Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Mobile Service Orders for Furniture Repair and Delivery

The July edition of Integrated Solutions magazine has a case study called, Real-Time Mobile Computing Saves Time In The Field. This case study describes how Kane's Furniture saved 32 man hours per day by converting from a paper based service order system, to using mobile service order applications on handheld computers. Their solution was designed, delivered and deployed using MobileDataforce's PointSync. The solution included the following components:
  1. Daily Service Orders sorted by Service Truck
  2. Description of tasks or service orders
  3. Customer location and driving directions
  4. Status of service order (completed, incomplete, pending parts, etc)
  5. Digital signature for customer to sign on the completed work order

These features are synchronized with the main service order CRM system at the office. If you would like a personal demonstration of MobileDataforce's wide range of work order and service order applications please contact MobileDataforce.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Automotive Services and Asset Management on Handheld PDAs

MobileDataforce has designed and delivered some of the most advanced automotive solutions for handheld computers that you will find anywhere. This image shows you an inspection form that allows the handheld computer user to identify any repairs or maintenance that needs to be completed on the interior of a vehicle that was returned from a lease contract.

Once the inspection is completed the cost of the maintenance or repair can be factored into the final contract settlement. The repair work can also be scheduled and dispatched as well. This is just one example of the multitude of automotive applications we have developed and delivered around the world.

Additional blog articles on mobile applications for the automobile industry can be found here:



Field Inspections on Handheld PDAs

In the past I have written about the advantages of conducting inspections using handheld computers and a mobile software platform. In most of my articles I have focused on the efficiencies from collecting data once, and then synchronizing the inspection data directly to a central database. In this article, I would like to highlight the advantages of synchronizing historical inspection data on the handheld computer.

I was recently working with a state agency responsible for inspecting professional licenses and premises. In order to perform their tasks, they were required to drive into the main office, rummage through paper files, remove these paper files and load them into a box to take with them to the inspection sites. They would use a carriage with wheels to transport this box to their automobiles.

Let's pause a moment to think of the costs and inefficiencies of these task. They do the following:
  1. Drive to the main office where previous inspections are stored
  2. Sort through file cabinets for previous inspection results
  3. Read through these files to determine any previous non-compliance or failed inspection issues.
  4. Record these issues and highlight them for review at the site
  5. Load these files into a box and carry out to their vehicles
  6. Re-inspect the site and record more information on new forms
  7. Add new paper forms to the files
  8. Carry back to the main office
  9. Administration staff types all information from the new forms into a database system

A simple database synchronization with a handheld computer, laptop or Tablet PC from the field could have completed task 1-5 and 7-9 in a few seconds.

MobileDataforce helps both commercial and government organizations improve their inspection processes daily.

I have written about other inspection automation and mobilization processes in this recent blog article.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Digital Images and Annotations on Handheld PDAs

I would encourage readers interested in using digital images in work orders and other data collection applications to read this blog article. It talks about how to create a mobile application that allows you to take a digital photo, draw on it and make notes on the photo and then synchronize this edited photo into a central database for record keeping.

I have seen this request from companies doing job estimates on handheld computers. They want to take a digital photo and highlight the problem areas. This information gets sent back to the office where a supervisor can review before delivering a final job bid.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Mobile Solutions for Government & Public Works

MobileDataforce is now involved in so many public works and government mobility initiatives that I felt this area deserved its own blog. The new blog is called, Mobile Solutions for Government & Public Works. The primary focus of this blog is to share information from mobility projects and initiatives in these arenas.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Washington State Mobile Technology Conference - Dec. 1st

MobileDataforce is participating in our 4th Mobile Technology Conference in the past few months on December 1st in Tacoma, Washington. This series has been very popular with government agencies, utilities and field services companies (.i.e. anyone working outdoors). We have participated in this series in Boise, Salt Lake City, Baltimore and now in Tacoma. They are fun, informative and fast paced.

For more details on this upcoming Mobile Technology conference please follow this link.

  • 8:30 am - Registration and continental breakfast
  • 9:00 am - Opening Remarks - Kevin Benedict
  • 9:15 am - Keynote Presentation - Enterprise Mobility - Mission Critical Brent Felker Americas VP, Mobile Solutions,Psion Teklogix
  • 10:00 am - Panel Session 1 - What is Field Mobility? Who is Mobilizing? Where is the ROI?Panelist - Microsoft, MobileDataforce, Palm, iAnywhere, Psion Teklogix
  • 11:00 am - Break - Exhibitor Demos
  • 11:15 am - Latest Developments in Enterprise Mobile Software Solutions
  • 11:45 pm - Microsoft on Mobility
  • 12:15 pm - Lunch (Provided) - Exhibitor Demos
  • 1:00 pm - Government Mobility Projects - Asset Management, Inspections and Work Orders
  • 1:30 pm - Panel Session 2 - Enterprise Mobile Projects, Design, Development, Deployment and Choosing the Right Hardware and Connectivity SolutionsPanelists - Psion Teklogix, MobileDataforce, iAnywhere, Palm, PrintekMobile
  • 2:30 pm - Latest Developments in Ruggedized in Handheld Computers and Accessories
  • 3:00 pm - Latest Developments in Mobile PDA Phones - Palm Treos, Windows Mobile 5.0 and more
  • 3:30 pm - Closing Remarks

