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The problem with spreadsheets for field inspections

September 29, 2020

When you think about field inspections, what comes to mind? Probably something like this:

The issue with conducting field inspections with pen and paper is that it’s impractical. It creates a long list of problems and potential problems: 

• Illegible handwriting leads to data inaccuracies

• Paper is easily damaged or lost, necessitating rework

  • Transcription takes time and can introduce errors
  • You can only capture what can be written down (no pictures, video, etc.), and if you do take a photo, you have to match it to the correct paperwork later

You cannot analyze data collected on paper effectively. You might shuffle through papers to understand trends, but for actionable insights, you must enter data into a computer program.

Those are some of the reasons companies are looking to modernize their processes and get away from using pen and paper for field inspections. And when they do, they often start with spreadsheets.

The truth about spreadsheets

Unfortunately, spreadsheets for field inspections aren’t much better. 

Imagine you have a checklist with a few dozen items in it. Spreadsheets don’t render easily on mobile devices, so you have to scroll up and down and side to side to enter the data in the right place. It’s easy to transpose entries or miss a typographical error. 

Here’s an example: 

Our partners at Carrington Risk conduct inspections on their clients’ properties, checking to make sure there are no hazards on site and things are generally as they should be. Their clients then take the reports and send them to their insurance companies to make sure they get the lowest possible premium. 

One time, Carrington was given a building to inspect that appeared to be located in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean — someone had switched the latitude and longitude for the property.

Since spreadsheets don’t automatically capture geolocation, it has to be entered manually — so it’s easy to understand how the mistake occurred. But if it had gone to the insurance company (which looks for things like whether a structure is located in a flood plain) like that, they would have seen a building in the ocean, which would have called all the data in the report into question (and possibly the property owner, too).

With spreadsheets, you’re working without a net. There’s no validation of your inputs, so if you type in the wrong information, it’s easy to miss. If someone accidentally hits the wrong key or hits “paste” when they meant “cut,” you’re going to end up with bad data. 

And, like paper, spreadsheets don’t scale for reporting and analytics. You don’t get real-time visibility into what’s going on in the field to manage performance and remediate problems quickly. 

Finally, multimedia is still difficult. You could take pictures on your phone and then enter the filenames into the spreadsheet, but is that a good use of your time?

‍Spreadsheets for field inspections: the worst of both worlds‍

The main drawback of using paper or spreadsheets is their combined use. You collect data on paper, then input it into Excel or Google Sheets. If data looks incorrect, do you revisit the original paper? (Assuming you can find it.)

What if someone noticed what they thought was an obvious error and corrected it during the transcription process? How do you trace the steps of every person who came in contact with that data to find the source of the error? 

Don’t get us wrong: Spreadsheets have their place. They’re great for sharing and aggregating data. But spreadsheets are not good for mobile field inspections.

Better field inspections

For efficient, accurate data, you’ll get the best results by swapping paper and spreadsheets for a field inspection management platform like Fulcrum. 

With Fulcrum, data is entered once on a mobile device — whether you have cellular or WiFi service or not. Once your data syncs to the cloud, it’s instantly available to anyone with access to your account. No waiting for transcription, no data-entry errors, no data gaps caused by errant coffee stains or torn or lost paper.

And your field inspectors can take photos, videos, and even audio recordings that are automatically linked to the correct records in the app. You don’t have to try to match them up later. 

Data collected with Fulcrum can automatically trigger workflow processes. For example, it can send an email or SMS to notify teammates when action is needed. It can also send reports directly from the field, greatly enhancing productivity. But that’s a topic for another day

Want to know more? Request a free demo of the Fulcrum platform today.