How to make the transition to digital data collection on your job site
By Matt Monihan
By now, you’ve heard the hype about digitizing your job site. From drawings, to job hazard analysis, to time sheets, it would seem that everything is destined to be accessed from a computer or mobile device. But, is it really that much better?
As you know, a pen in the field doesn’t run out of battery or need cell/wifi service. Paper is easier to read in the sun, and has higher resolution than a computer screen (for now). But, as technology advances and smart phones become a ubiquitous aspect of the typical job site, the benefits that emerge from having project information in a digital format become clear.
Beyond Data Collection: Dashboards and Data Engineering
Of course, data collection is the first step in the digitization process, but what are the advantages of having your data in a machine-readable format? Namely, to sync information in your payroll, ERP and accounting systems, to create reports that track the overall health of the project and reveal business insights. This process is called Data Engineering.
What is Data Engineering?
Put simply, data engineering is the process of moving data to the right place at the right time, and transforming it into the right format for the end user. The end user drives the transformations and format that is required. This could be a document with time sheet PDFs to bill a customer; a spreadsheet used to generate a graph for a weekly presentation; or even calculations that influence accounting or ERP systems.
The possibilities are only limited to your business needs and your imagination. Below are some reports that are possible based on time sheets submitted to the platform. By having structured data submitted from the field, we have the opportunity to perform meaningful analysis and accurate reporting at the home office.
Now that we see the end result of data engineering, let’s talk about collecting the data.
Here are a number of reasons digitizing paper forms is the way to go.
Convert form from paper, PDF, Word or a spreadsheet.
Don’t worry about building the form yourself. The ResponseVault team is here to convert any form you have into a digital format. All you need to do is upload it.
The process usually follows these steps:
First, we’ll examine the form to understand the structure of the data, and choose the right form field types to make sure it will be filled out properly
Then, we’ll identify any data that needs to come from an external source like Procore or an ERP system.
Then, we’ll identify how the data needs to be reported when submissions start coming in, and any workflows that need to be triggered.
Lastly, we’ll identify a roll out plan that ensures the new process is communicated to your team, and the transition goes smoothly.
Centralize data collection and format
The first obvious benefit of converting your paper forms to a digital format is being able to centralize the collection, and validate that the data is complete. I’ve worked with clients where, each payroll period, time sheets were being submitted via email, phone, post-it, back of a napkin-you name it. By directing the team in the field to fill out one, standardized form, and fill it out completely, the team running payroll will have a much easier time getting everyone paid without having to do redundant data entry.
Validate input with smart form fields
Digital forms use fields that automatically validate and format the data entered to prevent wrong or vague information from being entered. These fields include, currency, percentages, file attachments, lists, drop downs, check boxes, radio selects, photo galleries, nested forms, and many more. This way, you can ensure bad data never makes it into the system. Your data engineering system is only as good as the quality of data being inputted.
Save every version
Every version of the form and every version of a response is saved in a database. When data is changed, you have control over who gets notified based on what has changed and what the new value is.
Easily disseminate new versions of the form with QR Codes
Team members in the field can have immediate access to up-to-date form versions without having to type in URLs by scanning a QR code with their phone’s camera. Just post a flyer with the QR code and watch the submissions come in. No website to remember, no need for a log-in.
Integrate project data from multiple systems
Sometimes when filling out a daily report, you want to automatically include information for another system. For example, perhaps you use a shared calendar to track deliveries to the job site. With a digital form, you can pull up-to-date data regarding the delivery schedule for that day, without having to check and double-check the whiteboard.
Embed HTML forms in Procore (anywhere on the web to put the data in the application where you need it.)
ResponseVault forms can be embedded into any 3rd party application, as long as you have the ability to paste in HTML. That means you can place a form inside an ERP system, or a custom application your IT department maintains.
If you’re a Procore user, ResponseVault connects to your account and pulls in the data you specify. You can create a form and auto-fill the data in your desired fields. For example, you can include a drop down with a list of projects, and filter another drop down with the people assigned to the project you select.
When the response is submitted, ResponseVault will update the correct record in Procore based on your desired conditions. Furthermore, you can share the form with anyone inside or outside of Procore.
Format and Export Data for Analysis
Automatic PDF creation
Every form response is converted to a PDF, and can be uploaded to another system, or saved to your desktop. It’s understandable that despite having data securely stored in the cloud, you may want to retain a PDF or paper copy as a backup.
The way you collect data may differ from how you want to present it. For example, you may be collecting a list of visitors to the site, the form will collect information for a singular visitor, but the end format of the data collected for the whole day is formatted as a spreadsheet with a list of information for each visitor.
Complex Design tailored for Print
Digital forms can be designed with print in mind. That means that every field has been tested to take up the minimum amount of space on a page when printed. This way, your digital forms will stay as clean as compact as the paper forms on which they’re based.
How do you leverage your data once you’ve collected it?
Alert stakeholders of important events and changes
Many forms like, time sheets, or job hazard analysis go through an approval process. Digital forms can trigger a workflow when they are created to alert one or more people that they need to take action. These workflows can include: emailing or texting stakeholders, automatically uploading files, and updating a data warehouse with form submissions.
Get operational visibility
Mistakes that do not surface until late in a project’s lifespan can be devastatingly costly. Having an effective documentation system allows project managers to spot inefficiencies earlier, and prevent mistakes from being made. Data is always in the same place, organized by job and date filed, so there is no work on their part to organize the data themselves.
Comprehensive documentation is essential to mounting an effective legal defense in the event of an incident. Reports should be collected early and often, preferably daily by a foreman. It’s important to have proof that hazards were identified, and the appropriate safety precautions were taken.
Matt Monihan is CEO of Voyager Scientific, the developer of digital form platform, ResponseVault. Matt has over 10 years experience designing and developing data-analysis applications including the Magento Business Intelligence platform and over 5 years experience adapting data engineering technology for the construction industry.
Matt holds a B.S. in Business Administration from Drexel University.