As smart phones, iPhones, and iPads become affordable, software developers aiming at service contractors and their crews are incorporating more functionality that takes advantage of those devices.  

Desktop Dispatcher Proand iDispatcher Pro, www.desktopdispatcher.com, Windows and Mac, each carrying a one-time purchase price, are dedicated software solutions that maximize their value when used in sync, though the Desktop can be used as a stand-alone.

Desktop Dispatcher Pro offers a way to create work orders, track customers' contact information and service histories, and get that data to field techs by e-mail via smartphone, e-mail address or iDispatcher Pro, to an iPhone or iPad. The Desktop Dispatcher Pro Calendar screen shows all the appointments, enabling reassignment and reschedule without switching screens. Dispatchers can see open work orders, closed work orders, invoices and equipment at each location, and record a voice memo onto the work order.  

Desktop Dispatcher Pro can track details about customer equipment, including make, model and serial numbers and can also create self-replicating preventative maintenance works order for specific customers or individual pieces of equipment under service.

With iDispatcher Pro, the field tech initiates synchronization with the mobile app in the desktop in the office and receives a copy of the work order. Once the data is in the app, the technician can tap a button to call the customer directly, to get a driving map to the location, to have a customer sign off on a completed work order, and to enter parts used and time spent on the job. The tech will also have a complete service history for that location just a tap away. Techs can also take and store photographs and audio notes. (Click http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gqhUUzlUMmMto see how iDispatcherPro on iPad can sync with Desktop Dispatcher.)

Users of Desktop Dispatcher, alternately, can buy FileMaker Pro, www.filemakerpro.com, a cross platform relational database application, for access to the data in real time (without requiring synchronization) and for customization of the layouts of the work orders on the office side via point-and-click maneuvers. 

Procore Construction Software, www.procore.com, is a cloud-based construction project management solution designed to handle day-to-day management and communications needs for companies running multiple projects. Aimed at general contractors, large specialty contractors, construction managers, owners, and engineers, Procore sports the capabilities to create, store and manage a wide range of documents, in the office on desktop computers and laptops and in the field on an iPhone, iPad or Android device.

Users can collect and track bids; create and manage schedules; create, organize and track requests for information (RFIs), submittals, change orders and punch lists; track time worked, schedule meetings, and handle project communications, all from within the program or simply through e-mail. Every project has its own e-mail address, with unlimited storage for each project.

The Project Dashboard shows an overview chart of the current status of each project and uses red/yellow/green visual cues to indicate task due dates: overdue, due in the coming week or due further out than seven days. The dashboard shows project tasks for the current day, including the start and finish dates and the percentage complete for each task.

Contract management capabilities include a change order request tool that allows an originator to designate an approver and an approval due date, attach any electronic file to the change order request, and then track it all the way through to payment status.

Procore integrates with several project scheduling software programs and displays schedules in a calendar view by day, week or month with project tasks presented as individual bars or as a Gantt chart. The bidding tool gives visibility to see which vendors were invited to bid, which declined, and which have bid information outstanding. Various types of automatic tracking enable a complete bid history for each vendor.

Procore provides four level types of user permissions granted on a project-to-project basis or tool-by-tool basis. The software allows direct entry of timecard data for each employee, with time data linkable to each project record. The data can be exported to and used in any standard accounting software.

Procore's mobile apps for iPhone, iPad and Android devices (free to registered Procore users) enable users to access project directories for contacts (just tap to call or e-mail); access project archives; forward files by e-mail; and review prior versions of a document. The apps feature real-time syncing with the Web app. Permissions are determined for every file and directory within the system, with the entire history for who viewed each document logged.

Team members granted access can make changes and additions in documents and add photos to the Photos archive, view punch list items and their status, create new punch list items (with new photo) and assign responsibility with a due date. Field technicians can update daily notes and log billable and non-billable time on their mobile devices.  

Procore's data is backed up constantly and written to multiple disks instantly, enabling full backup recovery in the event of a system-wide emergency. Procore's hardware is also fully redundant so if one disk or server fails, nothing is lost and the system won't go down.

Procore is available as an annual license with unlimited users. Training and support are free. 

Bill and Patti Feldman write articles and web content for trade magazines and manufacturers of building products. They can be reached at productpad@yahoo.com