Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Introducing the Psion Teklogix Ikon - Rugged Handheld PDA Smartphone

Here is an interesting experience. I am using blogging software that is provided by Google, and it detected that I was blogging from a location in the Netherlands today and it switched all the instructions to Dutch. Oh well, nothing ventured nothing gained.

I was in Paris last week for the unveiling of Psion Teklogix's new rugged handheld PDA phone/scanner/gps data collector called the Ikon (sorry Psion I don't know how to make your special font characters). It is one of the few rugged phones with built in industrial strength scanners and batteries for real world working environments like the ones MobileDataforce works in on a daily basis.

Here is the text from Psion Teklogix's press release:

25 October 2007

Paris, France Signifying the dawn of a new era in the PDA marketplace, Psion Teklogix (LSE: PON), a global provider of solutions for mobile computing, wireless data collection, imaging and RFID, announced its return to the market it pioneered over 20 years ago, launching today its newest product, the rugged PDA – iKôn. A sleek, compact and powerful design with robust built-in functionality, iKôn is an ideal mobile computing device, delivering increased productivity and efficiency by enabling advanced mobile applications across the enterprise. "We’re extremely proud to be launching iKôn today, a day when we’re also celebrating our 40th year of existence in a very exciting marketplace," said Psion Teklogix CEO Jacky Lecuivre. "iKôn is the most advanced handheld computer our company has ever brought to market. It is a very synergistic addition to our portfolio as it enables us to truly address the needs of mobile workers, helping them do their jobs with the best possible mobile computing support." He added, "With the launch of this new rugged PDA, the company continues to evolve in the best Psion tradition. We are universally acknowledged with having created the PDA, with the introduction of the original Psion Organiser in 1984, and today we’re proving how our past is indeed the way to our future." Customers and partners worldwide were solicited for input and feedback on the types of capabilities they expect in a rugged PDA. "We listened to our customers, to the point where they became an integral part of the design and features definition process. Consequently, initial market reaction to our prototypes has been immensely positive and we are extremely optimistic about the prospects for iKôn," said Lecuivre. iKôn packs incredible functionality into a compact form factor with class-leading ergonomics, aesthetics, and ease of use. Whether reading barcodes with the integrated imager or scanner, or using the camera to take a colour picture, iKôn is a category-leading data capture device ideal for mobile workers in dynamic applications. With a choice of three operating systems, including Microsoft Windows CE 5.0, Microsoft Windows Mobile 6 Classic and Professional, iKôn offers customers an industry standard, yet leading edge platform for their applications. The capability of iKôn to fully integrate voice and data communication options onto a single device eliminates the need for multiple devices - effectively reducing capital expenditures as well as support costs. iKôn delivers true anytime, anywhere, wireless voice and data communications, GPS positioning, with simultaneous WiFi, Cellular (GSM/GPRS/UMTS) and Bluetooth connectivity options. These features enable real-time information management, improved efficiencies and increased asset visibility across a customer’s operations. With a full VGA display, iKôn is more suitable for complex applications with sophisticated graphics than many competing devices with one-quarter VGA displays. Finally, the highest battery capacity of the market ensures full-day productivity for mobile workers. International consulting firm Capgemini is already seeing the benefits of iKôn as the company is planning to work with its client, Hydro One Networks, in Ontario, Canada, to pilot the new device on a large Smart Meter project. Hydro One Networks owns and operates one of the ten largest electricity transmission and distribution systems in North America. iKôn will be used by Hydro One installers, alongside other Psion Teklogix rugged PDAs already being used, to support the smart meter installations – part of the provincial government initiative to have electricity distribution companies install smart meters in all homes and small business by 2010. "We’re excited to be among the early adaptors of this great new device. With its rugged design and multi-mode capabilities, iKôn will help in our efforts to create a culture of energy conservation across the province of Ontario," said Gord Reynolds, the Capgemini Program Manager of Field Services for the Smart Meter Project at Hydro One. Capgemini, one of the world's foremost providers of Consulting, Technology and Outsourcing services, enables its clients to transform and perform through technologies. iKôn will be available to customers through Psion Teklogix' global sales offices and value-added resellers in December 2007.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Work Orders on Mobile Handheld PDAs

Many owner's of small services companies ask me how a paper based work order or service request document can be condensed to fit on a small handheld PDA screen. Good question! Let me explain some of the ways the team at MobileDataforce would layout the screens in an easy to use manner.

