What gets measured, gets improved. Internally conducted inspections are something that all building service contractors should be doing to ensure operations are running correctly and workers are doing their jobs. Until recently, inspections were a timely process: conducting the walk-through, taking notes, entering the information into a computer, then sending reports out in the mail to customers.

That’s not the case anymore, as many BSCs know. Software and Web-based programs help contractors track and monitor operations, from job scheduling to inspections, as well as with bidding and workloading. Inspection software has made life easier for many BSCs, saving countless hours of labor, enabling better, more immediate communication with customers and eliminating a lot of paperwork.

Now, a BSC’s inspection team can conduct a walk-through of a building, filling out an online checklist and taking notes on a PDA, iPhone or Blackberry — and the program crunches the numbers automatically, enabling same-day analysis and reports.

Hand-held instant input

At a time when there is literally a smartphone application for almost anything, you can bet that software manufacturers are making it easy for BSCs to use hand-held devices for non-communicative applications such as inspections.

“I think that having it available on Blackberrys and cell phones, because everyone has one, helps in terms of being able to utilize the tools that you already have available to you,” says Linda Pendergrass, director of performance management for Cavalier Services in Fairfax, Va. “So I think that’s a plus for every company, to be able to use something you already have.”

About 20 percent of Cavalier’s building managers perform inspections using hand-held devices, Pendergrass estimates. The majority jot down notes to be entered later at a desktop, because unfortunately, one big drawback to the hand-held devices is that reception in certain buildings can be minimal or nonexistent. With the absence of a Wi-Fi network, inspectors could be out of luck.

“Sometimes with the hand-helds you don’t get reception in the building,” Pendergrass says.

At Bearcom Building Services in Salt Lake City, customer service reps perform inspections, and the inspection program allows each rep to take down information in a way that is comfortable to them individually, says President Joseph Jenkins. For instance, while one rep might use a tablet PC, another prefers to use a handheld device such as a PDA.

“Either way, it’s done instantly right on the spot; as soon as they press the submit button, the client gets the results and we get the results,” Jenkins says.

The constant notifications give Jenkins a chance to review the inspections and their results, in order to hold his staff accountable as inspectors or from a quality control standpoint, and to follow up with customers. And in what has become typical business fashion, this can be done from an office computer or while on the road with a smartphone, where both Jenkins and his customers can access reports and communicate through the online site.

Saving time, in real time

Beyond the immediate time and cost savings of switching from manual to electronic inspection methods, inspection software also notifies BSCs and their customers as soon as an inspection is entered into the system.

“More than anything else, it gives us the ability to electronically track and make sure they’re getting done,” says Pendergrass. “It also gives our customers the ability to see the results of the inspections pretty quickly.”

Customer involvement in the process is a major change that technology has facilitated. Whereas customers used to be recipients of a printed report, they now have the capability to be a partner to their BSC, thanks to the communication and access to information enabled by inspection software. Web-based programs, through which inspection records can be accessed, involve customers at a level of accountability they appreciate.

“They can log in and see their inspection results if they want to, or they can see the steps we’ve taken to fix anything that’s been going on, so it allows the customers to be in the loop,” says Jenkins.

The Web sites of inspection programs provide internal messaging functions, creating another vein of communication between BSCs and their customers. Like e-mail, messages can be accessed through cell phones and smartphones as well as at a desktop or laptop computer.

For BSCs that measure performance and inspect their processes, the result is improvement. Jenkins says that over the past four or five years since the company implemented inspection software, it has been able to consistently improve its scores.

“Our performance in all of our facilities has improved over time because we are able to take corrective action, we’re able to find what needs to be improved and improve it, get down to root causes and figure out what’s going on,” Jenkins says. “I think we probably improved our percentage points about 3 to 4 points on average since we started that companywide. Our clients are happier, which also helps us on our sales side of things.”

Jenkins says he can’t imagine going back to the old method of inspections. More contractors are jumping on board and taking advantage of the fact that information is now instantly computed and accessible to BSCs and their customers, thanks to the real-time nature of the Internet and the hand-held devices that make it possible.