Time-saving tech

August 14, 2015 -  By

Technology helps streamline the irrigation 
division of Echo Systems, resulting in a better 
use of technicians’ time and better looking 
client properties.

“I can be 30 miles from a site and tell you pretty much everything that has happened with the client’s 
irrigation system in about a minute,” says Josh White.

The head of business 
development for Echo Systems in Memphis, Tenn., is able to do so through the use of an advanced, cloud-based irrigation system that combines Web-based management, real-time weather data and wireless-connected smart controllers to determine a landscape’s ideal irrigation schedule using minimal water.

The technology has streamlined the irrigation division of the $3 million full-service landscape company, resulting in a better use of technicians’ time and better looking lawns for clients. And it has allowed White to promote the importance of water conservation.

“We are a little different than the typical landscape company in that we have been pushing this technology as a water conservation platform, with the added benefit of it being a wonderful service tool for our own organization,” White says. “By understanding the technology and using it as a tool, we promote water conservation.”

Echo Systems offers 60 percent landscape management, 20 percent lawn care services and 20 percent irrigation services. Its irrigation client base is 60/40 commercial to residential, compared with an 80/20 commercial/residential split for the rest of the company.

How it works

Echo Systems uses technology from ETwater. Using its online management system, White sets up an account for each client by entering the landscape’s profile. A local weather station provides daily weather and rainfall data, which is accessed by ETwater servers to compute the evapotranspiration rates and generate daily watering schedules for each landscape. The servers then connect wirelessly to a smart controller to exchange schedules and data. White’s technicians can access this data anywhere there is an Internet connection, even through their smartphones with the use of an app.

“This is real-time, in-your-face 
information that really hasn’t existed in this type of environment,” White says. “It’s giving people more information to make better decisions, and helping them understand that more water isn’t necessarily a good thing.”

The company started using ETwater’s irrigation technology in 2007, and White quickly saw a 50 percent reduction in the time it took his crews to conduct regular system inspections. Most Echo Systems customers have a monthly irrigation system inspection built into their contracts, which used to take two technicians two to four hours to complete. With this new technology, one technician can complete the inspection in half the time using his mobile phone. This constant access to real-time data helps White’s technicians stay on top of problems before they arise, which has allowed them to decrease the number of annual visits from eight to four.

“My irrigation department is more on standby now,” White says. “You’ll never eliminate all instances of physically going to inspect a site, but as a time saver, you can take any site that has a controller like this and reduce the number of times you have to go visit, and one person can run through the system with their mobile phone. You no longer need that extra person with a basic run through.”

Another ETwater technology, Hermit Crab, has made life easier for White and his irrigation techs. The product attaches to any irrigation system’s existing controller and converts it to a smart controller that can be managed through any Internet-connected device. White says the Hermit Crab is compatible with any irrigation controller brand and model number that exists in residential and commercial irrigation, and it has allowed him to convert his clients’ existing systems into “smart” ones without upgrading their entire systems.

“With one cable, you’re online with a controller that may be 20 years old, and you have improved that system to be as advanced as you can find on the market today,” White says. “It gives you new avenues—you don’t have to throw away a system that still works, and you can still create a smart water environment.”

Echo Systems recently used Hermit Crab to upgrade the irrigation system on the campus of a major regional health care provider. It overhauled the entire property’s watering schedule at once using the system’s existing equipment. White was even able to customize the schedule to meet the water needs of different plants, trees and turf found throughout the hospital’s landscape, a task that used to require manual calculations by experts. With this new technology, White’s technicians simply input the type of sprinkler heads into the system, and the device uses algorithms to determine how much water is needed and where.

“It used to be like doing calculus,” White says. “Something that used to take an irrigation expert is all in a small little box now and is easily teachable to anyone on our team.”

White adds that the technology is so straightforward that he has even taught property managers how to monitor it, giving them an unprecedented look into the benefits of proper watering.

“It’s simple enough that (property managers) can understand it without being bogged down with technology they don’t understand,” White said. “This is as smart as you can get in the small commercial/residential irrigation game.”

As with any new technology, White says there is a learning curve to mastering the ins and outs of the platform. But he has seen his own technicians have a “breakthrough moment” when they realize how much it simplifies daily operations. White views the ability to monitor a client’s irrigation system from anywhere at any time as a sales opportunity for the industry that can help technicians, homeowners and property managers alike become more conscious of what they’re doing when it comes to water use.

“Water conservation has become a really important thing, and I feel like that’s where we’re heading as industry,” White said. “(This technology) benefits you as the contractor because you get to use it, and benefits your clients because they start to understand what proper watering looks like in their area.”

 

Photos: Echo Systems

Schappacher is a freelance writer based in Charlotte, N.C..

About the Author:

Emily Schappacher is a freelance writer based in Cleveland.

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