Case Study: Solving Billing Errors by Tracking the Techs

Aptos-based First Alarm provides electronic security systems, as well as uniformed security guard and patrol services, to business, individual residences and gated communities in California. Founded in 1966, First Alarm was ranked by Security Distributing & Marketing magazine as the 30th largest security company in the United States for 2004.

Key to First Alarm's growth and success over the years has been its ability to keep an accurate record of billable hours worked by its technicians, which has a corresponding effect on the cost of jobs performed for customers. If the hours reported by the technicians were found to be in excess of the anticipated cost of a job, it was First Alarm that took the loss, not the customer. Unsatisfied with this result, First Alarm determined it was necessary to improve the process by which field technician hours were collected and recorded, such that fewer errors or inaccuracies would occur.

Early in 2003 First Alarm selected the Xora GPS TimeTrack service to track the activities of 45 field technicians, whose job it is to install or repair security systems. The Xora application runs on GPS-enabled mobile phones, so workers carrying them can be located easily. Maps generated by the Xora service identify the location of each worker when they clock in and out at the beginning and end of each day. First Alarm vice president and general manager Dave Hood performs spot checks using the Xora service to validate the accuracy of technician time cards.

To deploy Xora GPS TimeTrack to 45 workers each month costs Dave approximately $1,000. Nevertheless, the Xora service paid for itself within the first six months, thanks to an obvious and noticeable improvement in worker productivity, according to Dave. "Our field technicians now have a heightened awareness of where they are when they clock in and out, which leads to greater accountability," said Hood.

Often times, with 30 or 40 projects running concurrently, there is a tendency for information about project overruns to be discovered too late, which ends up costing the company money. Though not yet implemented, the hours worked information recorded by Xora eventually will be plugged into the First Alarm job costing system. As a result, Dave will have access to the status of job costs, in terms of budgeted versus actual hours, in real time, enabling him to avoid problems before they arise.

"I believe data entry should happen one time, at the tech's hand, and go directly to our payroll and job costing systems," said Hood. "With Xora's help we should have this functionality up-and-running in the next few months."

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