Getting Mobile Inspection Apps Right

If you’re an operations manager or IT leader with a mobile workforce, you’ve probably wondered why automating their jobs has been such a challenge. If your team collects a good deal of data, such as in field inspection activities, no doubt you’ve been doubly vexed. Mobile inspectors are the red-headed step-children of automation. For multiple (and often unique) reasons, they’ve historically had horrible mobile app adoption rates—but it doesn’t have to be a losing battle. When you take a closer look at some of the biggest adoption challenges, finding that sticky mobile solution for your end users can be well within your reach.

Why do mobile apps fail at the user adoption stage?

Creating a mobile form or application isn’t the end-game. It’s only the first step to automating your workforce. Many of our largest customers (and prospects) have wrangled with the issue of user adoption. Here are a few of the major roadblocks that users experience along the way.

  • Data flow isn’t natural. Data collection forms might eliminate paperwork, but they often don’t flow the way workers actually do their work.
  • They have limited access to backend data. When inspectors don’t have access to other systems and historical information, it often leads to frustration and users making phone calls back to the office anyway to verify important details.
  • They are one person islands of automation. When mobile apps aren’t connected to enterprise systems, the data users collect often takes days to find its way to corporate repositories (which doesn’t seem very automated).
  • The data they collect is notoriously inaccurate. The data might be inaccurate, but it’s not because they don’t care. It’s often because their systems actually enable data errors rather than prevent them. 
  • Selective automation isn’t enough. A big challenge of mobile apps is that they only automate certain parts of an inspector’s job—resulting in multiple patterns of work required to get their jobs done. For example, they can collect data electronically but they can’t submit it electronically.

These are the challenges that virtually every company faces when they’re automating—and it’s why many companies pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for 1st or 2nd gen automation apps and wind up with a 25% adoption rate on their investment. As a result, many mobile field inspectors are not nearly as productive as they should be. What’s more, the entire process for inspections—from the time the work order is issued to the time that every data system is updated and every stakeholder is notified of the outcome—takes way too long and is littered with far too many errors. But it’s not all bad news.

Companies that get field automation right are experiencing enormous boosts in productivity. We’ve seen actual inspection times cut by 67% with the use of smart forms, with some inspections reduced by 2 hours. Another one of our customers experienced a 1,100% improvement in the total number of inspections performed in a year.  These improvements are possible whether you are doing internal inspections for regulatory compliance reporting, OSHA reporting or external inspections to ensure safe functioning of assets used by the public or your workforce.

What are the biggest stumbling blocks to app development success?

Before the challenge of user adoption (and to help prevent it), operations and IT professionals need to focus on some key stumbling blocks during the app development stage including:

  • The development process for mobile apps is simply too slow and not enough resources are allocated.
  • To meet time commitments, shortcuts are taken to gets apps in users hands only to find they are glorified web apps missing critical functionality (underpowered architecture/bandaids).
  • First and 2nd generation mobile apps often make users conform to the way the software works vs. the way the inspector works. Inspections are sophisticated and when the guys designing the software haven’t been out in the field, important process steps (and “if” “then” programming) gets lost.
  • Organizations often try to use an off the shelf application that isn’t purpose built for their type of inspection/data collection—like trying to put a square peg into a round hole.

So how do you get mobile inspection apps right?

Despite all the user adoption and app development challenges, you can find a clear path to mobile app success. Here are four things you can do to automate your workforce and get it right the first time.

  1. Find solutions focused on inspections (avoid the square peg scenario).
  2. Find solutions that are mobile first.
  3. Find solutions that give you the power to rapidly build your own mobile forms and apps.
  4. Find a flexible platform–when you choose a mobile platform that lets you iterate your apps based on discovery, adapting your field tools to everyday learning can be as simple as running a few lines of code instead of investing thousands of dollars on your next generation app.

As with any software development and process automation, getting your mobile inspection apps right will never be about doing it “right” the first time. It’s about getting it right for what your team needs today and then perfecting it over time as user needs and job responsibilities change.