Tag: Digital Forms

Rapid Prototyping for Field Inspections

Rapid Prototyping for Field Inspections

Rapid Prototyping for Field Inspections

When it comes to designing and developing for new form projects for field inspections, one of the greatest project tools has been the use of rapid "paper" prototyping. This method involves a direct collaboration on the presentation and capabilities of a form directly with form users who are subject matter experts (SMEs). When it comes to any project, this interaction is crucial for project success.

In my most recent projects, I've seen how this collaboration has improved outcomes. Here are a few examples:

Beyond the PDF

Most new project work starts with a PDF that is currently being used on paper out in the field. This PDF or similar document is a great start to understanding the data and the field maintenance inspection process. However, having SME input on actual usage improves overall user satisfaction, adoption and data quality. Furthermore, rapid prototyping should also open the opportunity for improving upon the entire field maintenance inspection process—not just replacing a previous process.

Access to the Actual On-site Work

At Transport for London, I had the opportunity to meet directly with technicians for a process that involved battery backup systems. During the on-site visit, we opted to use the current digital form prototype while interacting with the actual battery test units as if the inspector was using the form in a real scenario. He filled out the form while pressing buttons and switching battery test modes. At one point, we discovered a possible area of confusion where the form stated, "all LEDs illuminated in red" whereas on the actual test unit, only the *labelled* LEDs were actually illuminated in red. There was a reserve LED that was not illuminated. In actual usage of the digital form, this could potentially have led to the inspector failing the battery test.  We could easily adjust the form requirements and user instructions on the form without a cycle of receiving this type of feedback after deployment.

Get Prototyping!

In my experience, a close interface between developer and inspector is a critical piece to ensuring that projects are successful. As you begin your next project, don't underestimate the advantages to taking every opportunity for your inspectors to participate in the rapid paper prototyping process!


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Throw That App Away!!

In the business world, many have come to rely upon mobile apps to help achieve digital transformation of their organization. As a result, we’ve come to think of mobile apps with a certain amount of permanence. We’ll all come together, spend six months defining requirements, talking to subject matter experts, outlining the integration with our ERP system, and only then we’ll start building the thing. A year later we’ll have a solid version 1. It’ll resemble a Swiss Army Knife, and possibly cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, but we’ve created something we can use for the next ten years until it becomes the next generation’s green screen.

What happens when we have a near term business need? We don’t have a year and a committee, but we have a real-world problem that needs to be solved. The answer tends to be somewhere between break out the clipboard and call the resident Microsoft Excel expert. Neither are good mobile solutions, but this is the world that business analysts tend to turn to.

It should be our job as an industry to fix this. And it needs to start with the way we think about mobile apps. Mobility isn’t going anywhere, but that doesn’t mean every app must live a lifetime. If our problem can be solved in a month, then our app only needs to last a month.

Let’s look at an email someone in a technology company’s infrastructure group might receive:

Hi John -

I figured out what's happening with the new fiber cabinets. Looks like the techs didn't know that the new 4800 switches need 150 watt power supplies, so some of them got installed with 120 watt units. We're going to have to send someone around to check them. The supplies look the same, but the 150 watt ones have serial numbers 315xxx vs 312xxx for the 120 watts. Also, the 4800s need to be wired from the back or it interferes with the signal. Can we have the tech get photos for me to review? Thanks -- Tim

This problem needs to be solved quickly to satisfy customers. We can’t spend months or even weeks to design it, and if we can get it out to the technicians today, they can start work immediately. But it’s not a trivial survey either. In addition to text data we need to capture photos, verify serial numbers (ideally via scanning their barcodes) and though we trust our technicians, we’d like to gather location data to verify they are where they say they are. We’d like the reports of each inspection emailed to us and if we get CSVs we can feed our BI tool.

How long do we think this would take to build? Well, after a bit of training and practice I can build it in 5 minutes and have it deployed on iOS, Android, and Windows devices in 5 minutes more. Our technicians can be collecting data faster than you can get a Unicorn Frappuccino®. You might think I’m exaggerating, but the scenario above is now one of our standard demos. Even sales can build it in 15 minutes. Even if we round up to an hour, our total cost of deployment could be less than 0.1% of an “enterprise mobile app."

Of course, what happens after all our fiber cabinets and power supplies have been inspected? The app we spent so long building? The app that’s now sent back hundreds of records and saved the infrastructure project? Well…then it’s time to throw it away. It really is that simple. If the job is done, and the problem is solved, just get rid of it. There need not be any tears, angst, or heartache.

To be fair I should be a little more environmentally friendly. Rather than throw it away, feel free to recycle it the next time a business-critical problem comes up.

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