Tag: mobile data capture

What Does it Mean to Have True Offline Capabilities for Your Mobile Workforce?

 

A study earlier this year found that the US has a 4G coverage rate of 81.3% and an LTE coverage rate of over 90%. These numbers aren’t bad, they’re above the world average, but still leaves 10% out in the cold domestically, and larger uncovered populations worldwide. The numbers get a bit worse when you start looking at maps that show coverage by location instead of population.

Lack of coverage is exacerbated in that often times the best place for a mobile workforce to operate are the most remote. The flexibility of carrying “just a phone” lends itself to mobility in areas where it is impractical to carry a laptop. Moreover, when natural disasters strike, communication infrastructure needed for critical tablet based operations might have been destroyed.

What is therefore needed is an offline capable solution. However, this raises a new problem. What does offline mean? What can a device do without a connection to the cloud or to home base? What does it mean to be truly offline capable? To answer that question, I have outlined a set of requirements that I think you should look for in your mobility platform.

  • Data availability – This one is usually the most obvious. There is some sort of data set that exists in the back end and it needs to be available to the mobile user for scheduling, lookup, reference material, or other similar activity. Be sure your solution supports synchronizing this data to the device. Ideally, look for a solution that sends small change sets to the device and syncs in the background.
  • Does the app work? – Ok, maybe this is actually the most obvious. Web based solutions are great for the back office, but techniques like local storage, and cached offline apps leave a lot to be desired when pushed to the limit. This is not the browsers’ fault; it is more a case of use the right tool for the right job.
  • Look and feel – Some solutions provide a bit of a hybrid approach to offline functionality. They might require you to mark some of your app as offline capable and can sometimes impose limitations on app size (think # of fields or sections in a form) or user experience. These can work, but make sure you measure the tradeoffs if you go down that path.
  • App logic – One of the most important aspects of mobile data capture is data quality. This is typically enforced by a set of rules and other logic at the point of capture. Make sure your solution supports disconnected logic. The rules should be handled by the device on the device. There should not be a need to connect to the server to handle field requirements.
  • Store and forward – Lastly, the whole concept of being able to store in progress data capture and then send it to the server when you’re back online is critical. Some users might not come back to an office or other connectivity hotspot for days or even weeks. Make sure your device can safely, securely store in progress data capture and then send it back up when reconnected.

I feel that if you can tick those five boxes above, your users will thank you. Even if they are only occasionally disconnected, having a solution that was built to be used while disconnected is important. Do your homework, and make sure you find a mobile application that is truly offline capable.

How to Overcome the Challenges of Integrating a Mobile Data Solution

Business managers are challenged more than ever to deliver value with an ever-expanding list of requests and features to drive their business forward. With the high demand for mobilizing business processes, integration with existing and legacy backend systems becomes a daunting task. With a limited set of resources and the constant challenge to make backend meet mobile, business managers are quantifying integrations as their top barrier to starting a mobile data solution. A 2016 Enterprise Mobility Exchange report reveals that 47.7% of business managers cite the biggest challenge of implementing a mobile data solution as “integration with legacy systems.”

What are some integration challenges and how can businesses manage them without distracting from their core mission?

Two core challenges arise when organizations are faced with integrations:

Challenge #1: Variability of Existing Systems

Some organizations may have hundreds of existing systems that require some form of integration—each having their own API and specifications.

Challenge #2: Finding Resources with Integration Skillsets

Employees who are familiar with these systems and integrations are tasked with handling complex integration transformations, routing, updates, security requirements, etc. and so a special set of skills is required.

Handling integration tasks can sometimes account for over half of a mobile data project effort. Reducing the impact of these two challenges will have a large impact on getting a successful mobile data project under your belt.

Facing any challenge can be easier when you have partners who’ve faced—and tackled—similar obstacles.

We’ve implemented numerous integration projects with customers who are realizing benefits and future extensibility of their integration projects with us. In these integration projects, we have found that having a comprehensive mobile data solution plan that includes integration has been the most useful tool in aligning mobile data solutions with core business focus.

A successful mobile data solution plan should include the following considerations:

Approach in Phases

  • Break out goals into milestones.
  • Keep milestones SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Based)
  • Keep milestone accomplishments on a periodic duration, such as a quarterly basis

 Approach with a Single Focused Business Process

  • What are the most pressing business processes that would benefit from a mobile data solution?
  • Select one with the most reasonable outcome in a single milestone phase
  • What kind of system(s) currently retains data for this business process and what are the integration tasks?

