Mobile Forms Software: What to Look For

February 18, 2020

The days of filling out forms using pen and paper and then transcribing that information into a database for use later have come to an end. If you are still using that workflow, you have probably landed here because you’re looking for a better way.

You know it is time to transition to mobile form software, but you want to make sure you’ve found the best one before investing your time and budget. You know a solution exists, but how do you know which one is right for your business?

Here are some questions to ask that will help steer you in the right direction. By the end, you should have the confidence to propose to leadership the best mobile forms software for your organization.

Will internet be available?

It is important to know the connectivity of the area where you will be using your mobile forms. Does it have a consistent and reliable internet connection? If you are indoors and WiFi is available your software options increase, but if you will be outdoors the technology stack (the underlying elements of a web or mobile application) will need to be more complex.

If you’re working in an urban environment then cellular internet service will most likely be available, but if you are in a rural area you’ll need software that will work independent of an internet connection.

In the case of no internet, you can rule out a web-based software solution that uses the browser — it will not meet your needs. Web-based solutions do not store information locally on your device, but rather update the server remotely, which won’t work without an internet connection. If you need to work offline, you’ll want to choose a mobile form solution that can store the data you collect on your device and sync to the cloud when you reach connectivity.

This is why cloud software has risen in popularity over the past five years. It allows you to pay one monthly or annual subscription fee and reduced your IT costs and complexity of deploying software to smartphones. This is often referred to as the bring-your-own-device (BYOD) movement in business, which describes the arrangement of employees using their own mobile devices in the workplace.

Is the platform flexible and agile?

When developing any software solution, you invariably will go from a development phase to a deployment phase with employees using the software solution you build. No matter how much you prepare and plan, your first deployed version will not be perfect — but it will improve over time.

Improvements to your mobile form will need to be made after you deploy your solution, so selecting software that is flexible in its architecture is important to ensure improvements are not costly to implement.

Historically speaking, deploying an internal mobile app to your personnel has required a whole team of software, hardware, and technical experts. All improvements to your app and code-base would take time to get pushed into the production environment; often days or weeks. This process has all changed thanks to cloud-based low-code/no-code software solutions, meaning a developer is not needed, nor is a robust back-end software and hardware solution.

It is now possible to go from an idea phase, through shaping an app’s design and functionality, to development, to testing, and into production in a day’s time. It is often as easy as dragging and dropping fields into a web builder and saving your work. Your changes are then reflected on the mobile app immediately — no coding required. Improvements can be pushed out to all the users in minutes, not weeks.

As your business processes and operations change and evolve you will want a solution that has the flexibility to evolve in concert, enabling continuous improvements. Ensure this is easy to do with the mobile form software you choose.

Tip: Getting feedback from your employees/users will provide you with insights to improve your app, and the sooner, the better. Open-ended questions to your users work best when seeking feedback.

How easy is it to get data in and out?

Your business data is important to the success of your operation. The last thing you want to do is deploy a mobile form software solution that makes it difficult to get your data when, where, and how you want it.

While cloud-based software solutions use their own server to function properly, it is important they provide as many ways to get your data out (and in) as possible. Take note of the capabilities and formats for exporting and retrieving your data, as well as the ease of importing your data.

There are two types of users: those who have current data they need to import to modify in the field and those who collect new data in the field (and some do both). Pay close attention to the ease of importing and extracting your data out of their systems. You want to find software that does not put your data into some proprietary format. Most mobile form solutions today will adopt open standard-file format so as to allow you to use your data on your terms.

At some point, you may want ways to integrate your software with other solutions, so check to see if they offer a REST API, SQL Query API, Webhooks, or even a way to access and sync your data to a local database you host. You might not need it now, but you’ll be glad you have the capability later.

Another important issue to consider is how the software will manage and store the media you capture in the field. If you plan on collecting a great deal of photos or videos, you will want to understand how easy it will be to capture, annotate, edit, view and export them. Simplicity is imperative. Also, pay attention to what they charge for media storage; it should be included in the subscription cost or be a nominal additional cost based on gigabytes used.

What is the support and onboarding availability?

Notice the level of support you receive during the onboarding or sales stage, and specifically ask the provider what level of support you can expect after you move into production. Can you expect the same level of support a year from now or do they charge extra, and what are those costs?

When you encounter technical operational challenges it is important to have the resources available quickly in order to isolate, address, and fix any issues. This should include mechanisms, such as extensive help and training materials, for addressing issues on your own, but also timely access to professional solutions from subject matter experts. Asking what time zone their support technicians are located in will give you some idea of how quickly you can expect a response.

Note: While it may seem like phone support is faster and therefore preferred, my experience shows that written communication is better suited for both customer and support technician to share the exact issue and identify the appropriate solution. This enables you to share screen shots and browser console error warnings that just can’t be shared over the phone.

Can you try it before you buy it?

Don’t hesitate to sign up for a trial, if they offer one. In fact, I would avoid altogether a mobile form solution that doesn’t offer a trial. Take the time to investigate which option meets your needs.

Creating a checklist of must-have features before starting the trial will allow you to save time. As you deploy your mobile forms, one of the features you will be grateful for is ease of use. The mobile users should be able to navigate menus and fill out fields with little to no training.

When trying the web and mobile software, try to load or recreate some existing paper form that you currently use within your organization. Measure the time it takes to replicate the form in each trial, then measure how long it takes to fill the form out on the mobile device. These baseline measurements will be magnified when you deploy multiple forms and have employees collecting data.

Once a form is built and deployed to the mobile device, try loading or collecting sample data to see how long it takes. Oftentimes it will be difficult to even see the value of the software until you have sample or organizational data in the system.

Lastly, pay close attention to how the data is displayed. Is it easy to filter, view, edit, and export? You or someone in your organization will be spending a great deal of time viewing and editing data, so make sure the process is as painless as possible.

Hopefully these tips will help guide your search for the right mobile forms software for your organization. Feel free to try Fulcrum and compare it to other solutions on the market.

About the author

Cory is Spatial Networks' Growth Hacker. He works closely with our customers to discover their needs and challenges and coach them on the best ways to use our products to solve those challenges.

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