Skip to Content

The Value of Conducting Inspections on Handheld Computers in Mobile Environments

Many inspection services companies work in mobile environments. They invest time and money into traveling to the point of work. The more time traveling, the less time providing inspection services. In this blog article we will discuss some strategies for saving time, reducing expenses and providing more services using mobile handheld computing technologies.

Many inspections are follow-up inspections or reoccurring inspections on a schedule. In these kinds of inspections the inspector must reference previous inspection data. If the previous inspections were conducted on paper, then the inspector must acquire a copy of these previous inspections to take with them on the next visit. This often requires extra costs associated with driving time, gas and missed opportunity costs (less time inspecting and getting paid).

I remember working with a state agency responsible for inspecting professional licenses and premises. In order to perform their tasks, they were required to drive into the main office, rummage through paper files, remove these paper files and load them into a box to take with them to the inspection sites. They would use a carriage with wheels to transport this box to their automobiles. Let’s pause a moment to think of the costs and inefficiencies of these task. They did the following:

  • Drove to the main office where previous inspections were stored
  • Sorted through file cabinets for previous inspection results
  • Read through these files to determine any previous non-compliance or failed inspection issues.
  • Recorded issues and highlighted them for review at the site
  • Loaded these files into a box and carried them out to their vehicles
  • Re-inspected the site and recorded more information on new forms
  • Added new paper forms to the files
  • Drove back to the main office
  • Administration staff typed all the information from the new forms into a database system on a desktop computer

A simple database synchronization with a handheld computer, laptop or Tablet PC from the field could have completed most of the above tasks in seconds. The inefficiencies listed above are not uncommon. Inspection applications can be developed that synchronize directly to the central database. Queries on past inspections can quickly provide historic inspection data at the point of work without all the extra expense of driving to the office and manually searching through file cabinets. The time re-typing inspection data can be eliminated as well.

In these times of economic challenges, companies are looking for ways to do more with less. Mobile solutions can provide many cost savings and allow companies to conduct more services with less resources.

You must be Logged on to comment or reply to a post.
  • Kevin,

    The points cited in your blogs on Mobile are kind of obvious points.

    Can you provide information with "some meat on it?"

    Sounds like you might have some good experience - but it is hard to tell from your generalizations.

  • The ROI in Mobile Applications
    The ROI (return on investment), in this context, is the term used to describe the value of a mobile software solution relative to the expense of implementing it. If a mobile solution cost $45,000, how do you justify this investment? Management needs to see that their investment will provide them with a positive return. The following list contains some of the most common justifications for mobilizing business processes:
    Eliminate time spent in the office re-typing data collected in the field:  Allow field technicians to send information electronically to office database.
    Eliminate time spent on the phone dispatching service tickets or work orders: Dispatch electronic service tickets direct from your computer to the mobile device of your service technician.
    Save time finding work locations: Send driving directions in the electronic work order.
    Avoid the high fuel costs incurred delivering paperwork to the office: Synchronize the data direct from the field to the central database application.
    Avoid the time cost transporting paperwork from the field to the office: Synchronize the data collected from the field with the push of a button.
    Save time and provide better customer service by providing real-time access to enterprise data while in the field: Enable mobile access to customer history, product documentation, warranty information, inventory information, time sheets, work schedules and much more.
    Speed up field data collection by using barcode scanners and barcode labels, or RFID readers and RFID tags on assets: A quick scan with a handheld computer can automatically display all stored information related to the asset for quick review, edits and additions.
    Create and schedule new service tickets direct from the field: Engage office staff with new appointment scheduling from field tickets.
    Provide immediate invoicing for faster collections and better cash management: Allow field tech to print the invoice on a mobile printer at the jobsite.
    Save time and postage: Print the invoice and leave it with the customer at the jobsite, rather than wait and bill later from the office.
    Keep proof of work completed: Leave a GPS audit trail of where work was performed. This data helps avoid billing disputes and misunderstandings later.
    Reduce the introduction of errors:  Paper based systems are inherently slow and error prone due to human interaction. The more human hands that touch a paper form and add or edit data, the more chances that errors can be introduced to the data.
    Ensure complete data is sent from the field, as incomplete or inaccurate field data can take hours of work to track down and correct: Send data from the field and ensure it is complete with data integrity features.
    Avoid bad handwriting errors and misunderstandings: Create electronic forms with pre-made options and lists, and by using onscreen digital keyboards.
    Ensure accuracy of data: Validate answers on the mobile software application.
    Protect your company from incomplete work accusations: Capture digital images and associate them with service requests or work orders to prove and verify work.  Use “before and after” digital photos and synchronize them back to the office.
    Avoid time on the phone and note taking while driving: Push documents directly from the office to the handheld.
    Provide quicker dispatch and least cost routing: Use vehicle and/or handheld GPS tracking to see your workforce locations.  Handheld computers with GPS functionality can integrate with GIS and display the location of the field worker to help managers better organize service responses.
    Compute and analyze data on the handheld in the field: Programmed analytics can help field users make quicker and more accurate decisions and job estimates.
    Automate business processes: Mobile application can be configured to perform all kinds of automated business functions, queries, computations and analytics. 
    Enforce quality work habits: Automate “best practices” into your application.
    Automate and activate the appropriate business process based upon the data entered: A specific answer can force a separate business process.
    Avoid undocumented inventory usage and unbilled time due to forgetfulness: Enforce real time data entry before clock out or work order completion.
    Ensure accuracy of work estimates: Require clock in and clock out on work to document and analyze the accuracy of work estimates.
    Streamline technician training: Train new service technicians and inspectors with audio memos or video clips in handheld computer application.
    Ensure delivery: Capture digital signature for proof-of-delivery and proof of work.
    Save travel time and fuel cost: Query available inventory in nearby company vehicles.
    Increase profit per customer: Use information on handheld computers to up-sell more products and services while onsite with the customer.
    Give customer accurate time to complete estimates: Query latest shipping status or inventory levels via handheld computer while onsite with customer
    Increase warranty revenues: Include information on the customer so the service technician can sell warranty and maintenance plans.
    What ROI Can I Expect?
    The bottom line is there are many reasons to mobilize business processes for your field force.  Often companies can recognize a positive ROI by deploying mobile solutions to even a small number of mobile users because the benefits of mobilizing can save large amounts of money.  Other times, the cost of developing and integrating a complex mobile solution to database applications can require larger numbers of mobile users and more time in order to achieve a positive ROI.  How do you know if you will achieve a positive ROI?  Here are a few questions you can ask yourself:

    How many mobile users will be using the application?
    What kinds of mobile devices will you need to purchase?
    What are the costs?
    What data service plans will you need to purchase from your wireless carrier?
    How much will the development cost?
    Will you develop in-house or outsource it?
    How much will the development cost you?
    Read the chapter called Supporting Mobile Applications and add up deployment and support costs
    Read the 30 points listed above to determine where you can find cost savings or money making opportunities from mobilizing.
    Read the chapter on Mobilized Workflows to learn about additional competitive advantages, efficiencies, quality of service and improved customer service opportunities can be gained by automating and mobilizing business processes