Cubical life isn’t for everyone. Countless articles and blogs outline the many reasons desk jobs are terrible for your health. Furthermore, the technology used at work also causes problems, such as typing too much leads to carpal tunnel syndrome and staring at a screen harms your vision. On the flip side, research has shown that the fresh air and freedom of working outdoors result in reduced stress, a stronger immune system, better brain function and overall improved mental and physical health. So, what happens when technology leaves the office and follows you outside?
You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone without a cellphone these days. In fact, according to Gartner Research, part of a global research and advisory firm, there are more than 20 billion devices connected to the internet today. Mark Hung, vice president with Gartner Research, says, “The Internet of Things (IoT) will have a great impact on the economy by transforming many enterprises into digital businesses and facilitating new business models, improving efficiency and increasing employee and customer engagement.”
Tree professionals working in the field have limited access to normal office essentials and likely don’t want to be fiddling with technology unless it’s going to increase productivity, improve efficiency and enhance their clients’ experiences. It also needs to be easy to use. Fortunately, the tree care industry benefits from a variety of incredible software options on the market designed to help facilitate the new business models Hung references.
While similar programs, some with features specifically for tree care, were offered on the market as early as the mid-1990s, mobile tree-inventory software was not that robust until approximately five years ago.
Cloud-based software, accessed in the field via hand-held devices such as phones and tablets, truly is the future of the industry. Software available today covers a variety of business needs specific to tree – and landscape – care, including fleet management, marketing, plant health care and tree inventory.
Some software providers offer a full suite of services by streamlining the tree-inventory, estimation, marketing and invoicing/payment processes, whereas others only include some of these functions or connect to other apps, such as QuickBooks or customer relationship management (CRM) tools. For this article, we’ll focus specifically on the tree-inventory feature and the value it can bring to any tree care company.
While specific features vary product to product, general features of tree-inventory software include allowing users to access a catalog of trees; use a geographic information system (GIS) to pin a tree’s location on a customer’s property, also known as GPS pinning; take and add photographs; and record information such as diameter at breast height (DBH), height, canopy and any other notes that could be useful.
“By collecting this data, users are able to maintain a history and the health of the tree and observe any changes over time,” says Donna Garner, vice president of sales and marketing for Arborgold, a software company based in Bloomington, Indiana. “With a database of information, an arborist is informed and more efficient when on site.”
Streamlined work processes
On a basic level, by introducing an app, you’re introducing a new work process to your business. Where estimators could be conducting site visits in a variety of ways before, apps enable a company to streamline the process, resulting in consistent data collection from each visit.
Additionally, many inventory apps flow into proposals and final work orders where scheduling work after the inventory is much easier. They enable users to schedule treatments such as fertilizer, PHC and pruning, and simplify tracking the results of those visits as well. For example, when clients request repeat services, it’s as simple as a click of a button or two to schedule identical services. TreePlotter software suite, created by PlanIT Geo, offers this functionality. “Work tasks can be cloned and scheduled as recurring work,” says Elizabeth Schulte, director of marketing for PlanIT Geo, an urban-forestry software and consulting-services company based in Arvada, Colorado. “This is great for scheduling regular PHC visits.”
Finally, tree-inventory software helps avoid costly mistakes. “Within the industry, we’ve all heard horror stories of a crew working on or even removing the wrong tree,” says Sean McCormick, chief executive officer and founder of SingleOps, a software company based in Atlanta, Georgia. “A proper tree inventory and job-site map guards against this significantly.”
Overall, tree-inventory software streamlines the inventory, scheduling and tracking processes. It also creates the same process for everyone on the crew to follow and helps guard against mistakes. For newer tree care companies, tree-inventory software could put a process in place where one previously didn’t exist. Ultimately, by streamlining processes, tree-inventory software helps increase productivity and efficiency.
Productivity and efficiency
Without tree-inventory software, a company has to send a salesperson out to the client to spend significant time taking hand-written notes and cataloging the trees and shrubs on the property, and then using those notes to create a proposal. The time spent cataloging and taking notes, plus the high risk of inaccuracies, is highly inefficient.
However, if a tree care company sends a crew member out armed with a tree-inventory app, they can drastically cut back the time previously spent taking handwritten notes. This means they can do more site visits, and the visits and estimates or reports that are produced are easier to manage. Dropping pins on a map to catalog trees on the property, documenting their size and condition and recording treatments, including fertilizer and even pruning, is simplified using a mobile app. Hank Ortiz, founder and CEO of Cognetive Systems and creator of ArborNote, a software company based in Irvine, California, mentions, “Software like this accelerates the growth and efficiency of any tree care company. The sales process, from engaging the customer to closing the sale and remaining connected to your customers, can be difficult to manage, but because the app creates a digital record of everything about the customer and their trees, the sales process becomes more visible and easier to manage. This app assists that process and alleviates the stress of having a single estimator on the team.”
