Ever think all your problems would be solved by an iPhone? Handheld computing devices are getting freakishly good, but they’re not that good. Many businesses are jumping on the caboose of this technology train and proclaiming that handhelds will solve all of their data collecting problems related to assets and work orders. Wrong-O.

According to Michael Crowley in his article Handheld Computing Devices Improve Managing Work-Order Data, what businesses were not planning for, however, was for handhelds to merely speed up the collection of poor-quality work-order and asset data collection. Even then, data was only coming to the companies who were using handhelds regularly.

So, how does one solve this seemingly simple data dilemma?

First, Crowley suggests that before moving from paper systems to handhelds, companies need to improve the quantity and quality of their work orders. Your first string maintenance technicians need to have top-notch discipline and accountability when it comes to documenting every step they make. If you think this seems harsh, remember that quality follow-ups and paperwork completion are key pieces of the technicians’ job description puzzle. Or, as your parent would say, you can’t watch TV until your paperwork is done.

Now that your work order process is spiffy and of the highest quality, you need to get your technicians to use the new handhelds you purchased. Come on, like that should be difficult…

But, actually, using the handhelds could be a potential hurdle. People don’t respond well to extreme change, especially in a system they’ve been used to for a while. Try starting by explaining the value of handhelds, while also having a manager in charge of handheld setup and tracking the handheld use as it relates to the completion of tasks.

Worried about the environment your technicians are working in? Crowley doesn’t think that’s a problem anymore:

You can still buy the same types of units in wired or docking units, or with wireless connections used with Wi-Fi or cell broadband connections. These units work well, and newer models have much more flexibility in setting up menus, fields, codes, and comments. You can buy these units for all kinds of applications, including wet environments, shock-proof, explosion-proof, and ballistic covers and coatings.

Here is the core of the debate, though: Is the data-quality better on handhelds?

Crowley, until recently, favored paper for a more detailed and flexible method of recording work order data. But now, with the increasing ease of use and functionality smartphones display, he’s finally seeing the light, and being “dragged into the 21st Century”.

Why the change in heart? Crowley explains that we have to assume the handheld is set up correctly. If it is, a technician should finish the day with improved work order and asset data. The comments field may have changed a bit when it comes to detail and information, but even without the comments you might end up with better and more complete and consistent data.

Even with a comprehensive mobile system, discipline and accountability are going to be the game-changers in the end.

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