Friday, May 30, 2008

Handheld PDAs and Mobile Inspection Software for Electrical Utilities

Sho-Me Power owns 1,663 miles of transmission line, and is responsible for inspection and maintenance of the transmission line. Sho-Me power works directly with power suppliers to help transmit power to rural areas. Sho-Me Power provides services for 131 customer delivery points in 125 distribution and transmission substations.

Sho-Me Power used paper forms to perform inspections of transmission lines in rural areas, which resulted in many challenges. Inspections were performed twice per year, once in the fall and again in the spring, transmission line poles and pole attachments were inspected for damage. Areas surrounding the transmission line were also inspected for overgrown trees and undergrowth to determine trimming needs if necessary. Many inspections were done during poor weather conditions which made it difficult to collect data, juggle necessary paperwork, and caused lost or smudged paperwork because of weather conditions. The paper forms were also time consuming to fill out, hard to collect from the field inspectors (as forms were often lost or misplaced), and required office personnel to re-enter data at the home office.

It took a long time to fill out all of the paperwork in the field, and we ended up with so much paper that it was almost impossible to use all of the information we spent so much time collecting,” said Andy Meyers, GIS administrator at Sho-Me Power. “We knew we needed a better system for collecting and organizing our data.”

MobileDataforce worked closely with Sho-Me Power to integrate all necessary field inspection forms into one enterprise class mobility software application for handheld PDAs. The application allowed the field inspectors to sort inspections by region, completed structures, and uncompleted structures. All inspections were time stamped to keep record of when the inspection was completed, which allowed for Sho-Me Power to provide proof of inspection and track results for future inspections. The data collected was integrated into small world GIS.

Sho-Me Power selected a Trimble Recon handheld device, equipped with a GPS receiver for data collection. The mobile application utilized the GPS receivers to specifically identify the location of utility poles. This gave Sho-Me Power greater asset visibility, and made it easier for field inspectors to locate transmission poles in rural areas.

By using a mobile application rather than paper forms, Sho-Me Power was able to:

· Save administrative data entry time
· Increase asset visibility
· Wirelessly synchronize from the field
· Save fuel costs and driving time delivering paper forms
· Provide near real-time visibility to inspections in the field
· Ensure data accuracy through the use of data validation features
· Save inspection time with easy to use software

The PointSync Mobility Platform is an enterprise class mobile software platform used to rapidly design, develop, and deploy mobile applications. It is architected to provide database centric mobile applications with bi-directional synchronization, connectivity, security, and enterprise database integration all within one product suite.

MobileDataforce is a global leader in the development of enterprise class and business critical software solutions. MobileDataforce software can be used on most mobile handheld computers including Smart Phones, Tablet PCs, PDAs, and laptops. MobileDataforce has offices in Europe, North America, and Australia to support our ever expanding customer base and sales channels. Privately held, MobileDataforce has been mobilizing business solutions since 2000.

Conclusion:
Through the use of the PointSync mobility platform Sho-Me Power was able to save time and money. Sho-Me Power was also able to gain greater visibility of assets and inspection points, and track them by GPS location.

This system is saving us at every step in the process. We’re saving time in the field collecting information and just as much time back in the office processing it,” Meyers said. “The hours we used to spend collating paper alone is a huge savings to us, and time that can now be spent on other, more productive work.”

MobileDataforce has assisted many organizations around the world design, develop, and deploy mobile applications for field data collection. For additional information please visit our website at http://www.mobiledataforce.com/

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Mobile Handheld PDAs, Barcode Scanners and ERPs


Last week my PSO (professional services organization) team gave me a demonstration of one of the coolest mobile software applications for handheld PDA that I have ever seen. This one mobile software application does the following:
  • Proof of delivery - route delivery
  • Route assignments
  • Customer's payment status
  • Customer's details
  • Work Order Dispatch
  • Inventory Tracking
  • Identifies nearest source of additional inventory (mobile or warehouse)
  • New product orders
  • Fleet tracking (odometer readings, driver logs, hours of service)
  • Critical message (alerts) - requires driver to read before continuing
  • Planagrams - Mobile application tells the driver how much product to deliver to each customer and on what date
  • Preventative maintenance planning and service tickets

These are just a few of the features that our customer asked us to customize for their business in just one mobile software application. This customer has chosen the Psion Teklogix WorkAbout Pro as their mobile handheld computer.

