Solving the "cable guy problem"November 7, 2011: 12:51 PM ET
TOA Technologies says American workers lose some $37 billion a year just waiting for deliveries and repairmen to show up. Their technology promises to fix that.
FORTUNE -- A survey released last Thursday estimates that, over the last year, American workers lost some $37 billion while sitting, waiting and wishing for technicians and delivery men to show up at their homes. TOA Technologies, the company that commissioned the study, says this staggering number is avoidable.
The Beachwood, Ohio-based TOA -- which stands for "Time of Arrival" -- aims to cut the costs and improve the efficiency of companies providing services like cable installation or furniture delivery. The company makes ETAdirect, enterprise software that it says can reduce expenses acquired during the typical four- to six-hour wait window. It says ETAdirect can often help slash wait times for deliveries down to one hour.
How does it work? ETAdirect is cloud-based software that acts as an air traffic controller of sorts for workers and technicians out in the field. "Work patterns are like fingerprints," says TOA CEO Yuval Brisker. It could take one employee 20 minutes to provide a service; it could take another 35 minutes. Every individual has different work habits, so it's ineffective to average work time, he emphasizes. Instead, ETAdirect's algorithms monitor patterns of work. "We basically do a real-time, motion-study of every individual field worker," says Brisker.
Much like UPS (UPS) allows customers to track a package, ETAdirect keeps companies on top of field employees by following them step-by-step. Tracked by GPS coordinates, field workers' locations are monitored and displayed on a large map. The status of each employee is graphed. The software measures the time it takes individuals to complete their work and allows companies to accurately predict the time of delivery or arrival of service -- and warn customers if their services are running late.
Workers go to the warehouse, load up their trucks with the necessary equipment. They then log-in to ETAdirect, let their bosses know they're ready for their first appointment, and they receive their assignments. Throughout the process of completing each assignment, employees check in with the company. There's pre-ordained language, says Brisker, that lists various activities ("Start," "Completed," "Need additional time") on a pull down menu. This information allows ETAdirect to estimate the time of arrival for each employee. And the system also allows workers to receive as much work as they can handle. If they're taking too long, some of their work can be sent to another technician.
Though TOA Technologies has been around since 2003, they've gained the recent attention of several investors, raising $17.2 million in May. The company also caught the eye of Salesforce.com (CRM). They've developed ETAworkforce, a mobile workforce management solution, which is built on Saleforce's Force.com platform. The program, which will be up and running before the new year, allows Salesforce to better manage its appointment scheduling, tracks appointment progress in real-time and gives customers more ready access to customer service representatives.
A few of TOA's other customers include Cox Communications, Virgin Media, Arhaus Furniture and Bright House Networks. Many have seen a high reduction in their in-home services costs. Cox, for instance, had an $18,000 reduction per mobile worker per year since using ETAdirect. Brisker says this is because ETAdirect enables productivity by allocating more work with fewer people. Calls asking about appointments were cut more than 25% for most companies. And Arhaus Furniture experienced a 40% decrease in miles driven per delivery run, and a 38% increase in deliveries per hour since using ETAdirect.
That close monitoring of employees in the field might sound a bit Big Brother-esque. But, Brisker claims the overall response from field employees has been positive. Being closely watched certainly causes a behavioral changes, but it also allows employees to only receive the amount of work they can actually complete.
ETAdirect has few competitors in its field. Ventyx, Service Power and Click Software provide similar enterprise services. But, with robust funding and some strong case studies, the company looks to make the most of solving a very expensive problem.