As many of you who read my blogs know, I often try to find a musical accompaniment. I’m sure some of you occasionally roll your eyeballs, but I have fun.
This blog was my easiest one yet. Enjoy “On the Road Again“, by Willie Nelson while you’re reading this blog.
Mobile Devices have gone beyond the consumer and are now seen by many organisations as an essential business tool and possibly a competitive advantage. According to VDC Research, the global market for Enterprise Mobility solutions will be $23bn by 2015.
Beyond communication and collaboration, there are two primary functions mobile devices can deliver to the Enterprise:
- Collection of data
- Access to corporate data and systems
The Avoka SmartForm Field Worker is a mobile app that addresses the Data Collection requirement and runs on a wide variety of mobile devices. It allows you to take your SmartForms “on the road” with you, as well as allowing integration to corporate systems. The Field Worker provides a number of key benefits:
- At your fingertips. Your forms are always at your fingertips, immediately available through the simple user interface. No navigating through a web site or bookmarks to find the forms.
- Offline. You can do your work when you are offline, because they are synched down to the device. Drafts and submission are also stored within the app, and synched back to the server when you go back online.
- Cost, and Time to Market. Building an app for data collection is hard and expensive. You need developers to build it, test it, and ensure it works on multiple devices and versions. Then you need to deploy it through multiple AppStores, going through approval processes. Then repeat this process for each update. With the Avoka Field Worker, you design your forms in Composer as usual, deploy to SmartForm Manager, and the form will then immediately be available to regular web users via the web site, as well as automatically by synched to all Field Worker apps.
- Mobile Extra Features. The Field Worker enables several extra features specifically for mobile devices, such as Camera and GPS integration.
The Field Worker app is great for a many different types of users, such as:
- Agents of Finance or Insurance companies, who visit their clients at their homes or business locations and complete forms on their behalf.
- Auditors or inspectors, who fill out forms on site.
- Health workers collecting patient-related information within a hospital or at patients’ homes.
- Anyone who needs to fill out the same form on a regular basis, such as a worker who needs to complete a timesheet or job card every day or week or at the completion of every job.
Under the Hood
The Field Worker is an App aimed at tablet devices, and is currently targetting iPad, Android and Microsoft tablet devices. Its main user interface is shown above:
Based on your login information , all of the forms that have been allocated to your organization and group within SmartForm Manager will be synchronized down to the Field Worker. These are exactly the same set of forms that you would have access to if you navigated to the SmartForm Manager Portal in your regular web browser, except these versions of the forms are those optimized for tablet look and feel, and touch-style interactions. Once all the forms have been synchronized, you may disconnect from the internet, hit the road, and those forms will always be accessible to you. You will then be able to do any of the following:
- Open up a form, and start entering datacollect a rich data set including Text, Structured Data, Photos and GPS coordinates (based on the capabilities of the device). You can open the same form multiple times, and each will be saved separately.
- You can save a partially completed form locally, and resume completing at a later time. This means that you do not have to complete every form immediately, but you can save it in a partially completed state, and come back to it when ready. When you save a form locally, all regular mandatory field requirements are temporarily ignored.
- You can submit the form, even if you’re offline. When offline, the form data will be held in a queue, and automatically synchronized later when you’re back online.
- You can maintain your profile information which is used to pre-populate forms you initiate, saving on keystrokes and time.
Any new forms, or new versions of existing forms will by synchronized down to the Field Worker app whenever you connect. The Field Worker also synchronizes a number of additional information from SmartForm Manager:
- SmartForm Manager profile data. Field Worker will use this profile information to pre-fill any forms that are configured to use profile data.
- Draft forms are synchronized with the server when you go online, which allows you to switch to a different device and still be able to complete your work.
- Any tasks (forms plus data) that are assigned to you in SmartForm Manager will be synchronized to Field Worker, and appear in your ToDo list. A task may be assigned to you, for example, if you have not completed a form correctly and it needs an amendment, or perhaps a brand new form that includes the details of where and when you need to perform the task associated with this form.
