We recently gave a talk at the Drain Traders Drain-Ex exhibition at Harrogate Convention Centre. The talk discussed the latest developments in software and technology and the impact it's having on the drainage sector.
The following post is based on the talk.
How is the Drainage Industry Changing?
Many industries are going through massive change at the moment with new ways of working, increased competition, new technology and industry consolidation. The drainage sector is no different. Following are some key trends we've seen over the last few years.
Increasing use of subcontractors
We are seeing more and more companies using subcontractors. This is often due to the need for specialised technology or employees with specific expertise or training.
Equipment can also be expensive, it is often more cost effective to bring in subcontractors to do the job rather than purchasing the equipment yourself.
Mergers and acquisitions
There's also a drive for drainage companies to combine. The sector is highly fragmented with around 1,500 independent specialists operating in the UK. You might be providing excellent support to your customers, but if you offer a narrow scope of services, with limited geographical reach or without significant capacity or resources, the most viable route to growth is to become part of a larger group.
Changing demographics with more younger people entering the industry
We’re also seeing more and more young people with drive and ambition setting up drainage companies. They are familiar with the latest technology and are demanding new types of software to promote and run their businesses.
One example of this change is companies using social media to promote their business and to create a dialogue with their customers. We get lots of calls from our customers asking us how Facebook works and what is a retweet. Drop us a line or connect on Twitter for more information.
We’re also seeing companies, especially younger companies using social media and instant messaging to help run their business. They can get information out to their employees and even respond to customers more quickly via WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger.
However although WhatsApp, Facebook and Twitter creates new opportunities for many drainage companies. We often hear from companies that as they get larger then their information can become fragmented across lots of different applications. This is one of the reasons companies are turning to new forms of technology such as market networks.
So that's a brief intro into some of the changes affecting the drainage industry. What about the software industry? How is drainage software changing and more importantly, how do the changes the drainage sector?
How is the software industry changing?
Technology is moving away from complicated desktop systems which are hosted on your computers to cloud based services.
Using cloud technologies is a bit of a cultural shift for many in the drainage industry but there are a lot of benefits.
Where once, cloud based software was seen as less secure. Now having software in house whether developed bespoke or provided by a large company such as SAP, Oracle or Microsoft is seen as the weakest link in the fight against hackers. This was demonstrated vividly recently by the WannaCry malware virus which spread around the world and caused many companies including the NHS to lose business critical information.
Note: if you want to find out more about malware viruses and how to protect from them, check out our post on the Wanacry Malware Virus.
By moving to the cloud, you are handing over responsibility to people who are expert, who are monitoring threats continually and update their software whenever new technology becomes available. The NHS was hit particular hard because a lot of their computers were still running Windows XP which is not supported by Microsoft any more and is therefore an easy target for hackers.
Changes in software pricing
The move to the cloud has also had a couple of other impacts on the software that you use. Pricing now tends to be subscription based as opposed to one off pricing for a licence.
This means lower upfront costs but with payments spread over the life of your contract. This can be good for cashflow and as long as you are not tied into a long term contract then you are free to move to other software providers if the software does not live up to expectations.
If you look at iTunes or Google Play store on your mobile phone, you’ll notice that the apps on your phone often get updated with bug fixes and improvements.
This is one of the other changes that has affected the software industry especially over the last 10 years. Before companies would release a new version of their software every few years and you were either forced to upgrade and pay another large chunk of cash or you were left with outdated software.
With the advent of the Apple App Store in 2008, this model changed. If you look at modern software companies, they are continually updating their software. Some companies even talk about releasing new updates by the hour.
This means you always have the latest software, the latest features, the latest security and the best performance.
Social networks are everywhere
Social networks such as Facebook and Twitter are now commonplace. Facebook has over 1.5 billion users around the world. They are therefore becoming more and more important as a way to promote your business and communicate with customers.
Over the past 10 years there has also been a shift from Social Networks such as Facebook to marketplaces like Uber and AirBnB. The next 10 years is expected to bring a new breed of network - the market network which combines the advantages of a social network with a market place and cloud based software as a service. Okappy is an example of a market network. Once you create an account, you can invite your customers and subcontractors on to the platform. Building your own network on Okappy means you can reduce duplication between you and your customers systems. There is less reliance on paperwork and emails which have no guarantee of being delivered, let alone read. You and your customers know what is happening when it happens.
In the past, software companies tried to do all things for all people. This led to very complicated systems. Nowadays software is a lot more focused. Companies offer limited features and use APIs (Application Programming Interface) to connect to other software to provide additional features.
There's also a lot more focus on design and usability with the aim of bringing a consumer experience to industry.
Drainage company case studies
RPS Drainage Services Ltd is a highly professional drainage maintenance company with a proven track record in both planned preventative drainage maintenance and reactive emergency call outs. They provide 24 hour 365 days per year service to an impressive client portfolio which includes Arcus Solutions, CBRE and The Royal Household.
