Picture a scenario – one that many installation businesses will be familiar with. Your sales team prices and sells the job. The order is placed by your order processing team with your supplier with a purchase order with a ‘zero value’ because you want to ‘get things moving’ (but you don’t know what it’s going to cost – you and your sales team are drawing on your experience, so you’re going to be in the ‘ball park’ but you still don’t have an ‘actual’ cost).
Your fitting team is scheduled for three days, in three weeks’ time, because that’s when your supplier usually delivers i.e. it’s an assumption not a fact. “At that point you don’t know what your costs or the time frame are. You’re making a set of assumptions”, says Elton Boocock, Managing Director, Business Pilot.
The job comes back from your fabricator. It’s come in at 12% more than you thought. There are a couple of extra days on the delivery, so you need to find some other work for your fitting teams to do. When they do get to site, they realise that they needed a lintel or a trim that they don’t have and have to go back.
The job runs to four days not the three scheduled (this, after the product has already cost you more than you thought).
“’How much did you make on that last job?’”, continues Elton rhetorically, “Well your sales guy sold on a three-day fit and it took four. If you’re accounting for the cost of keeping a van on the road, tools and labour, industry average costs suggest it takes £1,000 a day to run a fitting team. If you’re adding one day on top of three, you’re increasing you’re fitting costs by 25%. Then there’s the 12% additional cost on the product and the other materials that weren’t even accounted for. That’s where margin goes.
“Business Pilot changes this by changing how you work and connecting and tracking each and every aspect of your business.”
This, he points out, delivers instant efficiencies and cost savings to installers, with some reporting savings of as high as £40,000 in the first three-months of operation. Business Pilot, is a cloud-based business management tool – it’s USP is that it’s been developed by installers for installers, in this case in addition to Elton, by Cherwell Windows’ Jim and Ryan Breslin; and Thames Valley Windows’ Ryan Schofield. I was brought in to do some work with Cherwell by Jim and Ryan. I’d not worked in window retail.
My background is in digital and it’s in data and systems. I’d been brought in to support digital lead generation. We’d been successful in doing that, we’d more than doubled leads but sales were only up 10% – and we thought ‘right there’s something wrong here let’s look at the data’, and that’s where we started – we couldn’t extract the data we needed from the established industry specific system Cherwell was using.
We went back to the company that made the system, and back to them again and they couldn’t do what we wanted. We were simply told ‘no’. We then looked at other CRMs outside of the industry, but none of them could do what we needed because none of them were designed for companies running installation teams.
“We didn’t set out to create our own system but when we did, we started with a completely blank sheet of paper – I think that’s why we have what we have. We haven’t been constrained by what an existing system could do. We designed what Cherwell needed as an installation business. We asked, ‘what does the ultimate system look like.”
Business management and installation scheduling made simple. Business Pilot is this ‘ultimate system’. The starting point for design was Cherwell Windows own scheduling board, something developed and refined by Jim Breslin over a 30-year period. The problem being that it was still on the wall of his office, because the industry leading CRM he was already using, didn’t do what he wanted it to do. The scheduling board is how the system thinks for you”, continues Elton. “The minute the job is inputted onto the system, it knows how many days to ‘schedule’ and then, onto the scheduling board itself, every aspect of that job is visible and connected from the date of installation to the financials, every single change is tracked and made instantly – there’s no requirement to make multiple changes.
It also removes the guesswork. Until a job is not only priced and ordered, but also all the costs and delivery dates confirmed, it is not your next profitable contract – it’s a ‘wish’. The scheduling board drives your process giving you visibility of the things that you need and want to happen but separating them from the things that are happening. You can schedule everything as you probably do today, but now visually see which jobs have everything ‘confirmed’. That’s the cost of product, confirmed delivery dates, ancillaries etc. and you know everything you need to do the job is there.
And because it’s on the cloud (not on your whiteboard!) Business Pilot is accessible from wherever you are and on whatever device you happen to be on. Drag-and-drop capability, links to drawings, specifications and images, site video, supplier orders, cost of install, helicopter and detailed analysis of your profitability – and well, just about anything you could ever possibly need is accessible from anywhere. This for Elton, is another key point. Business Pilot is built and runs on the Cloud. Why should you care, and what does that actually mean? Well, according to the Business Pilot MD, it makes things a whole lot faster.
There are two routes. There is the software you install and run on your devices, so your desktop or your phone. You log in through a VPN line to prove who you are and then log-in again. This is known as ‘remote desktop’. If you have a lot of people logging in at the same time, it becomes slow. Imagine motorway traffic converging into a single lane. If it breaks you have very limited resilience as you’re accessing a single iteration of a single programme, even if your accessing it remotely.
Business Pilot is natively cloud in the same way as your accountancy software probably is if you’re running Xero or Quick Books or email and office programmes (Office 365). It means that everything is there on multiple servers, each mirroring the other. It also use something called ‘Load balancing’. Imagine approaching a motorway and a new traffic-free lane automatically opening up in front of you. It makes everything run far faster and its accessible from anywhere without VPN or remote login tools”, Elton explains.
With its servers hosted in the UK, Business Pilot is also fully compliant with requirements under GDPR. It’s also made for mobile in the sense that Business Pilot has developed its user interface on the assumption that most people will want to access the platform on their mobile first, rather than always on a desk or laptop improving user experience.
As a cloud-based platform the other advantage is that should your staff have to work remotely they can. This is a clear advantage in a worse-case scenario event, for example fire, flood, or virus e.g. COVID-19. But Elton argues it also allows you to minimise disruption caused by less dramatic events. “If you’re broadband goes down in your office or your server crashes, you can just go and work remotely. The data is always accessible.” You have zero downtime.
These may be the added benefits that Business Pilot offers but it’s the cultural change in approach to business and the financial visibility that it delivers – not only at a headline level but down into each and every job, product and even the performance of your team. “The key point is that every change you make is tracked, not only on the scheduling board or orders but a change anywhere leads to a change everywhere. This means that Business Pilot gives you visibility of each individual element of your business, not only in planning and delivery but in financial performance”, says Elton.
For example, you may believe a particular product range is delivering value – but is it? For example, do you get more maintenance (service) calls on a particular product? How much do those calls erode your margin. Business Pilot will tell you. Is a fitting team costing you more than it should? Is a member of your sales team consistently under-pricing jobs? You get critical visibility. It isn’t just about calling things out, it is how the information helps you to generate and maintain positive margins.
“If you don’t have the data, it doesn’t mean that your next move is going to be wrong but if you do get it right, its luck not judgment. Business Pilot will help you to run your business more efficiently but also more profitably, through data”