The Benefits of Using Mobile Technology for Data Collection and Reporting

The Benefits of Using Mobile Technology for Data Collection and Reporting

Many utilities today are using paper forms to collect data. That presents some serious problems. Notes coming in from the field are often hard to read and data can be inconsistent. Add to that the frequent occurrence of manual entry errors, and suddenly, your utility has a data problem. To make matters worse, these same utilities are probably entering data into spreadsheets for calculations and reporting, which introduces another source of errors and uncertainty. For example, has the data been entered or copied and pasted correctly? Is the formula accurate? What happens when the data in the spreadsheet differ from the paper report? What happens when copies of the same spreadsheet are on multiple computers with several people updating them? How do I compare data from multiple spreadsheets? What happens when permit levels change or when your Excel expert leaves the organization? The fact is, data integrity is difficult to maintain when paper and spreadsheets are used to collect and retain data.

The solution to these issues is readily available. Thanks to the rapid development of mobile technology, the tools available for data collection and analysis have improved significantly in recent years. Smartphones and tablets along with simple, flexible, and affordable applications developed for them that make it possible to streamline every step of the collection, analysis, and reporting of data.

The Advantages of Mobile Technology

Generally, utilities find the use of mobile technology and a data collection application solves the problems presented by paper forms and manual data entry. Mobile technology programs are simple and easy to learn, and due to the time and money they save through increased efficiencies, the initial startup costs quickly pay for themselves.

We have found that where mobile technology is employed, less time is spent collecting and entering data and more time is focused on process efficiencies. Errors are significantly reduced, and richer data is collected, including photos, video, GPS coordinates, and automatic date and time stamping. A high level of security can be employed with user authentication, password protection, and automatic backups. This means no more lost forms and data can only be viewed and edited by authorized individuals.

With a mobile application, data can be immediately validated in the field with notifications if or when an entry falls outside the normal or expected range. In addition, since real-time data is instantly uploaded, managers can be alerted when new information is available or action needs to be taken. Notifications can also be set to send text messages and emails alerting staff when, for example, chemical supplies are low or a permit violation has occurred.

Experience in the Field Using doForms

As the operator of more than 50 water quality facilities, Woodard & Curran does a lot of data collection, analysis, and reporting. Needing a better method than the error-prone paper and spreadsheet system, we sought out a simple but customizable application that would allow us to create purpose-built forms for different needs and provide direct upload of data from a wide range of mobile devices.

To solve the problems of the old method, the application needed to:

Sample work order form

Sample work order form

  • Be simple to use and available on all major mobile platforms, including Android, iOS, and Windows operating systems;
  • Allow for the easy creation of custom forms;
  • Provide seamless data transfer via Wi-Fi or cellular networks while also working in a disconnected environment when internet service is not available;
  • Provide a Web-based interface for data viewing and basic reporting; and
  • Be capable of integrating with other systems like the leading operations and CMMS software, SharePoint, and GIS using open standards like SOAP, XML, HTTP, and xFORMS.

From a list of many options, Woodard & Curran selected doForms. It includes a website portal for creating forms and reporting on the data, as well as a mobile application for completing and submitting the forms. The form-building engine includes a host of options, including skip and relevance logic, lookup tables and dropdowns to simplify data entry, accepting multiple data points, and more. Once you create reports, you can copy, modify, and update them easily. Deploying forms to a mobile device is a matter of hitting a publish button.

The system comes with pre-built report templates that can be modified for a specific need. Data and reports can be viewed through the application website or exported to PDF, Excel, CSV, HTML, or KML. doForms also integrates with CMMS and HachWIMS—the systems Woodard & Curran uses to manage data at the plants we operate.

Work orders can be created and received in the field as long as a data connection is available. This allows managers to communicate tasks to staff wherever they are along with specific forms relevant to that task. Process data can be collected in the field and immediately sent to the operations database, alerting managers of potential issues. This combination alone multiplies the efficiency gains of a mobile data collection system.

Transcribing paper to spreadsheets and deciphering illegible handwriting are all obstacles of an old technology. Mobile technology can solve these problems and can replace several devices including cameras, GPS units, and laptops. Utilities today are struggling to make due with fewer resources, tighter regulations, and more maintenance of aging assets. Under these conditions, they can’t afford to rely on inefficient systems for collecting data, reporting on maintenance from the field, and running calculations for reports. There is a better, more affordable way.

Tags: Operations

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