Technology has been an important framework in field service organizations for many years. In the drive towards Industry 4.0 we’re seeing the increasing use of drones, smart devices and sensors to collect field data for back-office reporting. Data collection in the field remains the main driver of operational excellence. Yet with all the technology at their fingertips, field technicians and inspectors are ultimately responsible for the quality and integrity of the data they collect.
This is why it is imperative that the data collection workflow in the field be as efficient as possible so that field staff can work in the best conditions.
We will discuss the main human challenges that technicians and inspectors may face when collecting data in the field and how mobile data collection facilitates some of these challenges.
What is field data collection?
Field data collection is a project performed by an individual or group of individuals in a chosen physical location using approved data collection methods and tools.
Often the data is captured with a field data collection software.
There are many reasons for collecting data in the field. Inspect urban infrastructures to know their condition, obtain information on residents during door-to-door visits, assess the extent of damage during an environmental emergency.
The data relating to the project are important, however, we must not forget to put those who collect them in the best conditions.
The challenges of field data collection
Collecting data in the field involves lots of moving pieces and its fair share of logistical challenges. The field is by nature an uncontrolled environment, and many conditions are outside of the control of technicians and inspectors. Some challenges they need to think about include:
- Transportation: how to travel to and from the service location. Another point to consider is the nature of the environment being surveyed (eg. rugged terrain, water courses), potential dangers such as wild animals, and access to medical assistance in the case of emergencies. A mobile data collection tool equipped with a GIS app helps technicians and inspectors plan their journeys, to locate nearby services and it provides offline data collection capabilities in the event internet access becomes unavailable.
- Weather: It’s critical technicians and inspectors take accurate measurements in all weather (rain, sun, intense heat, cold, etc.) to ensure the quality of the data and their own well-being. The use of tablets with the appropriate protections and accessories (cases, batteries) is essential to avoid breakage and power cuts. Technicians must provide for themselves, adequate clothing and footwear, sufficient water and food, as well as a first aid kit.
- Fatigue: technicians and inspectors may be on their feet for hours at a time. As fatigue creeps in, errors in data collection occur more frequently. Easy to use mobile form apps and field survey apps make the job easier.
Collecting data in the field is a difficult task to accomplish, even under the best conditions. Fortunately, the use of data collection applications has many advantages:
- They minimize data entry and duplication errors, reducing unnecessary time spent in the field.
- They allow the optimal route to be drawn without unnecessarily prolonging the time spent outdoors in sometimes unfavorable conditions.
- Mobile forms are easy to use and capture data with more precision and standardization. No need to take out a pencil, and spend time writing on a piece of paper in the sun, wind or snow. Digital forms are completed with just a few clicks and at the same time reduce the time spent in the field.
- Field survey and inspection applications are not limited to text. They also capture other types of data such as images and GPS coordinates. Thus, there is no need to carry additional equipment such as cameras or portable GPS devices.
- Data is stored in the cloud for real-time access and analysis. This way, employees don’t have to return to the office after a long day at work since they can transfer data directly from the field.
There are many critical factors to keep in mind when conducting a field data collection operation. Many of these are beyond the control of field technicians and inspectors. Mobile devices equipped with field data collection app make their work easier and contribute to their safety.