The 'cutting edge' of data management
28/06/2012 - When Cyclone Yasi swept through Queensland in February 2011, Eastern Tree Service's crews spent two months working to clear away the debris.
Socalled "hazard work" is just one of the services this company provides.
Around 95 per cent of ETS's work involves clearing vegetation around power lines. It's regular work that goes on all year round in urban and rural environments, and is paid for by the utility companies.
ETS also does environmental work for councils, and electrical services for power companies, including meter reading and street light maintenance. It employs more than 650 people, working out of offices in Victoria, New South Wales, Queensland, Western Australia and Tasmania.
ETS crews cover large distances, and customers are billed on a time basis for people and vehicles. It operates on three types of contracts: hourly rate, unit rate (number of trees cut and ground covered on a job), and a fixed price for 12 months of clearing work in a particular area. All that data has to be fed into a centralised system before billing is done – and that's where ETS was having problems.
"We had Attache for doing accounting and payroll, and Access for job costing, which is critical for our business," said ETS's CFO, Paul Tymensen.
"We've grown considerably over the last five years, so we outgrew Attache. Our biggest problem was entering people's timesheets into multiple systems that were not connected. We found we weren't able to reconcile between what we were paying the guys and what we were able to bill out."
The Access system had been "manipulated and modified" with various bolt-on functions over the years, and Tymensen felt it was no longer reliable.
For example, one large contract required weekly reports on work completed, in order to determine billed versus unbilled time. Without being able to easily verify that the data being captured was accurate, there was no certainty that a correct bill was being sent to the customer, and nor could accurate analysis be guaranteed, to determine whether individual jobs were profitable.
"It was reliant on people's experience to know that it didn't look right and investigate it further," Tymensen said.
"You could enter it wrong quite easily, or you could miss data. You could miss timesheets because they were being entered separately into Payroll and Job Costing. So we could have been paying the guys for eight hours' work but only entering a job costing for six."
Tymensen won't try to guess how much money errors like that would have cost ETS over the years.
"We knew it was an extensive problem, but we probably didn't have the information to quantify how big the problem was. It probably lost us thousands."
Having a single entry point for all those timesheets was therefore critical for ETS.
After a shopping expedition, Tymensen had a shortlist of solutions: SAP, Technology One, and Greentree. "Greentree won because it had an integrated payroll system," he said.
"This was our prime concern because this was where the savings were going to be: not having to enter data multiple times."
Since implementing Greentree, Tymensen and his staff have had a much easier life.
"We know we've got a reliable system and it's extremely hard to miss the data now," he said.
"I know I can get the information I need, and I know I can rely on the quality of the information that's in there."
Greentree's eTimesheets module allows a single point of entry, sending data to both Payroll and Job Costing.
ETS is fitting its trucks with iPads, which send data to Job Costing via the web. The billable and unbillable hours (downtime due to bad weather, breakdowns or illness) are now accurately captured.
"We were very inefficient before in our data entry process, and the accuracy was always questionable," Tymensen said.
"It was difficult to measure our profitability because we didn't know what we were losing."
"We've grown enormously in recent years, and I think we'd have struggled then to fill some of the contracts that we do now.
"Job costing is the biggest part of our business and without Greentree's Job Costing module on some of them, I don't think we'd have known whether we were making money on them. If you're not billing out 90 per cent of the time, you don't make money."
"With Greentree, we're more efficient and more accurate."
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