Update Plan and Update Phases

  • Stick to the current milestone
  • Adjust future phases and milestone based upon your experiences

 Measure your ROI

  • Identify metrics and take a baseline metric before starting a project
  • Compare before and after for KPI and ROI

Select a Partner Who Knows Mobile Data and Integration

When selecting a partner, are you reassured that they've experienced integration challenges before and succeeded at meeting them? Do they have resources who are experienced with your integration requirements? Can they provide assistance with your mobile data solution plan? Can they assist you with measuring your ROI? Do they enable your mobile data solutions to align with and excel at your core business focus? The answers to all these questions will be critical to finding the right partner to help you achieve success.

Build on Mi-Platform, the leading COTS solution for Mobile Data To ease the pain of integration, Mi-Platform has the right tools to successfully manage your integration needs. For the citizen developer, Mi-Platform provides Frictionless Data Replication (FDR) which easily matches backend data sources to fields on your mobile forms. FDR is built on our Data Replication component which streamlines backend data being available at the fingertips of your mobile data workforce. For further extensibility, Mi-Platform provides a suite of more than 100+ APIs so that IT professionals may completely automate and manage their mobile data processes.

With Mi-Corporation as your partner, building on Mi-Platform and implementing a Mobile Data Solution Plan, you’ll be on your way to augmenting your core business with a powerful mobile data workforce!

Is an Off-the-Shelf Mobile Data Solution Right for you?

Replacing “clipboard technology” with mobile technology enables organizations to do more with less. Less resources. Less staff. Less time.

Enterprise mobility is inevitable and unavoidable, and by the way; it’s good for business. Any organization employing a mobile workforce—and lacking a mobile data strategy—is falling behind the curve. So what are the business risks of not going mobile? Well, for starters:

  • Reduced employee and customer satisfaction
  • Loss of productivity
  • Fragmented mobile projects emerging in various departments
  • Inability to adapt to future technology requirements
  • Greater implementation costs down the road

But making the move to mobile can be overwhelming and fraught with perceived dangers. Enter the age-old proverbial question “should we build it or buy it?”

Oftentimes organizations consider building the solution, rather than purchasing a Commercial Off-The-Shelf (COTS) product, in order to alleviate common concerns such as:

  • COTS vendors will not understand my process
  • I will have no control over the future of a COTS product
  • COTS vendors will not be flexible enough to adopt to my processes
  • Off-the-shelf software may not be compatible with other systems or desired devices
  • COTS vendors may not keep up with changing technology

These concerns are valid and will be addressed shortly, but first let’s look at some issues of building a solution from scratch.

  • Your solution will be version 1, versus a COTS product that’s been used and tested in many different organizations with many different scenarios tested.
  • Your development resources will need a wide variety of skills to build a solution from scratch such as:
    • Security
    • Integration
    • Business logic
    • Synchronization
    • Workflow management
  • Employee turnover may result in delays and inability to maintain software properly.
  • Your organization and/or IT department is not a software company. Taking on a project like this inhibits the ability to focus internal resources on core competencies and goals.

Additionally, it’s somewhat universally accepted that in a build vs. buy cost analysis, off-the-shelf solutions often work out cheaper. They’re usually much quicker to implement, and maintenance and feature upgrades often come standard.

Considering all these factors, it often becomes a logical choice for organizations to (re)consider an off the shelf (COTS) product rather than a DIY solution. Through this process, many organizations make the decision to buy a COTS platform, one that provides the tools for allowing the customer (or vendor professional services) to build the perfect solution for them. These tools come with built-in functionality like security, integration, workflow, etc., and allow organizations to focus on building applications that are user friendly, easy to navigate, and meet the needs of users.

Mi-Corporation’s Mobile Impact Platform (Mi-Platform) is one such platform that enables organizations to create a solution that has a wide variety of key features and functionality baked in but is also flexible to adapt to the needs of different types of users and operational requirements.

Prior to working with a COTS platform vendor, be sure to determine:

  • Will you be provided with the tools and training to build your solution or does the vendor build it for you? Or can it be a combination of the two?
  • Can the platform provider provide references and share objective metrics/customer satisfaction scores demonstrating their responsiveness and effectiveness in furthering clients’ mission-critical processes?
  • Can the platform provider demonstrate flexible product iterations that support cross-platform and cross-device requirements, multiple integration points and a variety of data types (voice recognition, photos, barcodes, RFID, handwriting recognition etc.)?
  • Will the vendor share their product roadmap for future software evolution?
  • How much weight does customer input have when adding new features to the product?

Enterprise mobility is an investment in time, money, and other resources—but it’s also an important investment in your organization’s future. Be sure to weigh your options carefully and choose a partner that will support your mission-critical processes today and can grow with you as your business evolves.

