated Value): .csv is a file format commonly used in spreadsheet software to move tabular data between programs that natively operate on incompatible (often proprietary and/or undocumented) formats. You may be required to submit data in a format (in-cluding .csv) defined by the client for validation and payment. Low
Cloud/cloud computing: Software and data is stored on a remote network of computers making it accessible to many computers at one time in multiple locations. Low (Many cloud processes are free - e.g. Google or Dropbox apps - although very expensive cloud systems are available.)
Dashboard: Typically developed and hosted by the client, this is the home page of its Web portal, which normally shows quick links to common functions, compliance items and reports. Low
Digital signature: Signing on the proverbial dotted line isn’t always possible in our mobile workforce. Instead, clients may require a valid digital signature, which holds the same weight in terms of authenticity, integrity and non-repudiation. Digital signatures are commonly used for software distribution, financial transactions, and in cases where it is important to detect forgery or tampering. Low-Medium (Many software applications, like Acrobat, have this feature built in.)
E-sourcing tool: Typically a Web-based company where clients can buy goods and services using professional sourcing tools, reverse auctions, vendor vetting, reporting and procurement services. Two common platforms in this industry are Ariba and Service Channel. Cli-ents may be required to bid on jobs through this type of tool. Medium (There can be a significant time investment for training and initial ac-count setup. Some e-sourcing tools require a paid license.)
Geofence: A critical element to telematics hardware and software, geofencing allows users to draw zones around places of work, customers’ sites and secure areas. These geofences, when crossed by a GPS-equipped vehicle or person, can trigger an alert to the user or operator via text or email. Medium (Normally a component of other software.)
GPS (Global Positioning System): Technology used to validate the geographical position of people, vehicles and equipment in real time. Medium-High (Involves hardware, software and installation ranging from proprietary software built into a smartphone.)
IVR (Interactive Voice Response): IVR allows a computer to interact with humans through the use of voice and dual-tone multifrequency signaling (DTMF) via keypad (usually via telephone). Vendors may be required to report every service performed within the contract period by phone IVR. Low (Typically provided by the client. Although your company can operate its own IVR system.)
KPI (Key Performance Indicators): Essential metrics used to effectively rank service providers. Your company may be scored on several categories and ranked with other contractors. A low score could impact renewals, new work and contract values. KPI examples in-clude ease of communication, timeliness, validation compliance and adherence to scope of work. Low
Measuring Distance and Area in Satellite Images: Software that uses a user-defined polygonal geofence to measure area and plot points to measure distance on satellite images. Medium-High (Price dependent upon software licenses purchased.)
Metric: A standard of measurement (e.g. a scoring system to rank your company on KPIs). None
MSA (Master Service Agreement): A document outlining how business will be conducted between you and your client. An MSA does not typically reference sites, scope of work or rates. These items are normally dealt with in separate schedules or a proposal request. Low
NTE (Not to Exceed): The dollar amount that a specific work order cannot exceed. None
.pdf (Portable Document Format): A file format that allows users to view (and in some cases edit) documents independent of a specific operating system, software, etc. Most text-based documents that are shared in the business world are created as or converted to a .pdf for universal and secure communication. A full version of Adobe Acrobat is a great investment when working with .pdfs so you can use all of the features inherent to the format. You do not need the most current version of software (check ebay for a great deal on an older version). Low-High (Dependent on software and number of licenses purchased.)
Portal or Web Portal: A client website, secured by a login and password, that is used to enter data into a company database. You may have additional reporting or e-invoicing required through a cloud-based Web portal. Low-Medium (The labor to enter data will vary upon type of information and number of properties that require validation. Some companies have an internal validation specialist to handle this task.)
Remittance Advice: An email or letter sent by a customer to a supplier to inform the supplier that their invoice has been or will be paid, usually by ACH. None
Reverse auction: A type of auction in which the roles of buyer and seller are reversed. In a reverse auction, the sellers compete to obtain business from the buyer, and prices will typically decrease as the sellers undercut each other. None (Typically a component of an e-sourcing tool, but it can become a high-Ievel investment if you’re not careful when bidding within the tool.)
RFP (Request for Proposal), RFI (Request for Information), RFB (Request for Bid) and RFQ (Request for Quote): Variations of a formal document outlining the scope of work, pricing detail and format of your proposal for a specific project. You may receive one of these proposal requests that is subordinate to a pre-existing MSA. None
Smart device: An electronic device, generally connected to other devices or networks via different protocols such as Bluetooth, Near Field Communication (NFC), Wi-Fi, 3G, etc., that can operate to some extent interactively and autonomously (e.g. tablets, smartphones). Medium-High (Dependent upon the type of hardware and data plan purchased.)
SOW (Scope of Work): A statement of work detailing how a job will be performed. None
Validation: You may be required to prove to the client, through IVR, Web portal, photos, etc., that the scope of work has been completed. Low-High (The labor to enter services will vary upon type of information and number of properties that require validation. Some companies have an internal validation specialist to handle this task.)
WO (Work Order): A formal approval and statement of work that usually applies to one project vs. using the SOW for recurring service. A WO will be required in order to be paid and prior to performing any service. Low
Michael Merrill is CEO of North Country Snow & Ice Management in Glens Falls, NY.