Most service or work order documents are divided into common sections:
  1. Date, Service Technician name, service ticket number
  2. Customer Name, address, phone number
  3. Reason for Today's Call
  4. Work Performed and description
  5. Identify equipment that was serviced
  6. Cost of work performed
  7. Cost of parts used
  8. Status of Work (complete, incomplete, outstanding)
  9. Payment information
  10. Customer and Service Technician signatures

We use the ability to pre-load the mobile work order application with all the dispatched customer information from the office. Most of the data the service technician enters into the mobile application can be done using:

  • Check boxes
  • Pick lists
  • Radio buttons
  • Pull down menus with multiple choice
  • Digital signature capture
  • Pre-determined labor rates
  • Pre-determined parts' pricing
  • etc

We are able to automatically compute the cost of labor and parts and you can even swipe a credit card from many of the handheld PDAs.

What is the value of mobilizing a work order or service request service?

  • Faster dispatch from the office
  • Pre-populated work orders synchronized to the handheld PDA
  • Less data to fill out on work orders
  • Instant invoicing for work complete
  • Faster collections
  • Complete and accurate work orders synchronized back to the work order or accounting system in the office
  • Less admin work in the office
  • Less dispatch work in the office

The benefits list is very long. If you would like to discuss your business requirements with a mobile solutions expert, please contact MobileDataforce by email or by visiting http://www.mobiledataforce.com/.

Here is another article on mobilizing work orders/service requests using handheld computers.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Mobile Handheld PDA Software & HVAC Service Technicians

The poor HVAC service technician didn't see it coming. My wife tried to warn him. She said, "Don't answer any of his questions!" It was too late.

  • Kevin -"What have you got there on the clipboard."

  • Unsuspecting HVAC service technician -"This is a work order form."

  • "How do you know where to go for your next job"

  • "I call Pam at the office. Problem is my Nextel phone takes 10 minutes to connect to the office...I hate it. Sometimes I use my own personal phone to call her."

  • "What does Pam do?"

  • "She talks to all the service technicians and dispatches all the work. She tries to keep track of where all the service technicians are and what they should be doing, and where they should go next."

  • "What happens if Pam elopes to Las Vegas with a circus clown?"

  • "We would just close down the shop and lock the door. She is critical to our business...I call her 5-7 times a day to have her look up archived work orders so I know what previous work has been done on a furnace or air conditioner, and what parts were replaced."

  • "How long do you spend on the phone with Pam for each of those 5-7 times a day?

  • "About 10 minutes each time."

  • "Do all the HVAC service technicians call her for information on archived work orders?"

  • "Yup...she also dispatches all work orders to us by calling us on the phone and reading us the address of our next jobs and instructing us on what to do. We stop working or driving and write down all the information for the next job."
  • "How does the work order information get entered into the accounting software?"
  • "Another person enters the data into the accounting software each day."

At this point -my wife stepped in between us and pushed the HVAC service technician out the door and he escaped!!!"

OK...some math and ROI considerations:

  • 7 HVAC service technicians
  • 60 minutes/day/HVAC service technician on the phone with Pam looking up archived work orders
  • 20 minutes/day/HVAC service technician on the phone with Pam writing down new work orders
  • 10 minutes/day/HVAC service technician waiting on the Nextel phone system to work
  • Pam spends 8 hours a day dispatching and talking to HVAC service technicians on the phone

If my numbers are correct that would equal 18.3 hours per day that the HVAC company is wasting on tasks that could be automated and mobilized by using a mobile handheld PDA work order software application (from MobileDataforce) synchronized with the work order management system in the office. If you multiply 18.3 by $20/hour you have $366. Now multiply $366 by 22 work days in the average month and you have $8,052. Now multiply $8,052 by 12 months and you have $96,624.

The total cost of a mobile work order management system running on ruggedized handheld computers that synchronize wirelessly with the office dispatch system would be a fraction of this expense. Plus I did not even include the cost of entering the data into the accounting system.

Review of Paintless Dent Repair Technologies, PDAs and Handhelds

I have written several articles on the different components of a Paintless Dent Repair mobile software application for service technicians. Here is a consolidated list of the various component of this application:
  • Mobile Handheld PDA bar code scanner to scan VINs (vehicle identification numbers) for the purpose of uniquely identifying the vehicle you are inspecting and servicing (for more information on this)

  • VIN database and VIN decoding - the mobile handheld PDA contains a full database of nearly all the automobiles available in a particular country. When you scan the bar code on the vehicle the VIN number is decoded and the description of the vehicle automatically populates the inspection or work order application on the handheld pc. This is updated regularly.

  • Vehicle Inspection Application - once you have scanned the VIN number, you want to inspect the vehicle to identify the necessary services that will be required. This blog article discusses the SPLAT screen technology that is used to graphically identify the location on the vehicle where services are needed.