Enterprise Mobility Exchange – Post Event Report

Enterprise Mobility Exchange just hosted its East Coast edition of the 2017 Transformation Exchange which took place in Braselton, Georgia. I’ve just downloaded the post-event report which is available on their website . Among the findings:

Enterprise mobility is rapidly evolving causing the industry to face more diverse challenges than ever before. Think IoT. According to a survey completed by the event attendees 54 % will be investing in IoT software over the coming months and 48% will be investing in IoT hardware.

Security is of course a major topic for concern. How can security be maximized without inhibiting functionality, collaboration and innovation? 73% of event attendees will be investing in application security.

Of most interest to me, at this particular point in time, was the apparent debate over the methodology for developing and deploying mobile apps. Not up for debate – business users want their mobile apps and they want them now!

The traditional approach to mobile app development is not working any longer. The process of design, development, integration, QA, deployment, user testing, change management and finally user adoption could take months and easily run over budget. And that’s only for one application!  Mobile app development must scale to the needs of the enterprise.

Mi-Corporation is in complete agreement with the business users, we too want them to get their apps, and get them now. Why should they, or anyone in an organization, have to wait to become more efficient, or better utilize their valuable time, or gain access to captured data for analysis or reporting? (A mere sampling of the benefits associated with a mobile data capture solution).   Over the coming weeks we will be sharing some exciting news regarding this topic – stay tuned to learn about our new solution for empowering citizen developers, business users and the mobile workforce alike!

International Livestock Identification Association

I had the pleasure of attending the International Livestock Identification Association (ILIA) conference last week hosted in Boise, ID. The event was one of the best conferences I attended in decades and the folks who facilitated it brought a long list of A+ rated industry expert speakers, and also did an excellent job of fundraising for youth educational scholarships. I would also add that these passionate professionals of Agriculture and Livestock are as close to one another as any family can be.

If you are part of the Agricultural eco system, one topic that is on everyone’s agenda, is the challenge to build out a nationwide traceability system for the movement of livestock. This is no small task as you can imagine.  Each state having its’ own regulations, heavily influenced by federal guidelines, and usually running into obstacles when it comes to gathering support.

Imagine you are the producer, perhaps beef or dairy. Your take on what type of regulations are needed is different from the sale yard, which differs from the slaughterhouse and packing facilities. A couple of common elements that rang true through the conference:

  • Nobody wants more regulations and those who see the wisdom in having them do not always agree on the scope and are most concerned about oversight and regulatory enforcement.
  • No matter what else we do in the future, adopting a livestock movement and traceability system will be impossible without deploying new technology.

I’ve learned over the past two years working with our agriculture clients that livestock is as mobile of an asset as you can imagine. From the time of birth to end of life, all livestock, especially cows, are mobile. Whether it is within the confines of the ranch, to the feedlots, to the sale yard, to a new home on the range, they live a life of mobility, sometimes on foot, other times in trailers or trucks.

If your mission includes tracking mobile assets, you had better have a robust mobile data platform to do it.  Mobile Apps have become commonplace in many businesses to gain efficiency, improve safety, enhance worker productivity, control costs, and effectively capture and communicate data with 100% accuracy from outside the building to back office repositories for reporting and analytics. In the many years of consulting, designing and deploying mobile systems, the need for technology has never been so apparent than applying it to support this nation’s livestock movement and disease traceability endeavor.

For a solution to be successful in the livestock traceability, it will need to be extremely easy to use and as adaptable as the day is long. The users include a wide range of profiles, e.g., ranchers, truckers, veterinarians, meat facilities, brand inspectors, law enforcement, and anyone who produces or needs to register livestock product.

Consistent with the messages delivered at ILIA this year, it’s clear that any mobile data capture solutions put in place will need to be compatible with the latest input technologies to function at the speed of commerce. Those include:

  • Cameras
  • RFID
  • Microchips
  • GPS
  • Other premise-based technologies

In the case of environments like feedlots, farms or sale yards, standard keyboard input is typically not a preferred method of data input.  Therefore, mobile apps also need to support pen stylus for handwriting recognition, quick pick drop down for standard entries, and voice to text for speed of narrative notes by inspectors in the field.  An effective system will depend on the asset (livestock) being uniquely identified in some manner and the identifier will need to be read at the speed of commerce to support high production areas for traceability, such as a sale yard where hundreds or thousands of animals may arrive and depart like travelers through JFK.

This new frontier offers many opportunities to improve safety, quality of product, reduce theft, and most importantly, reduce the risk of disease outbreak and spread.  The challenge is not just finding the right products, but also finding the right partners to help design and implement these solutions in harsh environments with something less than a willing user community (and I’m not talking about the cows here!).