Data Collection & Data Integrity

Paper based data collection processes have problems. One of the biggest is the inability of a paper process to ensure that the data collected is relevant, accurate and appropriate. Recently I spoke with a person involved in a data collection project that consisted of 17 data collectors. At the end of the project they reviewed the data on the paper forms and much of it was missing, inaccurate or irrelevant. The project was a complete failure.

The screen shot above shows an example of a data collection application with pick lists and database queries. The data collector is limited to selecting pre-designated service categories. Once the category is selected, then a database query is performed that presents only the services related to that category.

There are many techniques for ensuring the validity of the data collected, but this example shows how you can limit the selection to at least relevant answers.

The other problem the failed data collection project experienced was their inability to review the collected data on a timely basis. The project was over and the data collectors dismissed before the collected data was reviewed and analyzed for accuracy. With a data collection solution on a handheld computer that includes integration to a database server, the data can be reviewed as often as needed and with immediate visibility and analysis.

The Automobile Whisperer - Handheld PDAs Communicating with Vehicles

His name is Tom Booker. His voice can calm wild horses, his touch can heal broken spirits. That is from the back cover of the book, The Horse Whisperer. I can't do that, but we can talk to cars, trucks and vans and they can talk back to us.

We have had the opportunity to work with a company in Vancouver BC, that I have written about in an earlier blog article, that had a requirement to communicate with the vehicle's engine computer. The image to the right shows a cable connection, but we have also connected to the vehicle's engine via bluetooth.

What was the purpose of this project? Our customer was converting conventional delivery vans to "hybrid" vans. So during and following the conversion the company was using handheld computers to monitor the engine diagnostics. The mechanics and engineers now can walk up to a car and survey its vitals without lifting the hood. Analysis software on the handhelds can use the data to make recommendations to improve performance and/or configurations.

Think about all the mobile handheld computer applications that are now associated with automobiles:

All of these mobile software applications for handheld computers used MobileDataforce's PointSync Mobility Platform for design, development and deployment.

Automobile Lease Return Applications on Handheld PDAs

MobileDataforce has become experts and authorities on the subject of mobile handheld computer solutions for the automotive industry over the last 2 years. In the past few months alone we have been contacted and contracted by numerous companies seeking our expertise to develop customized mobile solutions for the following solutions:

  • Vehicle lease returns for commercial companies
  • Vehicle lease returns for the military
  • Mobile automobile repair services
  • Automobile detailing and appearance work
  • Mobile autobody repair shops
  • Mobile bumper repair and replacement
  • Mobile headlamp restoration businesses
  • Mobile windshield repair

Let's discuss just one of these areas in this blog article - Automobile lease returns. What is required in these solutions?

  • Barcode scanning of VINs (vehicle identification numbers) to uniquely identify the returned vehicles. The VIN is often found on the door jam or the dashboard. The handheld computer must be able to barcode scan these numbers, identify the vehicle and store the information on a mobile database on the handheld computer. The screen shot above shows a list of scanned VIN codes that were decoded and saved to a automobile inspection application that MobileDataforce designed, delivered and deployed.
  • Database query using the VIN. The VIN is used to query the mobile database application on the handheld so the appropriate inspection questions for the appropriate make and model of automobile can be displayed and answered. I wrote more on how to develop customized inspection questions based upon collected data in this recent blog article.
  • The handheld inspection application is used to identify any damage and maintenance work required to restore the vehicle to resale condition.
  • The damage and repairs can be be added up on the handheld computer and the estimated costs can also be computed on the handheld.
  • The completed inspections and repair estimates are then synchronized with a central database for all returned vehicles.

All of the automotive software applications MobileDataforce has designed and developed take advantage of the technology in the PointSync Mobility Software Platform.

Business Processes on Handheld PDAs for Automotive Services

I have written a number of times about the ability to automate business processes in mobile software applications. This screen shot demonstrates another simple example. In this screen, an estimate of the costs of detailing and repairing an automobile has been determined. The next step is the service provider's manager must approve and enter his/her initials, the technician that completed the estimate must enter his/her initials and then the auto dealer's manager must sign their name approving the services and cost. These 3 approvals complete the business process that is required in order to start the work and to get paid for the work.

