How Mobile Forms and QR Codes Improve Field Operations Efficiency

Mobile data collection in the field saves time and money, prevents data loss.

Mobile Forms vs Paper Forms

All field technicians' work is accompanied by filling out forms. Preventive maintenance forms, asset inspection forms, damage report forms, service and repair forms - the list goes on and on. While large companies started to implement digital data collection using mobile computers a while ago, smaller businesses could not afford the expense. Paper forms remained their only alternative. Now, when businesses of any size can afford mobile devices (tablets, smartphones) and mobile forms this situation is starting to change. Digital data collection becomes an affordable alternative to the traditional methods.

Are mobile forms any better? Are time and money that you will need to invest in order to implement a new system of data collection and asset tracking worth it? We think that for most businesses the answer is "yes", and here is why:

  1. Printing paper forms seems to be easy and inexpensive. But in the long run, using paper forms is inflexible, wasteful and expensive. Small changes require re-printing entire batches of forms. Mobile forms can be created and changed using web interface at any time.

  2. Loss of maintenance / inspection information can be disastrous for business and paper forms can be easily misplaced or lost. Data collected using mobile forms are stored in a cloud, and with a proper backup procedures are safe from loss and damage.

  3. Paper forms are harder and more time consuming to fill out than mobile forms, some handwriting can be hard to understand.

  4. Paper forms must be entered into computer in the office, consuming employees' time. It is hard to find required information. Information submitted using mobile forms is immediately available to all authorized devices, and it is easy to find necessary data.

  5. Automatic checking built into mobile forms help to eliminate costly human errors.

  6. Smartphones or tablets can be used to capture images and attach images to the form -- option not available with the paper forms.

  7. Using mobile forms, GPS location of the form submission can be automatically determined and mapped.

QR Code / Barcode Scanning

Additional benefit of using mobile devices for conducting inspections / maintenance / services in the field is its ability to scan QR code / barcode on the asset and precisely identify it. This eliminates errors in entering asset ID manually, allows technician to access list of forms that are applicable to a specific asset, as well as access asset information, documentation and recent maintenance / repair history.

Smartphones vs Mobile Computers

Before smartphones and tablets became widespread, the only way to switch to digital data collection and asset management was to use mobile computers. Mobile computer is a handheld device that has scanning capabilities, a screen to display and enter information, its own operating system (OS) and internal storage. Mobile computers are usually connected to a network via Wi-Fi or WAN, therefore they can be used in the field away from the office, but only where wireless network is available. Unfortunately, the system for digital data collection and management in the field based on mobile computers, including hardware and software, could cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, and therefore is cost prohibitive for small and medium businesses.

Smartphones and tablets (that, in fact, could be considered a type of mobile computers) are much more affordable in terms of both hardware and software. As of April of 2015 two thirds of Americans own a smartphone, so there is a good chance your employees already have their own smartphone that they can use and you will not have to spend anything on the hardware. The cost of software starts from $1,500.00 - $2,000.00 per year - a tiny fraction of the systems based on traditional mobile computers.

Of course traditional mobile computers have their advantages: they are more rugged, can better read barcodes in low light conditions, can read some barcode types that smartphones cannot. On the other hand, smartphones have wider area of connection (they can use both Wi-Fi and cellular connection), can be used to take photos, videos or voice recording that can be attached to the maintenance / inspection record, and can automatically determine and record inspection location using GPS.
All in all, smartphones and tablets offer more useful options at a much lower cost.

How To Start: Practical Steps

What will it take to implement digital data collection and asset management system if you are starting from zero? Once you found a suitable software, you will need to take the following steps:

  1. Enter all assets that you have into software, or import if you already have a list.

  2. Label your assets (in case you do not have existing QR code or barcode labels). As a rule, your QR codes / barcodes will need to have unique asset ID encoded, although some software may have different requirements. It might be a good idea to review software requirements before labeling assets, not the other way around. Most software will provide an option to generate and print QR code labels. If you do not want to print labels yourself, you can order pre-made weather-proof labels and / or tags - there are now quite a few printers who will do it for you.

  3. Create inspection / maintenance forms or import your current inspection / maintenance forms into the software.

Once three steps above are done, you can start using mobile forms for all field data collection instead of the paper forms, and enjoy all benefits listed above.

QR Maintenance

QR Maintenance is a new software that allows you to reap all the benefits of digital data collection and mobile asset tracking at an affordable price. It grew out of QR Inventory - inventory management and asset tracking software that uses QR codes and smartphones. Naturally, the possibility of tracking assets and inventory using mobile devices, which is very convenient when you are in the field far away from the office computers, attracted many field service companies. A number of these companies, in addition to asset and inventory tracking, needed a tool that would help them optimize maintenance and service of equipment, tools and infrastructure. This is how QR Maintenance was born.

QR Maintenance combines all asset tracking and inventory features of QR Inventory with an option to create custom mobile forms, link forms to equipment, and conduct inspections / maintenance / record service and repairs in the field using these forms. QR Maintenance has other useful features, such as an ability to set custom reminders for preventive maintenance or warranty expiration (or anything else you need). In addition to ability to conduct inspections / maintenance, field technicians have an option to review asset details, including specifications, emergency procedures, url to pdf documentation, image(s), recent maintenance and repair history and anything else that is relevant.

You can check out a more complete list of QR Maintenance features here, see a product tour, or test drive QR Maintenance.

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