Finding the right mobile data collection partner is critical to the success of such a demanding environment.  Deploying a solution that is adaptive, effective, and easy to use will be the keys to success for the nationwide livestock and disease traceability infrastructure.

 

 

Using Inspection Data for Predictive Analytics (Believe the hype!)

One of our first customer champions, Dr. Etta Pisano, a nationally renowned Breast Cancer Imaging Radiologist with Harvard Medical School, recently shared a TechRepublic article on Facebook that probes the question—is machine learning overhyped?

My answer is a definitive no. As a computer scientist, I’ve spent many years studying machine learning and its practical applications. And while I believe that certain applications of machine learning are overhyped, in general machine learning is not overhyped at all. In fact, machine learning is worthy of its hype—and we’ve only started to scratch the surface of its potential.

Take, for example, speech recognition. In the early 1990s, I saw moderately accurate speech recognition software with a somewhat limited vocabulary on very powerful Unix workstations. At that time, the technology seemed impressive—but it had a long road to successful commercialization.

Today, we have great speech recognition in the cloud through our Smartphones, which I use every day for emailing and texting. Powerful machine learning algorithms are only possible with ample amounts of training data. We have more capacity than ever to capture, store and compute models based on very large amounts of training data. Every Google and Apple speech recognition user is supplying training data to those companies, if they give permission—and in doing so, we’re helping to create a more intelligent product for everyone.

So how does this apply to your business?

Machine learning, and practically speaking, predictive analytics, is starting to impact the inspection management market in many ways. One Predictive Solutions eBook discussing workplace OSHA safety put some of the traditional (non-predictive) practices in perspective:

“…waiting for incidents to occur before preventing new ones sends a very chilling message to employees about the company’s safety culture. To put it bluntly, leaders are essentially saying, ‘Joe, I am going to wait until your arm gets severed in our production line before I figure out how to ensure Susan doesn’t suffer the same fate. In the meantime, stay safe, and keep that production line moving…we have profit goals to hit.’ If leaders are trying to drive both a strong safety culture as well as productivity, this is not an acceptable option.”

Many industries (a few examples below) are now using their inspection data points to predict business-critical incidents and deliver huge benefits such as:

  • Fewer overall incidents
  • Increased public safety and improved health
  • Time savings
  • Cost savings
  • Increased productivity.

Superior data accuracy provided by the Mobile Impact Platform mobile data capture system is critical to creating and utilizing effective predictive analytics solutions.

Elevator Inspections

A page from Harvard’s Data Smart City Solutions discusses various use cases for predictive analytics. It’s focused on different US cities’ use cases, and it’s a nice reference if you ever want to learn how various types of operational challenges can be tackled using advanced data and analysis techniques. One interesting use case that we’ve been looking at for a while now is elevator Inspections. Harvard poses the question: “How can we prioritize annual elevator safety inspections? For example, can we predict or identify which elevators pass every year…?”

Workplace OSHA Safety Inspections

The Predictive Analytics eBook I referenced above provides some very interesting insights into the practice of using inspection data to predict—and prevent—future workplace incidents. The eBook discusses four “safety truths” that can reduce workplace injuries including doing MORE inspections (thus acquiring more predictive data points), hiring more (and more diverse) inspectors to do the job, and recognizing that worksites deemed either 100% safe or at the greatest risk can BOTH be the strongest candidates for future liability. The safety truths were derived from over 100 million safety observations and nearly 40,000 safety incidents, an ample amount of training data.

Food Inspection

The quality and safety of the food we serve (and eat) in the United States is important to us all. The city of Chicago has tackled this critical public health challenge handily—with the employment of just three dozen inspectors responsible for 15,000 food establishments and the power of predictive analytics.

This Government Technology article discusses a pilot program that yielded striking results. When using an advanced analytics-based procedure, Chicago data scientists discovered critical food safety violations, on average, seven days earlier than when traditional inspection procedures were used. The results have implications not only for Chicago but for forward-thinking cities everywhere that see the value of using advanced predictive analytics.

In summary, machine learning and predictive analytics are far from overhyped—in fact, we’re just getting started. In today’s world of immediate gratification and “google me” results (a luxury I appreciate just as much as the next person), sometimes people forget that collecting and actualizing the use of good data is often a marathon and it’s never a sprint. I’m personally excited to explore what we’ll be doing next and how Mi-Corporation can help shape the future of predictive analytics for our customers. I can’t think of a single customer we have today that wouldn’t benefit from predictive modeling tools. When they’re properly applied and expertly interpreted, incredible insights (and huge business benefits) await.

Stay tuned!