This mobile application is complex and huge, yet the processing speed is still very good on the mobile devices. My team has been given a challenge, and they have met the challenge.

This is an example of the kinds of enterprise quality mobile applications that MobileDataforce delivers to our customers weekly.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Ethiopia & Mobile Handheld PDA Solutions

I was very excited last night to view photos from one of our mobile application consultants (Will H.) who is in Ethiopia for the next few weeks. He is working on a very interesting mobile software project to help with a medical supply chain and logisitics solution that uses mobile handheld computers, Windows Mobile and software from MobileDataforce. The proof of concept utilized Palm Treos running Windows Mobile OS.

His photos included exotic foods, landscapes, cityscapes and his temporary office. Mobile applications have great appeal in locations where the traditional landline infrastructures are less developed. Wireless networks and connected/disconnected mobile software applications are very well suited for these environments and can accurately collect and synchronize data from very remote locations to centralized databases anywhere in the world.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Comparing the MTC 2100 Ultra Mobile Computer to Handheld PDAs


Nexcom's MTC 2100 (left), MTC 2100-MD (middle), and MRC 2100
Although I love handheld PDAs, I am a big fan of ultra mobile computers. They fit in your hand like a paperback book, yet provide the full power of a laptop. The touch screens permit you to use them like big PDAs. MobileDataforce focuses on working with field workers, so ruggedized mobile devices are very important.
It is said to provide from four to eight hours of battery life, Nexcom's triplets differ in more than just color:

The MTC 2100, aimed at logistics and field service applications, includes GPS, based on SiRF's starIII chipset. Also onboard is a laser barcode scanner.

The MTC 2100-MD, aimed at medical and POS (point-of-sale) applications, includes an onboard RFID reader.

The MRC 2100, designed for outdoor and vehicle use, has added rubber padding installed, and is said to withstand drops of up to four feet.

The devices include 802.11b/g/n wireless networking and Bluetooth 2.0, and accept optional "3.5G" cellular or WiMAX modules. They additionally sport 1.3 megapixel cameras, plus a connector for an optional docking station. Dual independent displays are also supported, likely via the dock.Water and dust proof to the IP54 standard, the devices add several security features. In addition to integral fingerprint readers, they also include an Infineon TPM (trusted platform module) 1.2 chip. The TPM provides for the secure generation and storage of cryptographic keys, and it also provides a hardware pseudo-random number generator.
If pocket sized is required then you should get a full functional smartphone or handheld PDA, but if looking at drawings and maps are part of your job, then an Ultra mobile computer is your answer.

Visibility & Accountability in Field Services with Handheld PDAs


I must confess that I am much more of a people person than a numbers person. However, in my role as CEO of MobileDataforce I am accountable for understanding and using a large amount of numerical data. My responsibilities include:
  • Collecting the important business data

  • Analyzing the meaning of the data

  • Reporting the data to my managers, my board and financial institutions

  • Forecasting future growth and business performance based upon the data

  • Improving my business processes to enable better performance in the future

  • Investing in future products and services that will reap rewards in the future

My responsibilities are very similar to many officers and managers of small to medium sized businesses. The key to effective management is having accurate and timely data, understanding the data and making effective business decisions based upon the data.

Let's take a moment to ponder the process of collecting data in the world of field services (mobile service technicians). The field service manager often finds it difficult to collect the data from the point of work in a timely manner. Often the paper forms stay in the truck or van for hours, days or weeks before the data is entered into a computer system. This means the data is unusable for that period of time. The manager has no way of analyzing it. If the entire system is paper based and filed, then the information that is contained on the paper forms is not available for analysis, reporting or quick business decisions.

Mobilizing and automating the field services operations with handheld PDAs enables managers to have near real-time access to business data from work done remotely in the field. 75 service technicians can be synchronzing data throughout the day from a large geographic area and the data can be instantly viewed and analyzed. Decisions can be quickly made about issues such as:

  • Equipment location
  • Service Technician location
  • Job status, job delays
  • Equipment break downs
  • Problem issues
  • Change in schedules
  • Personnel changes
  • Customer issues
  • Payment issues
  • Unforseen technical challenges
  • Unexpected costs
  • Changes in inventory
  • Much more

This is the kind of near real-time data/information that allows a manager to make good decisions that benefit the business TODAY. If managers are always working from data that is days old, they are too late to impact the quality of business today.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Quality Audits & Quality Assurance Using Mobile Handheld PDAs

My team at MobileDataforce is working on a mobile software development project with one of the world's largest consumer packaged goods (CPG) companies. The mobile application is designed to run on handheld PDAs and help the Q&A department improve their visibility into the manufacturing being done in hundreds of different locations around the world. The Q&A department is responsible for the quality and safety of both their employees and customers around the world.

