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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 plays a crucial role in your operation’s success. You should avoid mobile form software solutions that complicate data access.

Cloud-based software solutions operate on their servers but should offer multiple data retrieval and input methods. Assess the capabilities and formats for exporting, retrieving, and importing your data.

Users typically fall into two categories: those importing current data for field modification and those collecting new data in the field. Some users do both. Focus on the ease of importing and extracting data from their systems. Aim for software that doesn’t lock your data in a proprietary format. Most mobile form solutions now support open standard-file formats, allowing you to use your data as you wish.

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?

During the onboarding or sales stage, note the support level you receive. Specifically, ask the provider about the support level you can expect after production starts. Inquire if you can expect the same support a year later, any extra charges, and the costs involved.

Facing technical challenges, quick access to resources is crucial for isolating and resolving issues. This should include extensive help and training materials for self-resolution. Yet, timely professional solutions from experts are also vital. Asking about the support technicians’ time zone will hint at the response speed you can expect.

While phone support may seem faster, written communication often proves more effective. It better suits both customer and technician for identifying issues and solutions. This method allows sharing screenshots and browser console error warnings, which isn’t possible 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 evaluating web and mobile software, recreate an existing paper form from your organization. Time how long it takes to replicate this form in each trial. Then, measure the time needed to fill out the form on a mobile device. These initial measurements will become more significant as you deploy multiple forms and have employees collect data.

After building and deploying a form to a mobile device, try loading or collecting sample data to assess the process duration. The software’s value may not be apparent until it contains sample or organizational data.

Lastly, scrutinize how the software displays data. Check if it’s easy to filter, view, edit, and export the data. Someone in your organization will spend considerable time managing this data, so ensure the process is straightforward.

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.