Thirty-five years ago, Michael Ciraco opened a one-man service contracting business. Today, his Ocala, Fla.-based firm, Ciraco Electric, Inc., runs 16 trucks and employs a total of 26 electricians — 10 on the service side and 16 in the construction division, which are supported by three project managers.
After the 2008 market crash, his electrical contracting firm expanded into the construction market, and his electricians now specialize in tenant build-outs, medical facilities, manufacturing plants, and mid-size office spaces.
“Our niche is the medium-sized projects — anywhere from setting generators to remodeling facilities to new construction,” says Ciraco, whose firm just renovated and expanded a local YMCA. “After we started our construction division, the market began to boom. It has become a larger part of our business than service.”
When he first started working in the electrical contracting business, his electricians communicated via handheld radios, and estimators carried around paper blueprints. Looking back, he says he never envisioned how far technology would advance during his career.
“It amazes me because it has changed the productivity so much,” says Ciraco. “I don’t know how we could ever go back and do without it. It gives you the ability to do a much more professional job, get much better information, and keep your productivity level up so much higher.”
Investing in mobile technology
Today, Ciraco’s field employees use a smartphone for not only communication, but also to allow for the transmittal of technical information. For example, the electricians can snap photos of equipment or installations on the job and send those back to the office. The office staff can then send them links to vendor specifications and electrical diagrams. Ciraco says the smartphones have many valuable benefits beyond just basic communication.
“They have been a tremendous help because of the ability to send real-time images of what they are seeing and working on in the field,” he says. “Before, you were on your own and had to figure out things by yourself.” Electricians now have an entire support team at the ready to back them up.
In addition to deploying smartphones to the field, Ciraco is also investing in tablets for its estimators, who can load entire project plans on the mobile computing devices. Ciraco says the estimators prefer the tablets to laptops because they are lighter, more user friendly, and easy to carry around on a job site.
“They can go over every detail in the field with a project manager,” he says. “They can do just as much with them as they can with a laptop, especially with the two-in-one type models.”
As time goes on, Ciraco says he may also equip the company’s foremen with tablets and its electricians with laptops. The company is currently considering moving to scheduling software. That way, the electricians can obtain work orders directly from the office as opposed to having the dispatchers call them directly. As new customer calls come in, the office would then input the work into the software program, which would then submit routing information to the electricians in the field.
Navigating service routes
Currently, the contractor is equipping every truck with a GPS unit, which allows electricians to easily navigate their way to customers’ homes and job sites.
“I can’t imagine going back to having paper maps,” he says. “These GPS units are critical for our employees. While they aren’t always perfect, they can always use their smart phone for GPS or can call the office if they need help guiding them in to the work site.”
In addition, to keep employees safe while driving, the contracting firm also enables all the vehicles — even the older models — with Bluetooth technology for hands-free operation of mobile devices. Also, the electricians are prohibited from texting while driving, and they must follow certain restrictions when using the phone while driving.
Ciraco says technology has leveled the playing field for electrical contractors nationwide.
“Small electrical contractors now have the ability to access information that only a large contractor with a large staff had the resources to do before,” he says. “If you are tech savvy, you can access any kind of information on a tablet or smartphone. This opens up the door for our guys to expand what they are doing so they will do a much better job and provide a better quality of service to our customers.”
Fischbach is a freelance writer and editor based in Overland Park, Kan. She can be reached at [email protected].