Switching to Digital Record Keeping With Digital Field Solutions

Switching to Digital Record Keeping With Digital Field Solutions


Eliminating paper forms is a common ambition across the construction sector and Digital Field Solutions can help plant hirers and contractors do just that

Day in day out, mobile workers use paper forms to capture structured information which is then re-keyed, scanned, posted or filed where access by other people is difficult. Forms cover a vast array of activities including: plant hire delivery and collection documents, quality audits, SHE surveys, inspections, change requests, condition reports, drilling records and asset audits

From a management perspective – paper forms slow down service, increase costs, make information difficult to share and make compliance difficult to manage.

Talking with a vehicle and plant hire company recently, they described the day to day problems and costs associated with paper delivery and collection forms – rekeying data, lost forms, slow service, printing costs, poor management information… the list goes on.

ipadThere have been numerous studies to calculate the cost of managing and processing paper forms for mobile workers. Some studies calculate fully loaded costs to be in the region of £2 per A4 page. Doing the math, that means the traditional cost of processing paper forms and associated data for 20 field workers, each completing just 10 A4 pages per day is estimated at a staggering £90,000 per year.

The potential benefits of getting rid of paper forms from mobile teams are immense, so why is it that so many construction organisations I speak to have made little or no progress despite the fact that we’re in an age where mobile devices are everywhere and mobile connectivity has never been better?

Common reasons seem to be:

• Concerns about providing “consumer” type tablets and devices to field staff – particularly in more demanding site environments.
• A shortage of experience with leading mobile platforms – iOS and Android – most businesses’ IT teams are Microsoft oriented.
• Fear of making the wrong choice of device type and/or platform.
• Perceived difficulty in achieving the required ROI – particularly for smaller teams of users with their own specific requirements.
• A tendency to want to build “in house” solutions with long lead times and high delivery risks.
• A lack of awareness of the off-the-shelf business applications and cloud services available.
• Trying for a 100% solution (or trying to eat the elephant in one go.)

shutterstock_111839594-hi-resDespite these barriers, we’ve had a great deal of interest and success with businesses operating at the sharp end of construction – with people in the field, mobile workers who want to replace their paperwork – delivery & collection forms, toolbox talk records, site inspections, drilling reports, SHE audits or quality reviews – with electronic records.

Rockwool, the world’s leading manufacturer of stone wool insulation is a perfect example. They replaced the site paperwork for their installation and delivery team.

The project included the digitisation of 14 regularly used data capture forms for a relatively small team of 10. Since using iPad forms they have cut paperwork, improved response times, improved data sharing and the provision of real time information for managers. The ability to capture and embed images within their forms has added clarity to the information for both customers and managers.

Although we have much larger mobile deployments, I cite the Rockwool example simply because it is a small team – which is usually the death knell for IT projects, as the potential benefits to offset the set-up costs are lower. We were able to deliver the project with a good ROI for a number of reasons:

• Our Formworks data capture platform is configurable – forms can be set up and deployed using simple drag and drop tools via a web interface.
• There are no server set-up costs because the solution is cloud based
• Exported documents and integration points are fully configurable
• iPads are standard, off the shelf, easy to use, reliable and most people have some knowledge of them so training is quick.

We’re finding that smaller businesses and autonomous business units are quicker on the uptake – taking advantage of easy to use “consumer” devices and a wide range of off the shelf Apps, platforms and cloud services such as Box, Dropbox, Google Drive and Formworks to transform their data capture, information sharing and data management.

Off the shelf, business ready products mean that smaller organisations and teams can get up and running very quickly, at relatively low cost and get a quick payback. In addition, Mobile Device Management (MDM) applications are making it easier to lock devices down and manage data security.

Practically speaking, with our off the shelf data capture applications – we can get most organisation’s paper processes digitised in days and weeks rather than months. It is often the decision making process that slows things down rather than the implementation. This is why smaller businesses and teams often move more quickly – because the chain of decision is much shorter.

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Top image: @shotstudio/fotolia

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