tiero - Fotolia

Mobile app keeps Merit Service Solutions from getting snowed under

Merit Service Solutions' unusual business model called for an unusual mobile application. It developed a custom app, running on a back-end Oracle database, to manage its snow removal and landscaping contractors.

Editor's note: This is the second part of a two-part article. Read about the Oracle implementation that inspired Merit's mobile application in part one.

Once Merit Service Solutions had grown accustomed to using JD Edwards, it decided to develop a mobile application to facilitate and manage interactions with its vendors. As with the JD Edwards implementation, Merit's unusual business model necessitated a highly customized application.

Merit developed an application that could handle two different aspects of its business, landscaping services and snow removal. To begin with, the company needed an application that could handle contracts with detailed line items and cost versus revenue calculation. It needed to be able to establish contracts with multiple service providers, as well as bid out contracts to local vendors. Merit also needed a portal for accepting contracts. In addition, it needed features specific to the landscaping and snow removal businesses. Because Merit contracts out work to local vendors, it needed an application that could handle suggesting schedules and getting replies from contractors as opposed to assigning schedules.

Merit hired Magic Software Enterprises to develop the application. It runs on Magic's enterprise mobility solution with an Oracle database back end. They started development in January 2014, and the landscape portion of the application went live in July 2014. Merit continued to use its old snow module for the winter of 2014 to 2015 and built the snow removal portion of the mobile application afterward. The snow removal application debuted with over 3,000 customers.

Chris Carroll, IT director for Merit, said that the application interfaces with Google Maps to plot the location of sites and color code them according to the weather as reported by contractors. The application also allows contractors to report in on their work either live or as soon as they have cell access. The application uses GPS to identify the lot and the required snow, landscaping or cleaning. The vendors take a picture of the site before they plow and after to show their progress. They can also take pictures to prove they didn't cause driveway damage or to point out where a fallen tree or something of that sort could be an obstacle.

"We have immediate access to the site," Carroll said. "This is how the tools help us. We can see where people are." She added that the contractors also use the application to get signatures from the store managers to prove that they were at the site and doing the work.

App puts stop to billing debates

Because snow removal is dependent on the weather, it can't be scheduled and has to happen on-demand. Depending on their contracts, some vendors are paid by the inch and some by the amount of times they visit the site to plow. The application had to take both of these payment types into account. The snow removal version of the application interfaces with Accuweather and compares the vendors' reported snow removal times to the reported snowfall.

Carroll explained that the benefit of this process is that there is no room for debate over money, because Merit knows the number of inches of snowfall. This creates a smaller order to cash cycle, which, Carroll said, is useful for the small companies Merit tends to contract with. The application makes it easy to tell if the contractor's report matches the work.

"If you have to track all of that separately, it's just too much," Carroll said. "You just had to let the money go. A lot of times it was just too much research."

Despite a heavy winter, the snow removal application was successful in its first outing. Carroll said, "During the storm, we know how much we're going to make doing the storm." She added that the contractors like the new mobile application. "Everything is about getting them paid faster."

Merit Service Solutions is working on getting all of its contractors to use the mobile application. Currently, it has 25% compliance with the application. Carroll said that all of the contractors have used the mobile application, but that their use is inconsistent. The desktop portal remains the main way for the contractors to handle reporting.

Next Steps

Oracle Mobile Application Framework lets developers build cross-platform mobile applications

Oracle Marketing Cloud gets new and improved mobile capabilities

Getting the lay of the land for Oracle mobility

Dig Deeper on Oracle applications implementation and upgrades