- Attachments. Additional files of various types are also synchronized to SmartForm Manager (see below).
When you’re back online, all the data from forms you have completed will by synchronized to SmartForm Manager, and then delivered to back-end systems using the SmartForm Integration Agent. (This is the same way that regular web-based form submissions are delivered.)
The diagram above shows the overall architecture of Field Worker, SmartForm Manager, and SmartForm Integration Agent in a multi-organization cloud environment. Other configurations are available.
The SmartForm Field Worker app enables a number of additional mobile-specific features. These include:
- Camera and Gallery integration. For field workers, it’s often useful to be able to capture a picture. This could be the damage to a vehicle being assessed for an insurance claim, or a patient’s injury, or a person’s portrait picture. The camera can also be used to take pictures of supporting documents, such as driver’s license, payslips, or passports. Pictures can be captured in two ways – either via a specific picture field on a form, or as a generic attachment to the form. Audio and video can also be captured if necessary. Pictures are submitted as part of the form submission, but are synchronized separately, to ensure optimal use of available bandwidth.
- GPS location data. Many tablet devices support GPS, and it is useful to be able to capture this information and associate it with a form. This can be used to prove that the person was actually at the correct location at the right time – the location data is generally non-editable, and can only be collected by using the device’s location service.
- Signatures. Avoka supports the use of a Scribble Signature field, that allows signatures created with a finger or stylus to be collected right on the screen.
Access to the Field Worker app is governed by a username and password login. The first time you start the Field Worker, it will communicate with its “home” SmartForm Manager instance. (You can configure the Field Worker app to point to Avoka’s cloud server, or to your own organizational instance of SmartForm Manager.) You will be prompted to log in, using your regular username and password, which will be authenticated by the server. These credentials will identify you, and determine which organization and group you belong to. This is the same login that you use on your corporate network. When offline, access is controlled using a local hash of the password – the password itself is never stored on the device.
All the synchronized data is stored securely on the local device. Once the form has been successfully submitted to the server, local copies of the data are purged.
All data stored within the Field Worker is encryped using 128 bit encryption. In addition, all communication between Field Worker and SmartForm Manager is conducted securely over HTTPS.
Cost, Time to Market, and Agility
Building a custom mobile forms is difficult and costly.
- You need to use highly paid developers, generally with specific expertise in different tablet operating systems, development environments, and programming languages.
- You need to develop and test the app on multiple devices, with multiple screen sizes and resolutions.
- You need to go through approval processes to have your app published on multiple AppStores.
- And then you need to repeat the entire process each time you need to make a change or develop a new data collection app.
Some indication of the costs you can expect can be found in this article: http://www.propelics.com/ipad-app-development-cost-a-breakdown/
Alternately, you can use SmartForm Field Worker and create your own SmartForms.
- SmartForm Field Worker is already built, and will be available soon in the App Stores.
- Avoka has already done all the work of developing and testing this app on multiple devices.
- You can create sophisticated data collection SmartForms extremely easily using Avoka SmartForm Composer, without requiring developers to help you build them.
- Your SmartForms are automatically branded and styled correctly, and customized for touch interaction and tablet screen sizes.
- You can then simply deploy your SmartForms to SmartForm Manager, and the forms will magically appear in the Field Worker app for all your users to fill in.
SmartForm Field Worker is quick, easy, and cost-effective.
Please take a look at this excellent demo by Jeff, one of my Avoka colleagues: SmartForm Field Worker Demo. This demo takes you through the key elements of the Field Worker on an iPad.
If your organization is…
- Looking to embrace the benefits of mobile devices for improved customer service or greater productivity
- Collecting data (text or rich) in the field
- Employing staff or contractors to work in occasionally connected environments
- Not mandating or supplying a particular mobile device, but rather adopting a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) strategy that could see Apple, Android, Windows etc. devices used for field mobility
…then the Avoka Mobile Field Worker will be a powerful and cost effective solution for you.