  • Mobile Work Order Software Application - once the inspection is completed and the customer signs his/her digital signature agreeing to pay for the services, the work can be preformed. Once the work is completed the customer will be invoiced and the work order data can be wirelessly synchronized with the accounting software in the office.
  • Work Order Management Software in the Office - back at the office new employees and service technicians can be entered into the work order management system and this information can be synchronized back out to the handheld computer in the field. Once this information is synchronized with the handheld computer the employee can be assigned to work orders. Many of our customers pay employees based upon their completed work so this is important. This office application also provides a history of work completed for each customer, reports, customer set-up and administration settings. You can also schedule work in the future with various customers.
  • Integration with QuickBooks (or other accounting applications) - All of the completed work in the field needs to be tracked and invoiced through as accounting system. MobileDataforce has integrated with many accounting packages, but the default accounting system that will come pre-integrated in the FieldSync Automotive application is QuickBooks.

To learn more about software solutions for the PDR market please email or visit MobileDataforce's website.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Mobile Automotive Inspection Software & Paintless Dent Repair Software for PDA and Handhelds

The image to the right is the SPLAT screen from the mobile automotive service order application called FieldSync Automotive. It is designed for companies that inspect vehicles for damage and conduct work like Paintless Dent Repair - PDR. You can bar code scan the VIN number, inspect the vehicle, create a mobile work order and get customer approval to work on the vehicle. The completed work order is then synchronized to the FieldSync Automotive office application.
The splat screen is a very helpful concept. You can select a vehicle type such as truck, 4-door, hatch back, etc. The splat image brings up an image that enables you to graphically depict the damage or location of work. This is powerful documentation that shows well to the customer.
If you would like more information on FieldSync Automotive, please contact us via email or visit MobileDataforce's website.

Paintless Dent Repair & Mobile Automotive Services Software, Handhelds, PDAs and Mobile Software

In a blog article I wrote earlier, I discussed a mobile work order software application for use on PDAs, handhelds and Smartphones under development that is designed to run on ruggedized handheld computers and to be used by automotive service technicians. They bar code scan the VIN of a car and then create a work order. Once the work order is approved they complete the work, invoice the customer and synchronize the data with the office. In the image above you see the desktop application used in the office. This application allows work orders to be created and dispatched to the automotive service technicians in the field. Reports can be generated and the work orders can be loaded into QuickBooks for invoicing.
If you operate an automotive inspection service, paintless dent repair, detailing or other automobile services business then you may find this very interesting. If you would like more information please contact MobileDataforce by email or visit our website.

Paintless Dent Removal and Mobile Software Solution for PDAs and Handhelds

MobileDataforce is in the process of developing a very interesting mobile software application for handhelds and PDAs called FieldSync Automotive (TM). This software application runs on a rugged handheld computer and synchronizes with a desktop application that manages work orders, schedules, reports, invoices and integrates with Quickbooks. Other accounting systems can be supported but require additional customization.

MobileDataforce is developing a powerful collection of applications for companies that provide mobile automotive services. Services such as paintless dent repair (PDR), detailing, mobile windshield repair, automotive inspections, etc. If you would like more information please email us or visit our website.

The mobile handheld software application (pictured above) enables the user to scan (using a barcode scanner) the VIN number on the automobile and then assign a work order to that unique vehicle.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Business Process Optimization for Mobile Handheld PDAs

How do you improve upon a paper forms-based business process? The plumber, electrician and appliance repair person have been using a clipboard with paper work orders and service tickets forms forever. How do you improve upon this tried and true process? Let me provide some ideas for your consideration:
  1. The office can wirelessly dispatch new work orders directly to a handheld device
  2. Small service companies, with an owner/operator, can take calls from customers while on the road and enter new work orders on their mobile PDA phones. These work orders can be synchronized with the office and dispatched immediately to other service technicians
  3. Wireless work orders can be integrated straight into office database applications and accounting systems so there is no additional paperwork to be entered
  4. The wireless work orders can contain all the information on the customer, warranties, equipment type and model, history of the account, driving directions, etc. No need to call the service technician on the phone and dictate all the information.
  5. Re-prioritize work orders automatically from the office to the mobile handheld device
  6. Print invoices directly from the handheld using a mobile printer and give to the customer
  7. Get a digital signature from the customer on the electronic work order
  8. Take digital pictures of the work both before and after and integrate with the wireless work order
  9. Get an automatic date and time stamp on the work order when it is opened at the customer's site
  10. Track the time it took to complete the work - record for job scheduling and cost analysis
  11. Wirelessly synchronize completed work orders directly to the office accounting system for instant invoicing.
  12. Send parts orders directly to the office via the mobile handheld for quick processing
  13. Parts and inventory can be queried from the field. Do we have the needed part in stock either in the office or another van? If it is available in another van, where is the van? Can you drive over and retrieve it?
  14. If you implement a GPS system on your handheld computers, the office can see the location of all service technicians and optimize job dispatch
  15. The service technician can schedule future service visits on his mobile handheld computer and synchronize back to the office
  16. The service technician can estimate a new job on the handheld computer and sync this information back to the office for reference and database integration
  17. The service technician can record parts, equipment and services sales on his handheld for immediate syncing with the office
  18. The service technician can view past work orders on his handheld device for improved customer service

