Mobile data storage, organization and access
Not long ago, my dad, my uncle and I all had to carry a briefcase along with the blueprints to our respective jobsites. Each thick briefcase had a file folder system to organize, store and protect all the jobsite documents, receipts and paperwork needed to keep our business running.
Now, most of that information is instantly available on our smart phones.
Having all of this material condensed on a handheld device reduces the physical paper work we need to have on hand and it also helps organize it all with search features.
IT’S A MOBILE WORLD
Today’s electronic media, from laptops to iPads to iPhones and Androids, has made it easy to have all your paperwork at your fingertips without needing to print out a hard copy. If you have internet access and cell coverage, you’re connected to your home office.
Quick and easy access to email has made life easier for many contractors and landscapers. A number of other functions like taking pictures to document jobsite issues and looking up parts online are just a fingertip touch away while you sit in your pickup cab.
Almost all mobile devices operate on the same mobile data networks that support our mobile phones. Whether it’s a mobile Wi-Fi hotspot, laptop with data card, tablet with data plan, they all use the same basic digital technology with a variety of formats.
That’s why, depending on your data plan, it’s a good idea to load some of your jobsite documents when you have a non-data plan connection such as the office network.
It can still make good sense to load documents onto your laptop, an external drive or USB drive to save data transfer costs and avoid situations where you cannot connect to the network.
Although having the ability to access information is very useful, unless the forms you’re using are optimized for a mobile device you may experience some issues with formatting or coding which the mobile device isn’t equipped to properly display.
One of the issues I ran into was long file names that made it difficult to identify a builder’s floor plan files or specific grade plans on a mobile device. I could see the files fine, but guessing is not a good way to access files when the names can’t be read.
Unfortunately, one of the side-effects of making it easier to manipulate and distribute information is that documents can change just as fast.
As subcontractors, we have found that our tech-savvy general contractors have gotten used to making revisions in this digital era, which is all the more reason to access and view revised plans on the jobsites.
PHONES AND MODEMS AND ROUTERS
Since your remote access to data is going to be with internet access from a wireless carrier, you need to figure out how much data you will use and which provider has good coverage in your area. It also pays to be in-step with the tech curve.
You may want to specifically look for good 4G or LTE coverage in your area if you want to get broadband speeds out of your wireless access.
Instead of data plans getting cheaper, some carriers have phased out unlimited plans, and are selling a specific amount of data per month with fewer restrictions for tethering and Wi-Fi hot spot usage. This can be an asset to your company if you’re not moving a large volume of data.
In our case, we use relatively small PDF files or text documents, which means most of our employees can use their phones as wireless internet connections if needed.
If you’re not going to use internet access that much or download any large files, using your phone as a mobile Wi-Fi hotspot can be a good solution. (Battery use can be an issue so have a charger on hand.)
A USB-based modem with a data plan can be useful if you have a higher demand from your internet connection – however there is usually a premium for adding an additional line for this usage, instead of just adding more data to your wireless phone data plan.
If you want to have a transferable router/modem that you can issue to specific employees to meet their current jobsite needs, you can equip vehicles with a wireless router.
Chevrolet offers a Wi-Fi option for a variety of their vehicles. The system requires a subscription to access the internet. The dealer-installed accessory makes your pickup a Wi-Fi hotspot with up to 150-foot coverage around the vehicle.
With a data plan from AutoNetMobile you can use the router in one vehicle or move it to another vehicle that is prewired to accept the router. AutoNetMobile has additional solutions that can include fleet tracking.
No cell coverage where you are working? Two-way radio technology, which is now digital, is starting to see more application development for such tasks transmitting work order tickets, system management and email gateways.
This may soon be a good option for areas not covered with conventional cell towers such as areas where road and gas/oil survey crews are working in remote regions.
As our clients and the technology continue to change, our mobile office strategies will as well.
For example, some of the newer voice-to-text apps on touch-screen smart phones help keep things fluid without a full scale laptop on the jobsite.
Some technologies that may have been considered toys in the past can end up being valuable assets to you on the road or on the jobsite in your mobile office.