Developing a Web solution that suits customers ranging in size from one-man contracting companies reluctant to use a computer, to big construction companies with a large and demanding IT department, can be a challenge. Keeping your IT team lean and expecting your developers to handle back-end ERP systems, Web applications, as well as mobile app development, sounds like an almost unrealistic challenge. Duro-Last Inc. has managed to do both with Visual LANSA.
Duro-Last is providing its 3,000 independent contractors with a Web solution to manage their roofing projects, place and trace orders, view invoices, authorize payments, participate in incentive programs, and much more. Small contractors may use the solution from their smart phone, while the larger construction companies will have their administrative staff access the solution from their desktops. Duro-Last used Visual LANSA 14, while it was still in beta release, and is now benefitting from a solution that works across client devices of all sizes and across all browsers, from a single set of code. The solution is expected to reduce the number of calls to Duro-Last's customer service center, but more importantly, it will improve the customer experience.
Duro-Last, Incorporated in 1981 and headquartered in Saginaw, Michigan in the USA, is the world's largest manufacturer of custom prefabricated thermoplastic single ply roofing systems. Duro-Last's founder, John R. Burt, used his experience in pool liner fabrication to solve a widespread problem in the roofing industry, namely failure and high maintenance costs caused by the unpredictability of conditions and workmanship on-site. Using prefabrication methods for made-to-order roofs, Duro-Last was able to bring the roofing system 'in-house' and complete nearly 100% of the difficult roof details and up to 85% of field seams under ideal factory controlled conditions. The result is better installation quality and lower on-site labor costs.
Duro-Last's roofing systems are installed across the USA and Canada through 3,000 certified independent contractors. Duro-Last also has sales, engineering services, and technical staff, who are ready to assist the contractors.
The communication between Duro-Last and its contractors is by phone, fax and email through Duro-Last's customer services center, which is manned by 35 full time staff. Contractors typically call to place roofing orders, inquire about a shipping date or questions they may have regarding a delivery. Other inquiries can be administrative in nature, for example questions about an invoice or payment, or about the number of points in Duro-Last's award/incentive program for contractors.
Sue Gilbert, Director of Information Services at Duro-Last, explains, "Our customer service representatives spend a lot of time on the phone, answering questions about things that the contractor should be able to see online. Giving contractors on-line access to their orders and data would save a lot of time, both for the contractor and for us."
Companies contracting for Duro-Last vary in size and computer literacy and deciding on the best format for online access was not easy. "About 20% of our contractors are small one-man shops, reluctant to have anything to do with computers. We certainly cannot expect them to install software and handle data security. Other contractors, probably about 10%, are large construction companies who have their own IT department," continues Gilbert.
Duro-Last had already made a native mobile app available to its contractors, using LANSA's LongRange technology. But that app was specifically for repair and warranty work and was only meant to be used by the contractor's actual repair workers on site, often literally on the roof. The new application that Gilbert had in mind would need to be suitable for both admin staff from a desktop, as well as for contractors using a mobile device on site.
Customer service spends a lot of time answering questions about things that should be available online.
Gilbert was discussing these requirements with her LANSA contact, exactly at the time that Visual LANSA 14 became available for beta customers. Gilbert was keen to sign up for the beta program, as VL14 seemed perfectly suited to the requirements. Applications developed with Visual LANSA 14 can run on multiple device types and sizes, including smart phones, tablets, desktops and laptops. And just as important, the code generated by Visual LANSA is cross-browser compatible.
Gilbert says, "It's impossible to control what device types and browsers the 3,000 contractors may want to use. To me Visual LANSA is the cream of the crop, because it gives us the ability to deliver a responsive website for desktop users and a mobile app for any device and any browser. It means we will make a lot of people happy, because we can now give both our small and large contractors the solution they want. We can do all that with one tool, one language and one set of code."
Equally important to Gilbert was how realistic it was that she could deliver and maintain the solution with her small team of two developers. One with .NET skills and one with RPG skills, both already busy with maintaining and enhancing Duro-Last's core ERP system. Visual LANSA met Gilbert's criteria in that area as well. "Getting quick results is important. With Visual LANSA, our developers did not have to use a whole range of tools and languages. They can use one single development language for both the server side logic and the user interface."
