Mobile Data Collection- Do we have the APPetite?

In a mobile and connected world, mobile applications are prevalent in every aspect of life.
You can control the lights and heating in your home from anywhere in the world (as long as you have signal!). And yet, mobile data collection is far from the norm in the construction industry. It is still seen as an ‘added extra’ instead of ‘the way we do things’. There is even a lack of trust towards recording work based data via a mobile device compared to a paper form – although we trust this same style of device with every other aspect of our personal life, from carrying out banking transactions to reminding us to buy flowers for our significant other on our anniversary.

But there is a desire to use and exploit mobile data collection. A quick search of the Play Store on an Android or the App Store on an iOS device shows numerous apps for all aspects of construction projects – from snagging to risk assessments to toolbox talk records. These apps that are available are often standalone, have no integration with existing systems and are picked up by the keen site manager who feels the often glacial pace of implementing new technological processes just isn’t good enough.

Here lies a risk:  when a small portion of a company starts to use these systems, small silos of information are created that are not shared, are not necessarily learnt from. And because they are in a silo, they don’t become the standard way of doing things. Each user’s device then has a ‘version of the truth’ which they export to the company’s back end system. Each version of the truth can be slightly different, all because a standard set of applications have not been specified or developed for the end user’s needs.

How could the construction industry combat this issue? By partnering with application developers and getting the programmers to talk directly to the delivery teams carrying out the construction work. Develop the mobile software either in house or linked closely to your developer. Ensure the end result meets all the needs of the userbase and ultimately, makes things easier for them.

Within Osborne, we are developing a mobile application for our Improvement Opportunity (IO) submissions – any process improvement, great idea or safety related close call can be submitted as an IO and reviewed. In order to meet the needs of a mobile, site based workforce, an application is being built from the ground up to integrate with our existing back end and make it easier for anyone to engage with us.

As the construction industry catches up with the technological developments outside of our sphere of influence, I believe we will see much closer links between those building our virtual and our physical infrastructure.

Dominic Lowry is the Technology Improvement Manager for Infrastructure at Osborne.