Thursday, February 22, 2007

Handheld Computers Everywhere


What do these folks all have in common - the water delivery guy, the parking meter attendant, the surveyor on the sidewalk, the UPS delivery guy, pig farmers, building inspectors and nearly every business person in the airplane? The answer....they all are using handheld computers. So why then is Dell Computer announcing they are going to stop manufacturing PDAs? The answer is that handheld computers are becoming much more than the simple PDAs (personal digital assistants) that Dell has traditionally sold. The new convergent PDA phones should really be renamed to EDAs (enterprise digital assistants) and they are now being sold primarily through the wireless phone carriers rather than electronic stores or direct computer manufacturers as in the past.

EDAs require the combination of a mobile phone and a full functional computer. They integrate processing power, memory, Windows Mobile operating systems, wifi, bluetooth, internet, music/video, digital cameras, and sometimes GPS, bar code, RFID all working with email/calendar features connected over the Internet to enterprise corporate databases and software applications. The simple PDA has been transformed into an essential tool designed to extend the power of corporate database applications into the hands of the mobile workforce.

Think about it...nearly 40% of the global work force is mobile. That means they are traveling, driving delivery trucks, working in field services, repairing equipment at a customer's location, farming, building homes, etc. These mobile workers need access to corporate and customer data and the use of corporate software applications, yet they need them on a portable, ruggedized handheld computer that can fit on their belt or in their pocket.
My team at MobileDataforce is dedicated full time to extending the power of enterprise database applications out to the field force. This is accomplished by developing mobile software platforms such as the PointSync Mobility Platform that enable handheld computers to connect to and access enterprise applications. These solutions enable the bi-directional exchange of information between the office and the field using handheld devices.

Ruggedized Cases for PDAs


In our office here at MobileDataforce in Boise, Idaho we have several tables covered with ruggedized handheld computers and ruggedized cases for PDAs on display in our executive briefing area. Recently we received a new box full of ruggedized PDA cases from a company called Otterbox. I must say there are some very impressive and appealing cases for PDAs and PDA phones. These cases can keep the majority of water and dust off your devices and can provide you with a much greater level of protection from common bumps and drops. They don't offer industrial grade protection, but they do offer a much higher level of protection than a standard exposed phone or PDA.
My sales team is now using the Otterbox for the Palm Treos they carry. The above picture shows how they look. The keys on the Otterbox case work surprisingly well, and a lens on the back allows you to take digital photos without taking the phone out of the case. Good job Otterbox! I drop my PDA phone about once every couple of months and a protective case like this can mean the difference between picking up a working, or non-working PDA phone.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Clinical Research & Mobile Handheld PDA Solutions

MobileDataforce was fortunate enough to have been selected to provide mobile software and consulting services for a very interesting clinical research project that utilized handheld PDAs and synchronization technology recently.

This project involves 6 hospitals that are participating in a data collection and research project on treatments of spinal injuries. The hospitals using our mobile data collection software are:

  • Craig Hospital
  • Mt. Sinai Medical Center in New York
  • The Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago
  • National Rehabilitation Hospital in Washington DC
  • Shepherd Center in Atlanta, Georgia
  • Carolinas Rehabilitation in Charlotte, North Carolina

This research projects involves 250 Clinicians in 6 different disciplines including:

  • Social Workers
  • Physical Therapists
  • Speech Therapists
  • Occupational Therapists
  • Psychologists
  • Recreational Therapists

This study is designed for "Improving Spinal Cord Injury Rehabilitation Outcomes" by:

Identifying individual patient characteristics, including demographic data, severity of spinal cord injury, and severity of illness (complications and comorbidities), that explain significant variation in the outcomes of acute rehabilitation for SCI.

Identifying specific medical/nursing procedures and therapy interventions, or combinations of procedures and interventions that are associated with better outcomes, controlling for patient characteristics.

Determining whether specific impairment-by-treatment interactions are associated with better outcomes. Participants for this study include individuals who sustained a traumatic spinal cord injury and are receiving inpatient rehabilitation at one of the participating facilities (Craig Hospital, Mt. Sinai Medical Center in New York, The Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, National Rehabilitation Hospital in Washington DC, Shepherd Center in Atlanta, Georgia, and Carolinas Rehabilitation in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Solution:

The solution consists of mobile data collection software called PointSync Mobility Platform from MobileDataforce and consumer grade handheld PDAs.

Mobile Handheld PDAs - You Don't Want to Sit Next to Me on a Plane


If you are unfortunate enough to be seated next to me on a plane, then I hope you like talking about mobile handheld PDAs and other kinds of mobile computers and mobile software solutions. Last night on the flight home from San Jose, CA a lucky food broker was throughly indoctrinated into the world of mobility.

This tired traveler did not understand the full degree of his luck. Seems his company is currently testing a mobile software application now and they hate it. If he was hoping for some sleep on the flight, he should never have told me that. It just so happens that MobileDataforce has a lot of experince working with CPG (consumer packaged goods) companies and helping them mobilize their in store promotion and product delivery processes. He was one of the luckiest guys on the entire plane, although he should get some more rest.

Ryzex Visit in Bellingham, Washington and a Look at Mobile Handheld PDAs


Last week I had the opportunity of visiting Ryzex in beautiful Bellingham, WA. Ryzex is a very interesting company that sells new, used and refurbished handheld computers and mobile handheld PDAs. Their business model supports the purchase of old and used handheld computers from their clients, and upgrading them with new hardware. They also have a rental program for companies needing short-term data collection devices.

