Paul Ostrin of Unlimited Integration in Houston explains his frustration with industry software like this:
“When I call my HVAC contractor for a service call, the person who answers the phone can immediately look up my system in his computer while on the call. In their system, it tells him instantly what type of equipment I have installed and when it was installed. He verifies my address and makes an appointment for the service call for next Thursday, for example. When I hang up the phone, I immediately get a text message confirming the appointment for next Thursday. And then the day before the appointment, I get a text message confirming, ‘Are we still good for Thursday?’
“On the day of the appointment, I receive a text message informing me that the technician is on his way indicating the time window on which he will arrive, with his name and picture of him. Then, an hour to 30 minutes before the appointment I get a text message that shows his current location, saying, ‘He’s on his way.’ The technician comes to my house and does his thing. While there, he takes my credit card and swipes it into a remote payment system. After he leaves, I get a text with a link to a customer satisfaction survey asking, ‘How did we do?’ and a link to leave a Google review.
“And this HVAC contractor is a small company with two trucks. It’s embarrassing that my HVAC guy has a better software system than the AV guy — and the entire thing runs on an app. It’s just ridiculous that the custom installation industry does not have software that can do something like this. I am paying something like $12,000 per year for software licenses and I can’t even get it to work properly on a mobile app. There is a vacuum of simplicity in the industry; it’s super frustrating,” he says.
Ostrin’s experience is not unique. Integrators across the spectrum shared their frustrations and needs for industry software as part of the 2021 CE Pro Software Deep Dive Study. Integrators have an average of six pieces of software in their company and they spend a median of $1,260 per year in either new software or ongoing fees. They also tend to buy four new pieces of software every five years. They also note that, on average, they have abandoned three pieces of software over the life of their company for various reasons.
So why go through all the headaches of purchasing and learning software if it’s such a hassle? The bottom line. Dealers report that utilizing an end-to-end software solution to help run their company adds a median of 13.4% to their bottom line. For the typical custom installation company that earned approximately $1.36 million in revenue last year at a 30% profit margin, that means software alone adds nearly $55,000 directly to the bottom line. Wow!
For some integrators, the benefits of implementing software are even more apparent. In total, 4% of integrators report seeing a 50% boost to their bottom line by adopting various types of software. Meanwhile, some dealers must see other benefits in software than improvement in profits; about 6% report that using software does not boost their bottom line at all.
Faster installations, improved documentation and the ability to close more sales are the primary reasons dealers give for the results achieved using software
Digging into the Data on Integration Software
According to the study, 97.6% of all integration companies use at least one type of software to run their business. (That means 2.4% of integrators are still really old-school operators utilizing nothing but paper and pencil for everything from estimates to invoices.) The most common is spreadsheet software like Microsoft Excel, which is used by 76% of integration firms. Accounting/billing software (68%), Design/CAD software (53%) and internal communications software like Slack (48%) are the next most-used types of software.
As noted, integrators say they sometimes stop using certain pieces of software after a while. The primary reasons for that cessation are simply because the software has too many bugs or just doesn’t work, the cost is too high or it is incompatibile with other pieces of software. Sometimes however, it’s not that easy to simply stop using a certain piece software.
One integrator expressed extreme frustration with the ongoing access fees he continues to pay for a piece of software that he abandoned years ago, but he still needs to be able to access the data in that old software program for his past clients or projects. Nearly one in 10 integrators (9%) report paying more than $10,000 per year on software.
A decade ago, the idea that a single piece of software could run your business was a pipe dream. Today, 14% of integration companies report they use some type of multifunction software system for running the business.
As noted, the median number of software solutions used by an integrator is six. About 2% of integrators employ more than 21 pieces of software. When it comes to selecting software, cost is the No. 1 priority, followed by speed, support and compatibility.