Enterprise survival in 2014 is not the same as it was 20 or even 5 years ago. The market is becoming more and more global, opening you up to competition both big and small from around the world. You keep your costs low, and try to stay ahead of your competitors. But if you're using paper forms for data collection, your processes are holding you back.
Collecting data on paper forms is slow. If you have workers in the field, they fill out the forms by hand and then must bring them back to the office. This could be hours or days after the form was originally filled out. This causes a delay in your understanding of what's happening in the field. Long term, it undermines your ability to make great decision for your business.
Yes that's painful, but does paper actually have a negative cost to your business? Let's say that your field workers come back to the home office just to drop off forms. If every field worker spends just one hour a week in travel to drop off forms, that's a loss of anywhere from 40-50 hours a year for one worker. With a whole extra week of work, what could you get done?
Mobile data collection allows for a smoother process. Simply enter the information into a smartphone or tablet and the submission goes directly to the cloud. There the office can access it instantly as a PDF document, or download it as an xml or csv file. You can work with data in real time, and your workers can focus on getting the job done, not commuting.
How often do your documents have small errors? More often than you'd like and more often than you think. Out in the field, your workers are busy trying to get the work done. Perhaps they wait until the end of their shift to write down all their information. After 8 or 10 hours, only an eidetic memory could be accurate. Other issues include blank fields, inaccurate calculations, or confusing descriptions. This all weakens the information you receive back at the office.
But, paper processes create further weakness at the point of transcription. Not only do you have to fill out a paper form, but someone has to enter that data into your system. Studies show that even a skilled typist on average makes one error per 300 keystrokes (p. 2). That ensures that some additional errors enter your data at this stage as well.
Mobile apps address both of these data collection issues. Mobile apps make it easier to fill out apps as you go. By being available on a smartphone and tablet, it's small and easy to fill out as your workers go. With drop down lists, checkboxes, and prepopulated fields workers can fill out their forms as they go.
Additionally mobile apps can reduce errors. You can create required fields. This easy switch forces workers to fill out necessary fields. When these fields are skipped, the submissions won't be submitted. Instead, the worker will see an error message. Mobile apps ensure that enterprises collect the data they need.
Also, the submissions go straight to the cloud after your workers enter the data. There the forms can be integrated into your own systems. This effectively cuts out any need for additional data entry. You can integrate the data with an xml or csv file. There are also API webservices allowing for seamless integration of your cloud submissions and your backend systems for a frictionless experience.
Paper forms also limit the data you can collect. Previously, it was the the best way to collect necessary data such as signature and calculations.
Yet, there is data today that paper forms simply struggle to collect. Photographs, while great visual evidence, can be a pain to put with a paper form. You need additional equipment, plus correctly match photo to form or even section of form. Calculations, while possible, were easy to make mistakes on.
Mobile apps can collect all the data that paper forms collected and more. This includes signatures, calculations, GPS location, photos, even barcode scanning and credit card payment. All of these additions are easy to do within a mobile app and are included in the PDF submission sent to the cloud. The added functionality of mobile apps allows enterprises to easily expand data collection with visuals, and other proofs. Thus, going mobile strengthens data collection process without costing time or money.
Even after many businesses enter paper forms into digital databases, they store the paper forms for some time later. However, those filing cabinets and space that they take up actually costs a company money over the long run. One four drawer filing cabinet can cost up to $1500 a year. If you just have four of those, you could be spending $6,000 a year on storing paper.
With mobile apps, the cost of enterprise data collection is significantly reduced. A mobile app subscription gets you unlimited cloud storage for your submissions. Each user costs just $210 a year. For the same $6,000 you could have 28 workers using mobile apps. That includes unlimited submissions, mobile app editing, and cloud storage. With both improved data collection and faster processes, you will see an ROI from the beginning.
Your Competitors Are Going Mobile
Just recently, Dion Hinchcliffe wrote at ZDnet about emerging enterprise technology trends for 2014. He believes that mobile business apps are “revolutionizing field support, sales teams and other remote workers“. Businesses are taking notice of the potential for mobile data collection.
The choice to go mobile or not is yours. You can stick with paper processes. But why would you? It's costly, slow, and riddled with errors. 2014 is the year to go mobile, and begin to enjoy the savings and free time to get the work you love done.