This is a simple but important example. If you try to submit this work order without the proper authority, a warning message will pop-up asking for the handheld pc user to complete the business process before continueing. This is another method of helping new users remember how to appropriately complete their work. You can build guides, training help and instructions into the handheld pc application - paper forms can't do that.

It is very helpful, since much of the work completed on handheld pcs is done remotely, to have instructions, help messages and training pointers built into the mobile application.

Let's consider the following scenario - a new technician inspects a used vehicle and identifies damage to the front bumper. He correctly inputs this information into the automobile inspection software on his handheld PDA. Based on the identified damage to the front bumper, the inspection software brings up an additional set of questions:
  1. location of damage on the bumper
  2. type of damage (dent, scrape, bent, etc)
  3. severity of damage
  4. type of bumper (metal, plastic, rubber strip etc)
  5. Color of bumper

For each of these questions an icon is available to "click-on" for more detailed instructions on how to answer each question. This is a great training tool and helps standardize all answers to ensure the most accurate job estimates possible.

Again, this is a simple example of how a mobile software application can be designed to automate business processes and help the user know what information is required, how to answer the questions correctly and consistently without missing data or forgetting important considerations.

This application was developed using MobileDataforce's PointSync Mobility Platform.

Automobile Work Order Solution for Handheld PDAs

My customer support team has been busily working with one of our customers, Teph Seal to mobilize and automate their business operations on auto dealers' car lots. The mobile application is very powerful and is being rolled out to auto dealerships in many locations across the USA at this time. It consists of both mobile applications and a website application that management uses.

The environment - mobile work stations on auto dealers' car lots.
The purpose - Teph Seal is contracted by the auto dealers to prepare new and used cars for the showroom floor. They detail and repair automobiles so they are ready to show.

•Mobile Form Factor: PDA
•Vehicle services operation
•Mobile Application: work orders, invoicing, mobile printing, time clock, HR module, remote synchronization
•Web Site: customer management, invoicing, employee management, services management, reporting
•Technologies: vehicle barcoding, Ethernet cradle, bluetooth printing, signature capture
•Products: MobileDataforce's PointSync Mobility Platform, PSIONTeklogix Workabout Pro, HP printers, .NET for web site development

This solution includes integration with a web application on a SQL database, plus integration with Great Plains accounting software.

If you would like to discuss the full range of automotive solutions for handheld computers from MobileDataforce, please contact us here.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Automobile Inspection Software for Handheld PDAs

My professional services (Mobile Application Developers) team has rapidly evolved into experts on mobile applications for the automotive services industry. They have developed and delivered a wide range of mobile applications for:
  • Automobile lease return applications on handheld computers
  • Automobile auction software for handheld PDAs- designed to estimate the value of a vehicle at an auction. Damage and repair costs can be estimated instantly on the handheld PDA
  • Mobile automobile repair services - windshield repair, bumper repair, headlight restoration, dent repairs and much more all documented, managed and invoiced on handheld PDAs
  • Automobile cleaning and detailing applications for handheld PDAs at auto dealerships
  • Automobile vehicle location applications for large dealer lots

I have written in more detail about some of the specific applications we have delivered in this article. All of these mobile automobile services software applications were delivered using MobileDataforce's PointSync Mobility Software Platform.

Mobile Software Platform Thoughts

The above diagram represents a mobile software platform called PointSync from MobileDataforce. The concept of a software platform in this discussion means a software application that has many pre-built functions and supports many mobile project requirements out-of-the box.

Many components of a mobile software application should be provided in a mobile software platform, not as a custom development task. Components and functions such as:
  • support for GPS
  • support for multiple screen sizes
  • support for digital images
  • support for synchronization via wireless networks
  • support for RFID
  • support for various button configurations on handheld devices
  • support for various security configurations
  • support for bluetooth
  • support for disconnected applications
  • support for Tablet PCs, laptops, Windows CE.NET, Windows Mobile etc.
  • support for audio memo capture
  • support for various bar code scanners
  • support for odbc database integration
  • support for data validations
  • support for various business logic

Again the above components and functions need not be developed new for every project. They should be provided for you at the platform level. They can be developed, debugged and tested, added to the platform library, improved over time and expanded so all developers can take advantage of them.

Many systems integrators and IT consultants have told me they can not profitably run a mobile application practice if they develop custom mobile applications from scratch. They require a mobile software platform like PointSync to make the projects profitable. No customer wants to pay for custom development, if the code is already available in a tool set at a fraction of the cost.

Managing Mobile Software Deployments

The screen shot above is from MobileDataforce's PointSync Manager. It is the administration screen for managing mobile users, mobile devices, mobile applications, integrated databases, database tables, mobile sycnhronizations and mobile software licenses.

