Author: Chris Oliver
Date Posted: Thursday 21st September 2023
Author: Chris Oliver
Date Posted: Thursday 21st September 2023
Back in January 2013, having been at Japanese Knotweed Solutions for around 9 months, I had learned the ropes and knew a fair bit about the industry, but I was struggling to really make an impact on the business or find a niche for myself. One of our capable colleagues in the Operations Department left the company and Mike Clough saw an opportunity to put me to good use.
Mike tasked me with updating the system that was used for planning and organising JKSL’s revisits. Ten years later and having overseen the completion of over ten thousand site revisits, I am not sure that I have finished!
Site revisits are a crucial part of JKSL’s business because herbicide treatment programmes can last up to five years, some with an additional two years’ monitoring. Factor in a ten year insurance-backed guarantee and a project needs to allow for double figures of visits over a period of almost 20 years!
Back in 2013, our decade-old system had been, until recently, fitting in small numbers of monitoring visits around JKSL’s main workload of new mechanical projects, along with a couple of weeks of sprays at the beginning and the end of the season.
Operations would contact our (mostly commercial) clients on short notice to pop to site in the morning or the afternoon, working around our other projects to carry out inspections and sprays. As I understand it, this is the model that most other companies in the industry still use, leaving clients in the dark about when they will get their treatment.
Originally, visits were done by main works teams but as the number of sites grew, including large numbers of domestic clients due to increased media attention and mortgage restrictions, JKSL created a new role in the industry – the dedicated revisit team. We brought in one and then two dedicated revisit teams to work principally on site inspections during the summer months, sometimes visiting five different sites in a day.
In 2012, JKSL ran into issues with capacity, particularly with organising rapidly increasing numbers of sites, each with their own specific access requirements and project constraints (details which were not easily accessible for the Ops team) and we had much greater difficulty in pinning domestic clients down for our teams to gain access during working hours.
So, my challenge in 2013 was three-fold: firstly, to improve the record keeping and organisation of well-over 1,000 projects, over 600 of which required revisits in that growing season and secondly, to improve the process for allocating and arranging visits. The third and most challenging aspect was for me to come in with minimal prior knowledge, to diagnose the problems and then either update the old system or create a new one, to test and implement it all and effectively communicate it to our revisit teams, with minimal direct assistance. In the two months before the growing season started.
Oh, and the reporting. I didn’t mention the reporting, did I? Given that each report had to be put together by the team on site and submitted to Operations, who then had to individually check and send out each and every report to the client, this task alone has its own story, which we shall never speak of again (until I write a blog about that, too).
Anyway, skip to the end, and a shall-we-say “challenging” eight months and nearly 1,000 revisits later, JKSL had a functioning new approach for our revisits that was more accurate, more efficient and more reliable. I’ll be frank, though, we fell short of our customers’ expectations in the years prior to making these changes, and to a lesser extent in the first two years of using the new system – it took some time to completely eliminate the issues which prevented us from being able to access certain sites and to ensure that our records accurately communicated the requirements of each individual contract. And a lot of work… so much dull, dull, repetitive work.
During the pandemic, JKSL took the chance to step up again and to develop and implement JK Connect – a new, proprietary automated system for managing all of our sites, revisits and reporting. JKSL clients now receive more accurate and faster notifications and reporting than ever before and JKSL is able to use our data to review and target issues on sites as they emerge. Most importantly, that dull, repetitive work I mentioned above is mostly done by a computer and we have cut the amount of time staff spend on reporting and data management to free up hundreds, perhaps thousands of man hours each year which can be spent on clients’ sites or communicating and problem solving.
JK Connect manages 35% more sites and over 30% more revisits in each growing season than we were managing back in 2014 – but with the same allocation of manpower on site and fewer hours in the office, reflecting the huge gains in efficiency that we have seen over the past decade. Revisit teams now commonly attend double figures of sites in a single day, reliably hitting the one-hour visit windows that we provide our clients in advance.
JK Connect allows JKSL to provide our teams and our clients with the latest information, consistent, reliable reporting and detailed protocols for managing site access arrangements and other client needs. Our increased ability to group and organise sites (and to get everything right first time) provides energy and carbon efficiencies too.
If this all sounds boring, then perhaps it is – but if excitement means waiting, not knowing when your contractor is planning to carry out your visit; if it means sitting at home waiting all day for a contractor to arrive or even finding out afterwards that a visit never took place, or if “excitement” means waiting for days (or even weeks) for an indecipherable report about your contractor’s inspection, then give me boring any day.
If boring means that since I moved downstairs in 2013, I’ve overseen 10,000 successful site revisits, and making every scheduled visit that we’re given access to for nearly a decade then I think JKSL’s clients would prefer boring, too (just don’t tell Mike; he’s all about the fast cars, loud music and scary movies!).