What happens when a salesperson leaves the team? “If a salesperson with paper notes leaves, all that knowledge is gone,” says Jon Garner, chief executive officer and founder of Arborgold. “If you’re using an app like this, you keep that historical data.” With a digital history of the work performed, it’s much easier for another team member to pick up where the other left off and provide a seamless experience for the client.
Enhanced customer service
The benefits of tree-inventory software extend beyond the crew. Your clients benefit from the software in the form of improved clarity on the scope of work to be done on their property. If they do or don’t want to include a part of the proposal for work, it’s simple for you to update on the fly. No more going back to the office to recrunch the numbers! “In SingleOps, deep integration with the tree-inventory process makes building rich, detailed estimates seamless,” says McCormick. “The resulting estimate is typically very impressive to clients, while reassuring them the crew will do exactly what the client has requested.”
As briefly mentioned previously, tree-inventory software often comes as part of a suite of services. These suites that include other functions, such as marketing and invoicing/payment, make it easy for the tree-inventory data to filter down to where it needs to be. For example, invoicing is more accurate due to improved control over the information flowing in from the inventory process, and marketing opportunities for additional services can be triggered based on trends in the data in a specific area, such as an outbreak of a treatable pest in a cluster of neighborhoods.
Perhaps the most appealing part of tree-inventory software is that it’s designed to be easy to use. Some software options are native to each user’s phone, allowing them to make their own small changes to the catalog of trees available for the inventorying process, whereas others offer responsive customer-service departments that are able to take requests and push out updates to the tree catalog within one to two business days.
Some companies offer the ability to customize the software itself, plus the tree catalog, for your business’ needs. ServicePro has partnered closely with customer Rainbow Treecare, a 31-year TCIA member based in Minnetonka, Minnesota, to help steer development of ServicePro’s new and improved tree-inventory module.
“We’re the technology experts and we can tell you how we’ll build this module for the industry, but you’re the experts in the industry, so you tell us what the industry needs from a state-of-the-art tool to help improve your business,” says Mike Triplett, sales manager for ServicePro. “People can customize their inventory items to be tailored to their geographic location. For example, there are no palms in Minnesota, so an entire category can be removed. It’s simple for our customers to dictate their needs for items in the tree-inventory module as well as in other areas of the software.”
Similarly, ArborNote also hosts a feature to streamline the inventory list. However, this is done a bit differently. “There’s intelligence in our software that takes that large list of trees and narrows it down over time,” says Ortiz. “This means a user in a particular area doesn’t have to deal with the entirety of the original list and only looks at trees in their area.”
Who should be using this, and how?
The simple answer: “Tree care companies that are not on any software solution and want to be, or those that are using multiple software solutions to operate their businesses,” suggests Cyrus De-Vere, chief executive officer of A Plus Tree, based in Pleasant Hill, Calif. “Tree care software is for those who are looking for ways to grow and streamline their tree care business processes.”
A Plus Tree is a tree care company that developed its own software, originally known as ArborPlus, to address the pain points they were experiencing in the tree care and customer-experience processes. ArborPlus originally was built for commercial customers and internal use only, but was offered to other tree companies for residential work. Then, because of its capability, it was being used for commercial work as well. Knowing they could offer a better product under a different brand and strategy, they pulled ArborPlus off the market, spent 18 months refining it and are re-releasing it with improved functionality and a new name, Treezi, this month at TCI EXPO in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
The variety of software available on the market today covers the entirety of the urban canopy. Tree-inventory software is excellent for clients of all types, including residential, commercial and corporate, property managers and HOAs and even municipalities, non-profits and universities. Of those software providers interviewed, none indicated their services are well suited for utility line clearance or businesses that focus predominantly on forestry management.
At a variety of price points, tree care companies of any size can affordably invest in tree-inventory software. All respondents unanimously stated that tree-inventory software is a valuable tool for companies looking to streamline their processes, grow their margins and provide better customer service.
“The industry is past simply getting an accurate tree count, classification, specification, etc. The industry is at a point where it accepts the fact that doing some type of electronic-data collection is essential for business growth,” says Ortiz. “Operationally, yes, let’s make sure we’re executing safely and efficiently. However, the value-add of software is, ‘Let’s execute on this work now that we’ve won the contract, and measure and improve our efficiency as we’re executing. Let’s use this data we’re collecting to make sure we are doing the best we can possibly do to grow the business and delight our customers.’”
Five years ago, many options for tree-inventory software started hitting the market as tree care companies were looking for more efficient and cost-effective ways to run their businesses. As for the future of the software? “Software like this is meant to help companies scale,” says (Jon) Garner. “Five to 10 years from now, these programs will be a mainstay.”
The software providers mentioned in this article are all TCIA Associate Member companies, and all will be exhibiting at TCI EXPO 2019 in Pittsburgh, November 7-9. For more about TCI EXPO or to register, visit expo.tcia.org.