Let’s face it, many field service businesses today are still using paper forms to conduct field work. What many operations managers might not realize is the minimal time it takes to get up and running and convert from paper to digital forms, it has the potential to increase field efficiency by as much as 75%.
Leveraging mobile forms for field service work is as much about the why as it is about the what. That is to say, what mobile forms you build is based on existing business processes you maintain, while the why is evident in the business goals of increasing operational efficiency of your field workforce, improving the quality of information collected in the field and, ultimately realizing a consolidated view across your entire field service operations.
Digital mobile form technology opens up near-endless possibilities to not only achieve your business objectives, but also enable field technicians with the right tools—that are easy to use—to get the job done.
Here are 8 efficiency-boosting mobile form features to help you ditch paper for good.
#1: Skip/Conditional Logic
Depending on the type of field service work you conduct, you may one or many different paper forms your mobile workforce uses to collect information. Most of the time, not all fields are required. With skip/conditional logic, the intelligence is built-in, presenting the next question on the form based upon the answer to the previous question. This allows mobile workers usually strapped for time to quickly move through a form more efficiently. Irrelevant fields are hidden to the user, so they never see them.
#2: Pre-fill Form Fields
How many times have you had a paper form turned in where the handwriting was illegible? Data quality, as well as accuracy of data entry, is a key challenge for many field service businesses. Sometimes you can’t read handwriting, other times the information is just plain incorrect.
Digital mobile forms make it possible to pre-fill up to 80% or 90% of the questions (fields) on a form for the mobile worker. When you have repeat jobs, customers or locations, think about all the time that could is wasted by filling out the same information each and every time.
Some digital form software providers, like Field Squared, extend functionality beyond the data captured in the form to other areas of field service management as well as asset management.
In our case, Field Squared enables linking forms to the assets. By doing so, it provides the ability to pre-fill form data from a hierarchical asset model (Field Squared has a native asset hierarchy built-in, but you can also use Esri ArcGIS SAP, IBM Maximo or others). This type of automation means your technicians spend less time on such tasks as recurring asset inspections and maintenance, since the data is pre-filled.
Stop the madness and pre-fill as much of the form as possible.
#3: Images, Barcodes, Signatures, GPS, and More
Whether your mobile workforce is conducting inspections, installations, plant rounds, safety checks, patient visits, or any other type of field-based work, using paper forms puts your employees at a significant disadvantage.
Specifically, if there is any type of documentation required in the form of pictures, barcodes, signatures, GPS location, etc., it’s all a time-consuming, manual process without digital tools.
Digital forms enable your field workforce with the tools they need to collect all the things, and if you have the right field service management software (ahem, Field Squared), they should be able to do so within a single mobile app. Don’t make them juggle two, three or four different applications, hopping from one to the next. All their work should be done in one.
If the mobile form software is flexible, it will provide the ability to add photos, or a collection of photos, right on the form. Some software even has markup capabilities to add annotations, notes and shapes in order to call-out anomalies or other attributes in photos.
Barcode scans, signature capture as well as including the GPS location directly on a form, are a few other tools that help increase the quality of field collected data, while helping your teams be more efficient.
#4: Offline/Disconnected Data Collection
The nature of field work oftentimes involves working in areas that are remote where there is little to no WiFi or cellular connectivity. The reality for most service businesses is that’s not acceptable.
Luckily technology native to mobile devices such as tablets and smartphones can be harnessed. At least with Field Squared, our mobile app can be used online or offline. In areas that do not have connectivity, any changes are queued-up, if you will. Once connectivity is restored, our Mobile, Sync and Merge Engine syncs all the changes with no loss of data.
This feature is especially helpful in industries such as oil & gas, telecommunications and home care / home healthcare.
#5: Automated Approval Workflows
While every field service business has their own unique internal processes, we’ve found heavily regulated industries adhere to escalation procedures when it comes to processing completed forms.
Capturing signatures via paper is another very manual, time-consuming process for everyone involved. Digital forms make it possible to automate the end-to-end approval process through automated workflows.
For instance, in the oil & gas industry, environmental rounds have to be taken at set intervals sometimes multiple times per day. By leveraging automation, the field technician who performed the work signs the form, which is then automatically sent up the chain of command to the next person who verifies the work, signs-off, and so on, until the final signature is captured. The process can be via email or real-time alerts, such as push notifications and text messages. Either way, the efficiency gains are massive, saving time at every stage of what is normally a lengthy process fraught with potential error.
#6: Drag-and-Drop Forms Builder
One of the greatest misconceptions about going paperless centers around the effort required to do so. Typically, I’ve found customers overestimate the time commitment by just under 50%.
With a drag-and-drop forms builder—where you literally just drag-and-drop form fields onto a “canvas”—and generally speaking, converting a paper form to a digital form should take about 20-30 minutes on average. Of course, that depends on the length of the form, as well as the level of automation and logic that is desired, but that’s a fairly accurate estimate given my experience.
The key is there should be no programming or coding required to build the mobile form. It should be intuitive with a little training.
#7: Voice Dictations
Going paperless is great, but one day your field workforce may also go handsfree. In this case, being able to capture notes and other form information via voice recognition and dictation it not a thing of the future, it’s available now.
Like any other field on a form, a voice dictation field can be included, whereby the field worker simply taps the field to open the voice dictation tool native to their mobile device. After clicking done, the information is embedded in the form. Almost like magic, but actually science.
#8: Integrate and Orchestrate Third-Party System Updates, Automatically
An overlooked benefit to digital forms is being able to connect disparate third-party systems, database and tools, and making the information available to your field workforce.
As an example, many customers of Field Squared integrate their CRM into our native, light CRM in order to make customer data available to their field workforce. By doing so, customer information can be pre-populated on forms instead of forcing manual data entry on your field workers.
Any third-party tool or system you integrate allows the automated orchestration of updates across the system. This ensures your source of record remains up to date with any updates made via your mobile forms.
Instead of thinking about the time and effort to go paperless, it makes more sense to focus on business goals and objectives. Delaying switching to digital mobile forms will not make it easier down the road. In fact, I argue it will be more difficult, because, as least if you’re growing your business, that means you’re hiring additional field workers and overloading an already broken system. Something will have to give.
The reality is, mobile forms are only one factor in the overarching goal to digitally transform your entire field service operations. Watch the 60-second video to see how Field Squared works.