“Mobile data collection” is the most common business activity in the world. You may not recognize the term or even call it something else, but you’ve probably already collected field data at your job today. Whether you’re going through a checklist, taking product inventory, or doing an inspection, you’re collecting information to help you decide if the checklist is complete or not, whether you need to stock up, or if SOPs were followed.
Here’s a more concrete example: When UPS collects a signature to acknowledge receipt of a package, they’re collecting field data — specifically: where the parcel was delivered, at what time, what condition it was in, and to whom.
Simply, field data collection is the process of gathering information about factual conditions to draw conclusions that inform decision-making. Providing a reliable and accurate picture of exactly what is going on at a job site, field data is critical for any company to make better decisions, adapt to changing conditions, and improve processes to be more productive, efficient, and scalable.
Join us as we look at the critical importance of mobile data collection in the field, the value that specific field data like geolocation brings to any organization, and the best approach and tools to ensure you’re always optimizing data collection for better decisions.
The value of mobile data collection
Mobile data collection is one of the best ways to gain insights into the facts of an operation, such as the location and condition of assets, the compliance levels across sites, or the amount of completed work orders or safety audits. From observation to surveys, interviews to research studies, you can collect field data in all kinds of ways, but remember one thing: the type of information you’re collecting determines the tools you need. For example, a mechanic won’t use a stethoscope to determine if you need an oil change.
Whether they’re inspectors, auditors, technicians, or salespeople, your field staff needs to be able to collect, convey, and contribute data so that an organization’s institutional knowledge base can grow, be refined, and help make improvements that benefit everyone. This means having the right tools, and those that more accurately and efficiently collect, share, and help analyze reliable data at a faster rate, the better it will serve your organization.
While most organizations collect some form of field data, few make truly effective use of it because they lack the right tools that add more value or give better direction to their data collection process. But a well-planned mobile data collection process, driven by and executed with the right tools, sets in place a rapid feedback cycle that lets your organization increase productivity, streamline processes for efficiency, and prevent mistakes – all of which helps you cut costs, ensure compliance, and extract more value from field operations throughout your organization.
The importance of spatial dimension in mobile data collection
GIS (geographic information systems) tools add unprecedented value to an organization’s data collection efforts. By gathering, processing, and analyzing data with a spatial component, these tools plot and visualize critical location-based information on maps, charts, and graphs to enrich data quality. With this, decision-makers can now make better-informed decisions that more accurately reflect conditions on the ground.
Accelerated by digital technology, the value of and demand for location data quickly expanded the market for GIS tools, providing analysts, decision-makers, and stakeholders with new ways to leverage geographic data and draw insights previously overlooked. Think of a business that needs to maintain an accurate stock inventory. Geo-tagged sales data will not only let them know their total inventory count, but lets you know the locations where some products sell more than others so that management can adjust its distribution, maximize the number of products sold, and reduce wasted shelf space. All told, a more efficient process that benefits the bottom line, all from a simple but powerful location data point.
Data integration and sharing
Information is useless if it’s not in the right hands, so how you distribute your data after it’s been processed and analyzed is critical. Sharing your data with decision-makers is just the start because it can also be fed back to other operational or analytical systems for additional processing and even more refined results. Combining these steps in a feedback loop – collection, process, analysis, distribution – will help you collect the best data to tell the most complete and accurate story.
You also need the ability to automatically generate and share reports as quickly as possible. Clients or regulators need timely information and shouldn’t be waiting on your team to laboriously piece data together into a shareable document. More than that, use tools that can pull specific data points to tailor reports that answer specific questions, as well as quickly respond to regulator inquiries.
Why mobile data collection is the way to go
The pen-and-paper data-capture process has long created a communication lag between field teams and home office. Filling out error-prone forms and then cleaning up, transcribing, analyzing, and reporting the data is a frustrating and time-consuming process, made worse when decision-makers get results long after the information was collected.
On the other hand, mobile data collection technology produces, manages, and shares field data at the speed of digital, so that managers always have the most updated information to answer their questions.
Manual field data collection – which has your technicians lugging around clipboards, pens and paper, stacks of SOPs, cameras, GPS units, laptops, and more – is unjustifiably burdensome. But the only thing a mobile data collection requires is a mobile device.
Teams collecting field data will always encounter conditions that deviate from the deployed survey and which now requires modification. Under a hardcopy regime, this involves communicating changes, editing PDF templates, and reprinting and redistributing new forms. To avoid this inefficiency, organizations often overload their surveys with questions to account for as many potential scenarios as possible – but the result is the same, a survey template that demands even more work from field teams and HQ alike.
Conversely, updating survey template structures with mobile data collection software couldn’t be easier. Digital syncing between a manager’s updates and a collector’s device is instantaneous, so that all users receive the latest version automatically and everyone is working from the same, underlying, reliable data – all without phone calls, memos, missed connections, or meetings.
Streamlining collection and analysis, Fulcrum includes a set of digital base maps which provides mobile users with updated maps reference information when connected to the internet, which can later be used offline. In the field, however, there will likely be situations where your teams are disconnected from the internet but still require map reference information to collect data and complete a task. Fulcrum has you covered, with both the ability to collect data offline and use interactive offline maps, so nobody misses a beat.
Mobile data collection in the field
To make the best decisions that result in on-the-ground improvements to task execution, SOPs, and overall processes, the field data you gather needs to be reliable and circulate quickly and freely, unimpeded by the communication lags that plague pen-and-paper data collection. If you want to efficiently and accurately collect data in the field with no do-overs, mobile data collection platforms like Fulcrum connect all stakeholders – teams, supervisors, executives, and regulators – with real-time and synchronized data, so everyone is positioned to make the best decisions that grow and scale your organization.
Start optimizing the field data you’re already collecting with a free trial of our industry-leading mobile app for data collection.