As I walked through their facilities I saw workstations where engineers were repairing devices, disassembling devices and cleaning used devices. I saw a warehouse full of handheld computer parts and add-on components. It was a very interesting tour and I left impressed with the scope of their services and offerings. They sell and service a wide range of handheld computers including Psion Teklogix, Symbol, Intermec and others.
My interest in all of these handheld devices of course is that they require software in order to be of any use. MobileDataforce develops all kinds of applications for mobile handheld computers and it is important for us to understand all the different technologies, plug-ins and add-on components and how we can best support them.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Route Accounting and Proof of Delivery on Mobile Handheld PDAs

I have been programmed, by my work with mobile software solutions for handheld PDAs, to see opportunities everywhere. I drive my wife crazy... One of the reasons is my habit of constantly calling out phone numbers while driving down the street. Why?...I can't stand seeing people delivering packages and cargo while not wearing a handheld computer on their belt. I feel an intense sense of responsibility to make their life and work better. We all have a purpose in life and this is mine.

Here are a few ways that a mobile software application for a handheld PDA can make the life of a delivery man better:
  1. Electronic proof of delivery form - sign the screen here, capture the digital signature and synchronize with the office...this enables the company to prove delivery at a designated location and time and show this on a website instantly.
  2. Allows the delivery man (or woman) to look up past deliveries at this location, or instantly track the status of other in-process deliveries. This provides better customer service at the point of delivery.
  3. Allows the delivery man to take orders on the handheld computer, and up-sell additional products and services to the customer at the time of delivery.
  4. Allows the delivery man to inspect and report any damage to the cargo at the time of delivery. Saves time and resolves liability issues immediately without additional investment of time.
  5. Vehicle tracking with a GPS enabled handheld computer allows the warehouse or office to see the location of all delivery vehicles. This enables better planning of routes and dispatches which saves time and fuel.
  6. Grocery store product delivery folks can have "planograms" on their handheld devices which predict how much of each product each particular store needs. They can load their cart with a predicted amount of products which saves time and money.
  7. etc

One of my sales team members once said to me, "our market is anyone driving around with a logo on their door." I must agree. If business is being conducted away from the desk, in a mobile environment, a handheld computer and mobile software solutions have relevance.

Asset Management and Mobile Software for Handheld PDAs

Asset management comes in all different sizes and shapes. Assets are not just property and buildings, desks and computers - the also include things like cows, chickens, human resources, inventory, fences, landscape etc.. My professional services teams often are involved in the development of mobile asset management and inspection software solutions. These projects usually involve ruggedized handheld PDAs, a mobile software platform with wireless synchronization and are designed to monitor and track assets on remote job sites.

We are currently working on a project that includes the delivery of fences and environmental barriers. These barriers are delivered to construction sites to prevent water runoff and erosion issues. Sometimes these barriers are temporary and are rented by the construction company. The company providing these "assets" must deliver them, monitor them, track their location, record how long they have been in place, and inspect them for damage once they are retrieved. Many of these tasks are conducted remotely in the field. This is a perfect environment for a ruggedized handheld PDA and a mobile software application wirelessly synchronized with the main office database system.

Handheld PDAs and RFID in the Hospital

Last week my VP of Product Management, Dave Wasden, was playing a high tech version of an Easter egg hunt in the office. He would distribute RFID tags in various locations around the office and walk through with a Symbol 9000 (industrial grade handheld computer) with an RFID antenna attached. The antenna would pick-up the RFID tags and list them on the screen of the handheld device.

Dave was testing this RFID software solution developed, using the PointSync Mobility Platform, on behalf of a company that monitors hospital equipment. Seems often it is hard to find various high priced pieces of equipment when it is needed in the hospital. This can cause delays in treating or diagnosing patients - this is not a good thing. The solution being tested would allow a technician to monitor and track the locations of a large variety of hospital equipment. We have already been involved in a similar project to track expensive tools on construction sites in a similar manner.

In a blog article last year I expressed the opinion that RFID was not yet ready for prime time, or at least for small to medium sized businesses, however, already this year I have seen numerous inexpensive and practical applications for small to medium sized businesses primarily in the asset management arena that want to deploy RFID on mobile handheld PDAs.

MobileDataforce's PointSync Mobility Platform supports a large variety customized RFID solutions.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Inspection Software for Handheld PDAs and the City of Los Angeles

My team has been supporting a mobile inspection software project with the City of Los Angeles' Building Maintenance Division. They had a need to collect conditional assessment data and inspection data from equipment and buildings at over 900 locations using handheld PDAs. These buildings include:
  • Police Stations
  • Fire Stations
  • Libraries
  • Waste water operations
  • Communication Centers
  • Municipal Buildings of all kinds
  • etc.

Their 6 inspectors collect data and complete inspections for their CMMS application (computer managed maintenance system). These 6 inspectors are experts in the following areas:

  • Carpentry
  • HVAC
  • Roofing
  • Elevators
  • Plumbing
  • Electrical

The Building Maintenance Division selected MobileDataforce's Mobile Inspection Software for handheld PDAs and Symbol MC 9000k handheld devices.

The inspectors collect the data and complete the inspections and synchronize their devices to a central data repository.

The Building Maintenance Division selected software from MobileDataforce that would enable them to create, customize and configure their own handheld inspection forms and applications. By selecting a software solution that lets them create their own mobile applications, they can edit and customize whenever necessary without the need and expense of paying a third party.