Mobile Technology

March 1, 2019
In the water industry, increasing demands for stringent testing and compliance makes more efficient alternatives, like mobile technology, appealing to many utilities. This article explores the top ten advantages that mobile technology brings to the water industry.

By Aimee Happ

10 Advantages for the Water Industry

The world is changing. The exponential growth of the availability of mobile technology has increasingly led organizations around the world to explore how mobile devices can be used for data collection. For the last two decades, people have been using laptops and personal digital assistants (PDAs) to collect information, but with devices such as mobile phones and tablets gaining popularity, mobile technologies are transforming the way organizations think about data capture.

In the water industry, increasing demands for stringent testing and compliance makes more efficient alternatives, like mobile technology, appealing to many utilities. However, mobile technologies also offer many other benefits, such as the ability to drastically reduce the time and resources required for field data collection. This in turn allows utilities to significantly reduce costs and improve data integrity. Mobile technology is quite literally at our fingertips, and this article explores the top ten advantages that mobile technology brings to the water industry.

Not only does mobile data collection allow utilities to reduce costs and improve data integrity, it also empowers operators and modernizes operations.

1. Time Efficiencies

A lot of time is spent collecting data from the field. Your field staff work outdoors in all sorts of weather reading instruments and collecting samples. Once they’ve completed their rounds, they return to the office, where they or one of the clerks manually types the field data results into an Excel spreadsheet or a data management system.

However, your clerks might sometimes make transcription errors or misread the handwriting of your field staff. There also might be a time delay from when the results are collected to when they are actually entered into the system. Once the data is finally entered and mistakes are found, resampling may be required — starting the cycle all over again.

Mobile data collection saves time because duplicate data entry is eliminated. Instead, data is only entered once — at the source. Mobile technology also ensures that data collected in the field are instantly available in your data management solution. Because of this, your staff will also have earlier access to all data, ensuring that any abnormal results are acted upon quickly and that you stay in compliance.

“My number one priority in everything that I do is to ensure that it is done efficiently,” said Martin Manucharyan, water quality supervisor with the city of Glendale. “Over several years, I explored various methods of taking our field data collection operations mobile.” Ultimately, he settled upon a remote field data collection tool called WaterTrax Mobile.

“With [it], our data is entered once and can be reviewed immediately after submission,” he said. “The elimination of redundant data entry has significantly reduced the possibility of errors and the need for continued review.

Many utilities who have adopted mobile data collection estimate that they save around 120 hours per year in redundant data entry.

2. Cost Savings

Mobile data collection allows you to do more with your existing hardware if you already have it. In addition, once you have your mobile data collection program up and running, you’ll realize fewer administrative costs and your staff will be able to be more productive overall, with less of their time spent fixing data entry errors.

Utilities that have adopted mobile with data collection typically see a return on investment (including software and hardware investments) within six months of implementation.

Before adopting mobile data entry technology, one utility reported that they used to spend an extra 15 minutes per day at one of its plants double-recording data collected during daily operator rounds. At a second plant, they used to spend an extra 30 minutes per week double-recording data.

With mobile data collection, this utility calculated total time savings per year as:

• Plant 1: 15 minutes per day x 365 days = 5,475 minutes per year

• Plant 2: 30 minutes per week x 52 weeks = 1,560 minutes per year

• Total time spent per year entering data twice = 117 hours per year

With the average cost of labor at a utility being $48 per hour, mobile technology brought these plants an annual savings of over $5,600 per year.

3. Preserve and Maintain Data Integrity

Are you confident in the quality of your data collected in the field? Using mobile technology for data collection preserves and maintains data integrity. Not only does it significantly reduce the risk of transcription errors, thus ensuring higher quality data, data collection apps also include features such as auto-save and automatic data validation. Additionally, the audit history functionality makes it easy to later see which operator collected which sample in the field.

4. Real-Time Sync with Your Data Management System

With mobile data collection, data entered in the field from any mobile device are instantly synced and available in your data management system, eliminating the need for double data entry. You can also set up calculations to be performed automatically once the required data has been entered for your reporting requirements. Mobile technology ensures that your staff will be able to save time and make more informed decisions with real-time information available at their fingertips.

5. Automated Alerts and Notifications

Another key benefit to using mobile technology for data collection is real-time, automatic data validation. With mobile data collection, alerts can be automatically triggered through the app if any issues are detected with the sample, making those in the field and back in the office instantly aware if there are any water quality issues. Your staff can then take the necessary steps to investigate abnormal results and help you stay in compliance.

6. Strong Security Features

Mobile technology provides added security features that simply cannot exist with hard paper copies of data. User authentication, password protection, and automatic backups are just some of the options available to you. These security features ensure that no forms are lost and that data is only viewed and edited by those authorized to do so.

7. Centralized Data

Mobile technology allows for your field data to be instantly available in one place — your data management system. Data are no longer lying around on different pieces of paper or hiding away in various binders. With mobile data collection, your data are automatically centralized and consolidated in real time.

Because data are now more accessible than ever, they can help you to make better, timelier, and more data-driven decisions.

8. Modern Tools for a Changing Workforce

Almost everyone has a mobile phone. Since most of your staff are already familiar with mobile technology, the training required for mobile field data entry is minimal. Most mobile technology apps have been built with a workflow-driven design that is user friendly and convenient, allowing your staff to get up and running quickly and easily.

Mobile technology also allows you to empower your operators. When you have the tools to collect data digitally, operators no longer need to rely on clerks to get data into your system.

Overall, mobile technology allows you to bring your data collection methods into the 21st century, enabling you to modernize your operations and attract skilled, digitally-savvy staff.

9. Maximized Sampling Program Efficiency

Mobile data entry technologies also include additional functionality that will further improve your field data collection processes. With mobile data collection apps, you can find your next sampling point based on your GPS location. You can also view the previous five results for any sampling point in the app, allowing you to best understand historical trends of any measurement. Finally, most mobile data collection apps include an offline mode and in-app search functionality for the convenience of your staff.

10. Go Green – Eliminate Paper!

As many utilities and businesses around the world make efforts to be better for the environment, you can be satisfied that mobile technology will allow you to “go green” by eliminating the piles of paper that you’re currently consuming. Not only is it great for the environment, it also saves you and your staff the headache of carrying around and keeping track of physical data on paper. Massive rooms filled with filing cabinets and three-ring binders are now a thing of the past. With mobile technology, you always know where your data are and you can feel good about it, too.

Now Is the Time to Go Digital

Take your data collection practices into the 21st century by adopting mobile technology at your utility. Not only does mobile data collection allow you to reduce costs and improve data integrity, it also empowers your operators and modernizes your operations.

Mobile technology is already at your fingertips. Can you afford not to invest? WW

About the Author: Aimee Happ has been working in the environmental software space for over 2 years, and she brings her passion for the natural environment and for technology to her work. Happ is currently a writer for Aquatic Informatics, one of the largest water data management software companies in the world, where she meets with clients and researches industry trends to produce high-value educational content for the water and wastewater industries.

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