Why am I discussing this today? Because an application like this can save huge amounts of money for a company. Think about it - if you develop your own custom mobile application using .NET it can be powerful, colorful and useful but how are you going to do the following:
  1. Manage deployments
  2. Manage mobile application versions
  3. Manage synchronizations and synchronization errors
  4. Manage different device requirements (i.e. screen sizes, Tablet PC, Laptop, PDA, Palm Treo, etc.)
  5. Manage different user groups (i.e. managers, supervisors, field work crews, etc)
  6. Manage multiple mobile applications on each device
  7. Manage all the database integrations between mobile devices and enterprise databases
  8. Review all successful and unsuccessful synchronizations based upon user group, applications etc, for rapid debugging

These are not the usual issues a .NET programmer thinks about when they raise their hand and volunteer to develop a mobile application. The common thought is that the development of the mobile device application is only about 30% of a mobile project. 70% is the synchronizaton, business logic, connectivity configurations, enterprise database application integration, deployment and testing. Often your .NET programmers will not volunteer for these tasks :-)

The value of using a mobile software platform like MobileDataforce's PointSync, is that these processes and tasks are already developed and available for configuration.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Inspections & Asset Management for Government Agencies

In the September/October edition of Public Roads magazine, a magazine published by the Federal Highway Administration, there is an article called High-Tech in the Far West. The article subtitle is - The Idaho Transportation Department taps into wireless technology for collecting and reporting data on maintenance at rest stops. This article describes in-depth the benefits the Idaho Transportation Department received from mobilizing their daily rest area inspection processes with MobileDataforce's mobile software platforms.

This article focuses mostly on the benefits of replacing a paper based inspection process with electronic inspection forms on handheld PDAs. I would invite you to read the quotes and comments from the ITD personnel involved in this project.

The Idaho Transportation Department mobilization project emphasizes a common theme. The majority of mobile software projects we do fall into one of the following areas:
  • Inspections
  • Asset Management
  • Service Orders/Work Orders

Most often a project touches on all three of these areas. These processes have a few things in common - they often take place out-of-doors and a way from their desktop computer, involve data collecting and reporting in rugged environments.

The utility industry also involves the three processes listed above. In this article, I discuss a Power Pole Inspection project delivered to Sho-Me Power. In this article I discuss over 20 inspection applications we do for the electrical industry.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Windows Mobile 5.0 Phones Don't Work in the Ocean

I lost my T-Mobile MDA PDA phone last week in the Ocean. I was running along the shoreline with my daughter during lowtide and did not notice my phone was missing. After breakfast, I reached for my phone to feed my addiction to email and it was gone. The tide was now up and our shoreline path was under 4 feet of water. I miss that PDA phone and the gigabyte of files on the mini-SD card.

I was at the doorstep of the local T-Mobile store when they opened on Monday morning. My addiction is now fed. A few notes on the MDA. It has a slide out keyboard that is wide enough to comfortably type using your thumbs on the keyboard. When you slide the keyboard out the screen changes to a landscape view that makes it easy to read lengthy emails. It doesn't float, but serves its purpose well in normal conditions. I have used it throughout Europe and Australia when traveling and my email works seamlessly.

Maryland State Mobile Technology Seminar

I am sitting in the airport in Minneapolis as I write this blog. I am returning home from the Maryland State Mobile Technology Seminar where I was the MC for this event. It was great fun.

I had the opportunity to meet electrical utility companies interested in mobilizing many of their field service activities, systems integrators looking for a RADs-ME solution to simply and speed up the development of mobile applications, and government agencies looking to mobilize a wide variety of field operations. Specifically -
  • Sewer system asset management and inspections
  • Snow plow vehicle tracking systems
  • Maintenance and operations processes
  • Asset Management

We met with a company that repairs and installs ATMs. They want all of these processes to be mobilized on ruggedized handheld computers.

We learned from the ruggedized handheld computer manufacturer - Psion Teklogix, that there are many new and very useful develops coming out this quarter and next.

We heard from Verizon Wireless about their CDMA networks and the performance of their data networks.

iAnywhere/Sybase presented a great overview of mobile middleware and synchronization processes.

We met with a company that develops Asset Management software to monitor and care for trees on government property. They inventory all of these trees and shrubbery and then place them on maintenance and care schedules. VERY COOL! They use GPS, inspection, asset management, inventory and service order processes to accomplish this.

These educational conferences take place across the country, so if you would like to be notified of when they are coming to your region please email us.

Orcas Island - Association of City and County IS Professionals

I had the great pleasure of being the keynote speaker at the semi-annual conference for the Washington State Association of City and County IS professionals last week. The venue was amazing out on Orcas Island, and the audience was a lot of fun.

I spoke on the subject of Government Data Collection and Mobilization. We are working with many local government agencies to mobilize their inspections, compliance auditing, service order, maintenance systems and asset management operations.

I will be back in Washington State on December 1st speaking at the Washington State Mobile Technology Conference. This conference is an educational event designed to update government agencies, utilities and companies on the latest trends and technologies for mobilizing processes in the field.