It is actually quite amazing. 

Look for virtually any subject, from Amazon to Zombie, and you’ll find an app on one of the major mobile operating system marketplaces. 

During the last few years, we’ve seen a number of useful applications appear for restorers. These range from simple psychrometric calculators to downright Dri-Eazmagical tools for quickly measuring out rooms and buildings.

Most of these applications were designed for other industries, and had some functionality useful to restorers. However, during the last two years, several apps have been released specifically designed for restoration contractors. 

These included tools for quickly estimating equipment needs, calculating psychrometric readings and even preparing field documentation. Recently, a handful of such applications have begun to tie it all together, and offer complete workflow management straight from your mobile device, eliminating paperwork altogether.

Development of these tools is quickly maturing, and the features are rapidly improving, to the extent that several large organizations in the restoration market have moved completely to using mobile documentation. 

In fact, the insurance community is taking notice as well, with some carriers heavily suggesting (or even requiring) the use of these software systems.

With each new movement in our industry come both the good and the bad — generally true with any major change. Here’s an in-depth look at how to select a quality mobile solution for your business, and some thoughts on how to implement such systems in your organization.

Finding a good app

Mobile solutions promise several areas of improvement in workflow management and documentation to the restorer:

  • Eliminating physical paper.
  • Speeding data entry.
  • Adding automated analytical and calculation tools.
  • Eliminating duplicate data entry.
  • Increasing the quality of finished documentation.
  • Designed for low training requirements and fast implementation.

Each new system available in our industry delivers on several of these promises, some better than others. Evaluate each, and ensure the application has specific functionality in all of these areas. If it doesn’t, then keep looking. There’s a better solution out there!

The key to a quality system is its ability to not only capture information in the field, but also to then move that data to meaningful reporting tools, and into third party systems such as estimating platforms. The need to re-enter the data into other systems dramatically reduces the value of the system. Several, however, offer such integration. Stay away from those that don’t.

Secondly, the reporting format and flexibility is just as important. The data captured is only as valuable as the ability to then use and report that data. Look for a robust reporting functionality, especially one that is customizable to fit your unique needs. Every restoration project is unique… you’ll need to run reports for home owners, property managers, adjusters and maybe even your attorney (hopefully not often).  Does the system offer that flexibility?

Finally, another huge piece in evaluating the right tool is considering the end user — the technician. What does the system look like from the field user perspective?  Generally, the application should be icon based, graphically driven and not require heavy word processing. Sketching, documenting equipment and adding services to a project should be straightforward. No matter how complete the solution, if it can’t be used in the field, it is useless.

Logistics of mobile documentation

Another important area to consider in selecting and deploying a mobile documentation tool is the logistics associated with managing devices, training and administration. A mobile app means mobile devices. Today’s devices have become substantially more intelligent. They have also become more expensive and fragile.

Here are a few considerations and tips to help manage what could be an expensive learning experience. First, invest in water resistant, impact resistant cases. Several are available at inexpensive prices. They are extremely affordable, considering the consequences, as many mobile device manufacturers do not cover water damage under the product warranty. 

Also, consider which device is compatible with the mobile solution you are evaluating. Generally, look for a solution that can be deployed on both tablet style and smartphone style devices.

Project managers will likely need the tablet for sketching and project setup. However, technicians monitoring on subsequent trips can easily work from a lower cost, phone sized device, provided the system is compatible on both. Avoid systems that require a full computer. Laptops are problematic in the field. Normally, this means you’ll be using paper in the field and then reentering data at the office. So much for reduced data entry!

Many of the solutions currently available are structured around e-mail addresses for identification and access. This means that you can easily assign a single device to more than one user. The technician on call, in other words, can have the device to ensure it is present during initial project setup. This is important, and another consideration when evaluating different systems.

The final note on logistics is training. Implementing even a simple tool will require at least some level of support and training with your staff. Look to a mobile software provider that commits to this training with no additional fees.

Putting it into practice

Once you’ve selected an appropriate tool for your business, it’s time to put it to work. Documentation is a critical element to your workflow, so implementation shouldn’t be taken lightly.

Here are some best practices to make sure your implementation is successful:

  1. Parallel: Initially, do your documentation on both paper and mobile device until the training and integrity of your implementation are reliable. Lost data can be very costly.
  2. Consistency: Once you implement, ensure it is used 100 percent of the time.  Inconsistency will confuse your staff, create problems when looking up historical data in the future and negatively impact the skill level of your team using the tool. You chose it because it is the best way, so stick with it.
  3. Partner: The provider of the software should be a partner in your success. Make them accountable for delivering against their promises. Train early and often and lean on them for tech support. If they don’t provide it, you may have chosen the wrong partner. Better to find out early than late.

Final thoughts

As the technical director for Legend Brands, and an active industry advocate and volunteer with the Institute of Inspection, Cleaning and Restoration Certification (IICRC), the Restoration Industry Association (RIA) and the American Council for Accredited Certification, I’ve had the opportunity to become familiar with many aspects of our industry landscape, political makeup and changing technology throughout a career of more than 18 years and running. 

This movement in particular to mobile documentation is of particular interest and concern to me as an industry stakeholder. 

Consider heavily the application’s customer. An app designed for restoration project documentation… who should the customer be for such a tool? Analytics, calculations, reporting features… these should be designed with that individual’s needs in mind. 

If you are of the same mind as I am, that individual should be the restoration contractor. When evaluating various tools and systems for your documentation needs, I encourage you to inquire with the producers of each tool. Who influences and manages the analytical tools, calculations and other reporting features?

It could be an interesting discussion…

Brandon Burton is the technical director at Legend Brands. He teaches IICRC-approved classes in the categories of Applied Structural Drying (ASD) and Water Damage Restoration (WRT). Burton has served the restoration community for more than 15 years as an IICRC-approved instructor, ANSI/IICRC S500 chair, RIA restoration council member, and many other industry roles. You can contact him at BrandonB@RSA-HQ.com.