A conversation with Travis Voss of Mechanical, Inc.
Most field service leaders are aware of the increasingly important role of technology in this industry. Yet surprisingly few field service companies maintain a full time role dedicated to technology innovation.
Mechanical Incorporated is an exception—the large mechanical contracting firm serves throughout Illinois, Wisconsin, and now Omaha, and employs a full-time technology manager, Travis Voss. His job is to challenge the status quo with new technology in order to innovate better business processes.
As part of our Field Talk series, while at the BuiltWorlds conference, Travis and I discussed how field service firms can harness competitive advantage through technology and why companies need a dedicated technologist.
Question 1: Tell me about your role as a technology manager.
[Travis Voss] “As a technology manager, my role is wonderfully vague. I have some set tasks such as maintaining our Autodesk database, and then I’m also tasked with coming to events and speaking with vendors. I spend a lot of time scrolling through LinkedIn and Twitter and reading online about what’s happening in construction technology and even more broadly in other industries and the consumer field. I’m looking for what could make a difference for our company and our customers.”
Question 2: Why do you think more field service companies have not yet come on board with a full time technologist role?
[Travis Voss] “In the mechanical industry, there’s a perception that the technology manager can’t be a full time job, but the pace of change really requires a dedicated technologist. A project manager or VP is just not going to be able to keep up with changing technology and drive it. In construction, it could take us 18 months to make a decision, but in that amount of time, the software changed versions and you’re not buying the same product that you were pitched.
Too many people want to avoid that bleeding edge and avoid ever having an innovation that fails. You need the right people willing to bring a solution in house, champion it, beta test it and if it doesn’t adopt, know when to cut bait.”
Question 3: What is your process for approaching how to solve a problem with technology or evaluate the value of a new technology?
[Travis Voss] “The idea for a technology could come from anywhere. I watch web demos, and I go to events and speak with vendors. I build out checklists about how it needs to perform. I try to take price out of the picture at first, because I want it to perform for our people.
I will take a particular solution and look for other vendors developing similar solutions and get demos from them too.Once I have two or three solutions, I like to bring the vendors onsite and show the software to our end users to gather their feedback.
If there is a solution we like and it is from a startup company, we will ask them to let us beta test or pilot it. We can offer a lot of brutally honest feedback that will be valuable to the vendor.
Question 4: How important is it for new technology to be able to tie into legacy systems?
[Travis Voss] “It is pretty important—like a 7 out of 10. We use Vista by Viewpoint as our ERP system and Perfectware to manage the service business, and when I start thinking about a problem, that’s my epicenter. What functionality do we already have with Vista and Perfectware and are we using it?
We need more open APIs in the industry, so we can use lots of solutions together. I’m pretty device agnostic and software agnostic. If my people don’t like the way software works, I’m not going to buy it. If the software doesn’t talk to any solutions we run, then I am just creating another silo of data.”
Question 5: Why do you think it is important for field service firms to establish a technologist role right now as opposed to in a year or two?
[Travis Voss] “If companies don’t get out ahead of the curve and start setting some of the trends with technology, they are going to be behind. But if you’ve got a good idea and you are able to get in as an early adopter, you can help drive the development of that new solution.
The technology industry moves so fast, and it’s going gangbusters in the construction industry. With the shrinking workforce that we have, if you’re not out ahead of it, you’re going to lose work to competitors who use cutting edge technology.
Technology is also a recruiting tool. If you have young people coming out of college or trades and they do a job shadow or walkthrough from a tech forward company and another company that is old school—they are going to be more excited about the technology focused company.”