The company has around 22 staff, all skilled in a particular discipline. They use the latest drainage technology including jetting and cameras. But they didn’t use the latest technology when it came to actually running their business. There was a lot of paperwork, a lot of information was being copied from job sheets to invoices, the only technology they used in their office (apart from their computers) was the franking machine.
As the company expanded, one of the directors, saw an opportunity to differentiate from the competition, provide better customer service and really lead the market. In order to do this, he wanted to streamline their processes, get rid of paperwork and ensure all his information was in one place, easily accessible and updated in real time.
How are RPS using market networks to streamline their business and reduce costs?
A job typically comes in by phone or email. It is immediately logged onto the system by the office staff. The job is then available to all administrators via the Jobs dashboard. Each member of the team can see at a glance what jobs are booked in, including customer details, job description, who allocated the job and to whom. At that point, the job can be assigned to the relevant engineer who sees it pop up on their phone or tablet.
As soon as the engineer has viewed the job, the status is updated in real-time all the way through to eventual completion. The details of the work undertaken are available straight away, no more chasing paperwork and invoices can be raised immediately.
The office can see very easily if their engineer have viewed their jobs, when they are on site and when they finish the job without having to ring them up to find out what’s going on. The office can also view images and videos of the completed work and check whether the client has provided a signature which helps reduce the risk of disputed invoices.
Completed job sheets can be emailed to customers along with related information. They can even allow their customers to log in and view work without having to send emails.
How has this benefitted RPS?
The turnaround time from accepting a job to invoicing it is now a lot quicker. Previously it could take weeks to raise an invoice and receiving payment could take even longer. Often these issues escalate, an invoice is delayed, the information has been forgotten so when there is a dispute it takes a lot longer to identify the issue and come to an agreement.
Now invoices can be raised a matter of minutes after the job has been completed. They don’t photocopy documents anymore. The franking machine has almost been made redundant.
This also means more time for the directors to focus on growing the business, looking after the customers and bringing in new customers.
Convert Water case study
RPS is a good example of a company that has been around a while, has grown their business over time and built a strong reputation with their customers. At the other end of the spectrum i’m going to talk about a younger company (in every sense of the word).
Convert Water has been around for just a few years and is already building a reputation for being consummate experts in turning waste water of all descriptions into safe, hygienic and clean water.
They were established in 2015 and offer an all-round service to their customers, providing all elements of treatment and pumping of waste-water and sewage. They act as installers, subcontractors or main contractors.
The company is young, ambitious and open to new ways of working. They were keen to review the way they managed their day-to-day workload, particularly in relation to jobs received from other members of the Okappy network.
They wanted to streamline their processes, get rid of paperwork and ensure all their information was in one place, easily accessible and updated in real-time. They wanted to be able to receive jobs from their customers without having to re-key information into the system and wanted their customers to be able to instantly see the status of their jobs without having to chase them for updates.
Before using Okappy, Convert Water was using spreadsheets, emails and text messages. There was a lot of manual data entry and duplication between different applications. As a result, information was often lost or missed.
Now their engineers can add jobs for themselves. When additional work needs to be done, they can quickly add the information to an existing job or create a new one and schedule it for a future date without having to wait before they're back in the office to update their schedule.
As their business is newer they are using other cloud based systems such as QuickBooks for their accounts. The office staff can raise invoices through the network and then upload the invoice into Quickbooks.
How is Convert Water using Okappy to streamline their business and reduce costs
A job typically comes in via the Okappy platform from one of Convert Water’s customers. If the customer is not an Okappy user, the job arrives via email or telephone and can be entered into Okappy by the directors when they are in the office or when out on site.
Once on the system, all the director can check the job’s details and assign it to the relevant engineer who, in turn, receives an alert on his smartphone or tablet. As soon as the engineer has viewed the job, its status is updated in real-time along with any additional job updates right until the job is marked as ‘Complete’. Details of the work undertaken are instantly available to the office so no more chasing paperwork, and no more late invoices.
As Convert Water does a lot of work as subcontractors for their customers, they can configured job sheets for each customer with their own branding.
Once the job is set to complete, The office can check what information has been entered and then raise an invoice. If his customers are on Okappy, they can see the invoice as soon as it is raised. Otherwise the invoice is sent via email from within the system. This means invoices get paid quicker, with less disputes and no more excuses for “invoices lost in the post”.
How has this benefited Convert Water?
Convert Water and their customers have a lot more visibility and control over the work they do. Information is updated in real-time and instantly available to all stakeholders, resulting in less calls from customers wondering about the status of a job, less chasing for information from their technicians and ultimately more time to grow the business. It makes Convert Water appear bigger and more professional and gives them room to grow their business.
See more of the best companies, and how they use technology to grow and improve their businesses in our case studies section.
The Drainage industry is going through profound changes. Software and Technology is also changing dramatically. Consolidation, changing demographics and new technology can be scary but it can also lead to opportunities for the best companies in the drainage industry.
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