FM Issue: Access To Data: Anytime, Anywhere

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Photos: Thinkstock/Digital Vision, Ryan McVay, Thomas Northcut, Creatas

By Dale Spoonemore
Published in the September 2012 issue of Today’s Facility Manager

Over the last decade, facility managers (fms) have embraced the green movement as much as any other group of professionals. Thanks to cutting edge technology, predictive models even make it possible to design energy lean facilities and automation systems to allow fms to react instantly to changing conditions. All this, of course, leads to more efficient operations.

Yet, despite the prevalence of efficiency boosting technology within modern facilities, fms still face decades old challenges organizationally—and that’s where cloud and mobile technologies will make the most impact and provide the largest return on investment. With so much data being generated within facilities on a daily basis, keeping information organized and easily accessible is no small task.

From Paper To Thin Air

Gathering data using paper requires workers to have the correct form on hand at all times. Paper data gathering is often inconsistent between workers, and important information can even get lost or damaged during transport.

In contrast, mobile data gathering is simple, accurate, and instantaneous. Instead of constantly filing paperwork and re-keying information from paper to a computer, the fm has constant, real-time access to data in the cloud. Mobile data gathering and real-time data transmission by way of cloud services can help save time, reduce mistakes, and lower costs.

Unfortunately, many fms don’t have a full understanding of the benefits offered by cloud and mobile technologies. But, it’s not their fault. With hundreds of options available, it takes a lot of time to sort through potential solutions and create a system which works for a specific team or facility. The good news is there are three simple apps that any team can start using today to begin the transition to efficient mobile data management.

Three Routes To Cloud Storage

FormMobi, Evernote, and Dropbox offer easy-to-use software that manages and controls large amounts of data by providing tools that make gathering and disseminating information an efficient and organized process.

FormMobi offers an extensive library of forms for just about any industry or job. Pictured here is FormMobi’s fire safety inspection template, as seen on an iPhone.

FormMobi. FormMobi’s form builder allows fms to create a mobile data gathering solution quickly to fit the needs of entire teams. Users start with one of the ready made facility management (FM) forms (e.g. fire safety inspection, asset tracking, etc.), or they can customize a form from scratch.

With the FormMobi app on iPhone, iPad, and Android devices, all the forms needed to manage a facility are in one place. Workers simply tap through forms, filling in data or adding photos, signatures, audio, GPS coordinates, calculations, barcode data, and more. Customizable features like mandatory fields, QuickLists for common items (e.g. condition, materials, etc.), and keyboard type speed up data entry and ensure accuracy for users.

FormMobi also offers an advanced CAD Sketch tool, which is helpful for office layout planning and building additions. Or users can Freehand sketch for a blank canvas to sketch out any idea.

When workers are done in the field, they sync the app and the data is instantly sent to the cloud where it can be exported or programmed to flow into back-end systems using the API. PDF files can also be e-mailed from directly within the app.

FormMobi plans start at $9.99 per month.

Evernote. Evernote is suitable for less structured, on the fly data gathering and management. Pictures, notes, audio files, and more can be saved into Evernote on any mobile device and synced to a desktop computer or other device.

Fms can use Evernote’s web clipper to save helpful pages for easy price comparison between products. Or they can create a notebook for each facility so all types of data can be saved into one location.

Evernote also connects with many other applications through The Trunk. An Outlook plug-in adds an “Add to Evernote” button into Outlook so important e-mails can be instantly saved. The Callnote plug-in syncs calls recorded via Skype to Evernote to be played back later. And users can eliminate the Rolodex with the Evernote Hello plug-in that syncs contacts and encounters with people to Evernote. Those are just a few of the many plug-ins offered.

Evernote Premium starts at $5 per month.

Dropbox. Dropbox offers a simple way for fms to store and share content. Photos, documents, videos, and more can be saved into Dropbox from mobile devices and computers. If a file is started on the desktop it can be saved to the Dropbox cloud and then viewed and edited anywhere from a smartphone or tablet. It does not have to stay where it originated.

Instead of e-mailing data back and forth, fms can send links to their Dropbox so workers can easily view instructions or photos of a problem that needs to be addressed.

The ever present concern of a natural disaster destroying years of paper files or a hard drive failure is eliminated with Dropbox, since essential files can be saved to the Dropbox cloud and picked right back up from any device.

Dropbox Pro starts at $9.99 per month.

The Green Side Of Cloud Storage

Apps like these make it much easier for professionals to collect and save data in the field, ranging from text to CAD sketches to client signatures, photos, audio recordings, GPS coordinates,
barcodes, and practically any other data type imaginable. These technologies eliminate errors and misinformation (associated with bad handwriting), keep track of team hours and expenses in real time, and erase the need for faxing and scanning.

The benefits are clear: everything is gathered easily and exported in any file format to clients and/or the office. Transcription is unnecessary. Storage costs of paper files become an inconvenience of the past. Efficiency is boosted across the board.

Then there’s the green topic. Switching to cloud-based storage and document management solutions can save acres of trees and thousands of dollars, making even the most nature minded facilities more eco-friendly. Arming field personnel with tablets and cloud apps can save much more than paper: it can cut time and multiple trips, leading to savings in gas for facilities and emissions for the environment.

Whether it’s sharing files via Dropbox, collecting and sharing data via FormMobi, or quickly passing notes and photos back and forth with Evernote, the cloud can give fms back what they desperately need the most: time.

Spoonemore is charged with overseeing development and support of FormMobi a product from workflow technology company, a la mode.

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