Mobile apps for water and wastewater operation and maintenance (O&M) activities have been around for some time now. Most users are familiar with the benefits such as instant data collection and access to reference information for better, more reliable O&M monitoring. However, as new software tools are consistently becoming more powerful and more accessible, that “ground-breaking” mobile app that you purchased five years ago may now be looking a little dated. When you are ready to upgrade, here are some of the features that are the new “must haves”.
Unique and custom forms
For many O&M programs, you may have your own data collection needs that are specific to your facility or industry. Mobile O&M apps now allow you to tailor your input forms to add new data fields, remove unwanted fields, change some of the logic like making certain fields required, and make certain fields tied into established pick lists. Even better, you can match the mobile form to the original paper form, making the transition to mobile simple and intuitive for staff. And, the more the merrier, as modern mobile apps let you have multiple forms on the same app so you have everything you need in one place.
Real-time entry validation
It is not enough to just enter your O&M information into a mobile device. You also want to make sure you are entering correct data. Current O&M mobile tools can check your entry as you enter it and validate against whatever criteria are established for that data. So you make sure that you’re entering a pH reading of 7.2, rather than 72. You can also use configurable pick lists to limit data entry to your specific desired entries and not have to correct misspellings or 16 different ways to say “out of service”. Make sure that pick lists are configurable and can be shared with each of your company’s devices.
Barcode and QR code scanning
You are probably already using your phone to compare prices at your local store. It is amazingly easy to simply scan a product’s barcode and instantly see the best available price locally or online. Since virtually every phone/tablet now has a built-in camera, you can use that to scan barcodes or QR codes to associate data entry with a tagged sampling port or asset. This can save you from possible mismatch errors that can occur when simply selecting from a list or typing in data.
Use your voice
We are starting to use voice recognition technology in our mobile devices to quickly send out text messages. Why not use it for recording inspection/audit comments or field issues? Voice recognition is improving every year, and can provide your comments onto a data collection form much faster than typing and can be especially useful for conditions where gloves are required and typing or stylus input is not practical. Using the phone’s native abilities, take advantage of voice feature to streamline note taking, knowing that you can always fix up any issues back in the office.
Review, Sync, Repeat
Mobile apps should have a summary screen to review your data before sending it back to your database, such as a summary form for all data collected during a shift. And once you do sync your data back to the main database (you have a main database right???), instantly reset the form for the next day data collection event so you are always ready.
No Internet? No Problem!
Mobile apps that won’t function when there is no connection should be abandoned. You need to be able to collect data no matter the location and the signal strength. Look for mobile apps that function with zero connectivity, and save the data until a signal is found. Not every location at modern water and wastewater facilities has a hot spot, so be prepared with the right app.
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