Gilbert and her team drafted the specifications for the solution. It includes four key components:
The first components is 'Project Status'. It ties together all the tasks related to a roofing project, for example, the contractor's request for technical assistance, placing of an order, inquiry into shipping dates and scheduling of an inspection of the finished roof. All tasks have a responsible person associated with it, providing workflow guidance for both the contractor and Duro-Last.
The second component is 'Program Standing'. Duro-Last offers its contractors several incentive programs. Points and awards can be earned based on the volume of sales and the quality of installation services (each commercial roof is inspected and scored by Duro-Last). Points can be spent on local advertising and other promotional opportunities. The app allows contractors to view their sales and award levels, points earned and used, plus heaps more.
The third component is 'Account Details'. It allows contractors and their admin staff to view open invoices, authorize payments, look at account balances, download statements and submit waiver of lien forms. (releasing the right to claim).
Last but not least, the fourth component is 'My Profile'. It allows contractors to maintain account details and setup the user-ids, passwords and access levels for users that can access the system on their behalf.
Technically there is no need to wrap or package the solution for distribution to end users or to make it available in the App store. All that is needed is authorized access to the solution's URL. There is nothing to install on the client device. However, for mobile device users, Duro-Last wants the solution wrapped in the Visual LANSA container app. From a marketing perspective, offering a mobile responsive Web site doesn't have the same appeal as offering 'an App'. Also contractors may find it easier to download the app from the store and have it as an icon on their smart phone, rather than having to bookmark the link. As an added benefit, the container allows Duro-Last to wrap the solution with device security (Stealth from Unisys) and to provide access to device features such as camera, GPS and local storage.
"Visual LANSA gave us the ability to create a responsive website and wrap security into a mobile app, while also giving office staff the ability to work with it from their desktop," says Gilbert.
We can now give both our small and large contractors the solution they want. We can do all that with one tool, one language and one set of code.
"Developers who are savvy enough, but don't have any Web development skills yet, may be able to cut down Web development time to less than half with Visual LANSA, compared using the traditional mix of Web development languages," estimates Schluckbier. "Plus the quality is likely to be better, because developing good Web applications comes with experience and when the tool takes care of the low level coding, there is less opportunity to get it wrong, especially for novice developers."
"The Web world changes very quickly and programming languages come out with new releases and new features all the time. Not everyone has the time or the passion to keep up with that. If Visual LANSA can keep up with those Web developments, then that is going to save all its customers heaps of time. It feels a little bit like giving over control to the tool, but so far Visual LANSA has been able to handle everything I wanted it to do," says Schluckbier.
'The Corporate app', as the solution has been named, will be launched Duro-Lasts annual contractor event. The app is in addition to 'the Warranty Repair and Service app', which was already available.
Gilbert received very positive feedback on the Corporate app from the contracting companies to whom it has been shown. "The IT manager from one of our larger contractors felt that the solution was very user friendly and that it conforms to all the standards that you expect from a solution like this. He reckons that his mobile and desktop users will pick it up very easily and can use it without the need for training. He really liked it."
It is unreasonable to expect that employers are keen to pay for developers continuously pursuing their passion of getting 'into the code.'
"We have not yet rolled out the solution to our contractors and it is too soon to say by what percentage the number of calls to the customer service center will be reduced. The expectation is that it will be a significant reduction. However, a reduction in call center traffic was not our main driver for this project. The most important goal is to improve the customer experience," says Gilbert.
"Timing is extremely important in this industry. We can produce almost all made-to-measure orders within a few days and our standard shipment is on the fifth day. The contractor may have hired a crane and booked hotel rooms for his staff. Online order entry and online inquiry are becoming crucial for avoiding scheduling conflicts and the expensive consequences they may have for our customers," comments Gilbert.
"This is our second project with LANSA and working with your company is awesome. I have not worked with the Visual LANSA tool myself yet, but from what I have seen, our guys have picked it up pretty quick, and from what I have heard it's really simple to use. And most important, we like the results."
The Web world changes very quickly. If Visual LANSA can keep up, then that is going to save its customers heaps of time.
Company and System Information
- Duro-Last, Inc. is the world's largest manufacturer of custom prefabricated, thermoplastic single-ply roofing systems. Over two billion square feet of Duro-Last membrane has been installed throughout North America. Duro-Last is headquartered in Saginaw, Michigan with additional manufacturing facilities in Carrollton, Texas; Grants Pass, Oregon; Jackson, Mississippi; and Sigourney, Iowa.
- For more information visit: http://duro-last.com