Think that apps are beyond your reach financially as a business, or too complicated to consider? Think again! With cloud-based app systems anyone can build and run spatial data collection projects.
Apps can act as a significant business lever, enabling you and your staff to save time, money and improve data quality.
These days there are several approaches organisations can consider when it comes to developing apps. The two main options are fully bespoke vs using an app building platform (think of the latter like the app equivalent of WordPress or Wix for websites)
Whilst bespoke apps certainly have their place in the armoury of many businesses cloud-based app builders like Coreo will enable you to create your own data collection apps without requiring you to know any code, giving you a rich feature set that you can tailor to your needs. Depending on the complexity of your project you could build the apps you need in minutes. Apps are available instantly, and they work offline too, making them the ideal choice for people collecting spatial data out in the field.
There are many reasons to consider apps for data collection, but here are our top 9 business boosting benefits:
1. Take advantage of sophisticated hardware
Smartphones are packed full of useful and sophisticated hardware. If you’re in the business of collecting data, then there are many ways you can take advantage of the technology built into your phone. Two key ‘everyday’ features that will add value to your data are GPS and camera.
2. Save time
How many hours a week, month, year do you or your staff spend transcribing data from paper-based forms into a spreadsheet or database application? And from there, into another system such as a GIS application?
What if all of the data from field surveyors was instantly uploaded to a cloud-based platform where they, and any other stakeholders, could access the data and work with it? No more repeating data entry, no more transcription headaches or errors, just more time to spend collecting, analysing and using the data. Good data collection platforms provide you with both the front-end applications for data collection and the backend system to view, manage and work with your data and users. And by reducing paper-based surveys, you get to save a few trees too.
3. Standardise data collection
With most surveys it is critical to collect the right data in the right way. Providing people with paper forms isn’t necessarily the best way to achieve this. Here are a few of the ways that apps can help with standardising your data.
Use app architecture, so that people filling in your survey have to follow a particular process
Setting mandatory fields, so that essential data is always captured e.g. the location or date.
Limit responses, so that the right data is entered into fields. A good example is a drop-down list.
4. Simplify complicated surveys using form logic
Some surveys are big, unwieldy beasts with lots of dependencies built into questions. Like using a key, you have to keep your wits about you to make sure that you follow the instructions or risk wasting time, or worse, ruining the entire survey.
With an app these problems all but disappear. With conditionality built in as standard you can effortlessly guide respondents to only those questions they need to complete, based on their previous responses. Who needs big complicated surveys now?
5. Keep surveys and data in-sync across your organisation
If you have multiple surveys in operation and/or your surveys need to change at any point, ensuring that your team is issued with the latest paper versions can involve substantial preparation – not to mention wasted paper resources.
With an app you can update and issue new versions of your surveys instantly. Anyone running that survey will receive the new update as soon as they’re online and so you greatly limit the opportunity for errors to occur. Another benefit of this approach is that you don’t have to feel you are stuck with a particular survey methodology or layout if it’s not working – you can much more easily refine and improve surveys in light of field testing and feedback.
And because your field workers are able to submit their data immediately, all of your organisation’s data is kept in-sync too.
6. Beat the elements (and work in the dark)
From trying to read and fill out paper surveys in gales, the pouring rain, the freezing cold and, of course, in the dark, it’s not always an easy task to cope with everything a survey requires of us. Here are a few ways that apps can help:
A light, in the dark. Ever had to hold a torch in your mouth, or tried to prop it up on some surrounding vegetation (or a colleague) so you can see and write effectively whilst you try to fill out a survey in the dark? With an app, your illuminated screen solves all those issues instantly.
Splash proof. Whilst we wouldn’t advocate getting your phone wet unless you have to, the majority of higher end devices are now water resistant enough to use in light rain. If the screen gets wet it can make it difficult for gestures to register, but generally speaking apps trump paper in soggy conditions.
Blowin’in the wind. There goes another paper survey, off into the distance. Probably more frustrating than the rain is attempting to fill out paper forms on a windy day. Ripped forms, flapping forms, flying forms – none of these are conducive to data collection, or to a feeling of zen. Assuming you can remain upright, you won’t have any such problems with an app.
Cold fingers. Whilst you still have to get your phone out to do a survey using a phone can be more conducive to keep the blood flowing in your extremities than having to carry around a clipboard. With the phone (and your hands) in your pockets between surveys you’re far more likely to have enough feeling left in your fingers to fill out the form when needed.
7. Every survey you need, in one app
Apps like Coreo enable you to access all of your surveys, in one place. Whether you load the entire gamut of surveys you do throughout the year into your app or just the ones you need today, this week or month you need never forget a survey again. Even if you do forget one, as long as you have data where you are, you can simply download the survey you need in seconds.
8. Information when you need it
Class leading app builders don’t just provide the ability to build forms but also to add informational pages and even build media rich reference guides so that people using your app have access to the information they need whilst they’re collecting data. Having information at your fingertips is empowering for those collecting the data and it also improves data quality.
9. Access your data, any place, any time
With paper based surveys it’s a while before anyone but you can access the data. And even when it’s been entered into, typically a spreadsheet, it’s not easy to view or interpret that data if you need to revisit a site or repeat a survey.
With good app software, all of your data will be available instantly to colleagues and anyone else that needs it. And if you need to check, edit, repeat surveys the data is right there, at your fingertips.
Some surveys just weren’t born to be paper-based. This includes surveys that:
- contain a lot of questions
- need supporting media such as photos
- require you to use a map
- require you to be out in the dark
- mean the recorder is on-the-go a lot
- are done anywhere where it’s windy or rains a lot
With smartphones being almost entirely ubiquitous, and the technology like Coreo now available to enable anyone with basic IT skills to build apps, there’s never been a better time to make the change to digital and start benefiting from the many advantages it offers.