The mobile application allows internal company quality auditors to inspect an operation and synchronize the data to the corporate Q&A database in near-real time. This allows the data from thousands of inspections around the world to be quickly analyzed for trends and problems.

Once the data is collected on mobile devices and synchronized to the corporate Q&A database, business analytic software can be used to understand the data and its impact on quality. Issues can be identified, policies implemented and problems resolved before they grow larger and become a public issue.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Visibility - Mobile Software on PDAs & Handheld Computers



My PSO (professional services organization) team has been assisting several organizations around the world this month on mobile software projects for handheld PDAs with a common theme - visibility. Let me explain:

Managers are often responsible for field work in locations where they are not physically present. They are personally accountable for the work delivered, but often have limited visibility into it. This is ALWAYS a challenge and a big risk.

In the last few days we have been working on mobile solutions that provide the following benefits:
  • Help a large Paintless Dent Repair franchiser track the quality of work through mobile and onsite customer surveys, work orders and inspections
  • Track the shipping and delivery of medicine throughout Africa and South America using mobile handheld computers that synchronize to a central database
  • Help a construction manager document construction projects with inspection software and other applications that help manage many projects in different geographies, log each issue, assign a contractor to fix the work, reinspect and document
  • Help a pharmaceutical company monitor their customers and any change of conditions in the USA and Canada
  • Help a service company track their work orders, the time each service ticket takes to resolve, and the location of every service technician
  • Help a shuttle service dispatch vans and track pick-ups and deliveries

Each of these examples demonstrate how companies that have work locations distributed over wide geographic areas can have better visibility into the work being done in the field.

Here are some of the tools that mobile handheld computers provide to help remote managers better track the work:

  • GPS - vehicle and technician tracking
  • Date and time stamps integrated with GPS to show the time a vehicle or technician was at a specific location
  • GPS/Date & Time Stamp/Connected to Work Order or service ticket to provide evidence of work completed at a location and time
  • Onsite customer survey - get real-time customer feedback on the quality of work performed so issues can be resolved immediately
  • Digital images of before, during and after work performed. Photographic evidence associated with digital signatures, customer feedback and GPS coordinates are powerful tools for remote managers
  • Inspections - upload and synchronize inspection data to the remote manager. The remote manager can then assign people/organizations to fix issues discovered on the inspection and monitor the repairs. This enables remote managers to effectively have "eyes and ears" at the jobsite and manage resolutions.

In summary, the collection of field data through human input on mobile handheld computers, plus technology like GPS, digital photography, mobile synchronization, digital signatures, mobile forms and shared websites to show real-time reports enable talented and experienced managers to effectively manage their areas of responsibilities remotely. This reduces risk, promotes field accountability, quality work and peace of mind for the managers and their companies. The ability to use and scale the talent and experience of your best managers over more projects located in more areas is a huge asset.

These are the kinds of mobile solutions MobileDataforce helps companies design, develop, deploy and support worldwide every day. If you would like to brainstorm about how a mobile solution might help your project or company please email us or call 208-384-1200.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Mobile Handheld PDAs for Scaffold Inspections & More



MobileDataforce has recently been working with a construction company to design a complete mobile software application for use on handheld PDAs for managing scaffolding construction and inspections. They selected a a Symbol MC9090 ruggedized handheld computer to use on the job.

I was surprised by how much work is involved with the construction, asset tracking and safety inspections on scaffolding.

Here is just an overview of the main menu of the mobile software application:

Users will choose from the six menu items:

  1. Scaffold Manager allows the user to erect, dismantle and revise scaffolds from the mobile device.
  2. Inspection Checklist allows the QA person to perform daily inspections.
  3. Work package will let users choose from predefined scaffold packages and sub-packages that include estimates of crew needed as well as duration times for erection and dismantle. Dismantle times are only an estimate and no work order will be supplied for dismantling scaffolding. (these work packages will be supplied by client prior to development of the application)
  4. Repair List is where the repair person will go to look at all the repairs for a given Tag number.
  5. Synchronize will let the user send and receive data at any time.
  6. Loss list is where the estimates of material and the actual materials are compiled to show a realistic view of the jobs.