I heard a story about why Sears Service Technicians implemented a wireless work order system in their service vans. They wanted to be able to increase the sales of warranties, parts and other appliances while at the customer site. The results are said to be impressive. There is no better time to sell additional services, parts, warranties and other products than when you are with a happy customer in their home. The wireless mobile computer enabled them to fill out product and service orders at the point of work, reference online product catalogs, check shipping status and a variety of other customer friendly activities.

MobileDataforce develops wireless work order systems. If you would like to discuss your business and your requirements please contact us here or visit our website.

Saving Time Developing Mobile Software for Handheld PDAs

It is important to recognize that mobile software applications for handheld PDAs are not just developed by 1 person in a dark room with a computer. The business unit manager can order a mobile software application to be developed, but someone must design it, develop it, test it and approve it. Do you really want the programmer to complete the entire application on his/her own, or do you want a person who understands the business to be involved? Here are some considerations:
  1. Do you want the mobile software application to look exactly like the paper form in use today? If you don't specify differently, the programmer may design it to look like a small piece of paper on a mobile handheld PDA.

  2. Do you want the programmer to dictate your business process, or do you want to tell the programmer how the business process should work?

  3. Do you want the programmer to tell the field workers how, when and where they should sync the mobile application, or do you want the business users to tell the programmer.

  4. Do you want the programmer to select the mobile handheld PDAs, or do you want the business unit to describe their requirements to the programmer?

  5. Do you want the programmer to tell the business unit when the mobile software application is complete and final, or do you want to test it and approve it?

Most of these questions have obvious answers. The business unit, the organization that will benefit or suffer from the mobile application, needs to have active input into the design, development, testing, deployment and support of the application. It is not a 1 programmer job.

The problem many development projects suffer from is this active involvement was not anticipated or planned, therefore, it either does not happen or comes as an inconvenient surprise. However, you have now been warned in advance so this will not happen on your project, right?

You Should Not Develop a Mobile Application - Just Because You Can

We often receive calls from software developers asking about our mobile software development environment. The developers often ask the question, "Why should I use your development platform when I can develop my own mobile software application for handheld PDAs?" That is a good and fair question. I will usually follow their questions with my own:
  1. How many mobile software applications have you already designed, developed, deployed and supported successfully for handheld PDAs? Is your employer comfortable with having you learn on the job or are they risk adverse? Are they willing to be patient with your learning curve? If it takes you 4 months longer to develop your own, does the business suffer?
  2. Have you created a full synchronization engine successfully in the past? This is very complicated and software companies like MobileDataforce have spent years optimizing these. What are the chances you will get it right and optimized on the very first project?
  3. Do you have experience developing and configuring a variety of connectivity options such as cradle sync, wireless sync, satellite sync, bluetooth, etc.? Does the business manager know which one is needed in every case? Should you develop one, or develop multiple methods? Are the business requirements likely to change in the next 3 years?
  4. Have you developed a full database integration manager for mobile solutions? Do you need an API or will your DBA allow you to directly populate the database? If you can directly populate the database, then the data better be validated in the mobile software application on the handheld pc. Did you set aside time for that?
  5. Do you have experience designing scalable and reliable mobile applications? This is simply an experience thing. You don't know what you don't know.
  6. Do you have support for a Pocket PC 2003, Win CE, Microsoft Mobile 5 & 6? How are you going to upgrade and support next year's mobile OS from Microsoft? Is this built into your project plan and budget?
  7. Have you developed mobile applications that run on a large variety of different mobile handheld devices? This takes a lot of work and thought. Every week new mobile handheld devices are being delivered with new technologies and add-on components. The device selected today, will likely not be available next year at this time. How do you keep current?
  8. Do you have experience developing interfaces for third party hardware? Mobile applications often need additional third party technology integration like bar code scanners, RFID, GPS, Digital Cameras, etc.
  9. Have you thought through and developed dashboards for managing mobile application security, users, applications publishing, etc?
  10. Do you have a development environment set up exclusively for mobile applications development that may include short-cuts, libraries, screen designs and scripts?
  11. Do you have experience creating a helpdesk dashboard for sync logs, users, applications, device management, etc.?

Most often the developer was only interested in creating the screens for the mobile application, not a complete mobile application platform and support system. They had not considered the full end-to-end solution requirements when volunteering to develop a mobile handheld application.