Paperless data collection

Last updated on May 13th, 2019 at 02:33 pm

When managers at CleanPower LLC, a Wauwatosa-based commercial cleaning service, filled out their quality assurance inspection forms by hand, they had to complete a tedious form with several questions typed in a small font, said Jeffrey Packee, president and chief operating officer for the company.
The handwriting on those forms was difficult to decipher, and the information was inputted into CleanPower’s system, but never easily accessed. Because CleanPower is graded every day by the cleanliness of the building, the inspection forms were crucial when a customer wanted to know if and how they were being taken care of, Packee said.
CleanPower began working with Centare Group Ltd., a Brookfield-based custom software development consulting firm, after testing various off-the-shelf products for automating the paper-based process, Packee said. CleanPower realized that the only way to automate the quality assurance process was to customize a mobile framework to fit its unique business needs. The company is currently in its first quarter using the Centare Mobile Framework (CMF).
Using Pocket PCs, CleanPower employees can use a drop down and touch screen to quickly move through a cleaning inspection, enter information accurately while walking and still have the ability to customize the inspection with comments, Packee said.
CMF is a customized application that is compatible with any Windows program, said Edward Chaltry, partner and chief technology officer of Centare Group. Like any electronic collection of data, CMF can instantly organize inputted information and convert data into colorful and understandable charts and graphs, he said.
"The true indication of our inspection is how we are scoring the cleaning," Packee said. "We knew that by taking (the inspection) off of a laborious form and making it alive, real and moving with data charts, we would be able to build a better field with where we stood in cleaning."
Paperless automation can reduce error and overhead cost, expedite cash flow and improve customer satisfaction, Chaltry said.
"Seeing trends for us is critical because a supervisor may not realize there was a complaint in one area twice in two months," Packee said. "If there is a concern in one area (the application) keeps track and provides ongoing reminders so you don’t have to rely on someone’s memory."
Centare has developed affordable, customized mobile applications for companies including CleanPower and LLC, a Milwaukee and Web-based photo classifieds and dealer inventory for automobiles, Chaltry said.
Developers realized that although the only similarity between the two companies was the need for a mobile framework, the process of transferring data from the device to the back end server was the same. CMF has now been on the market for two months and Centare Group plans to introduce additional features in the coming months, Chaltry said.
Currently in the market, customers seeking customized mobile frameworks can find that the investment is too expensive or that off-the-shelf products do not meet the company’s needs, Chaltry said.
"Three years ago, if we wanted to write a mobile application, it would require major software development because the technology was not as advanced," Chaltry said. "Today, our goal is to make software a smaller investment for a company, and so we have made our software affordable."
Basic implementation of CMF begins at $10,000 for the software, Chaltry said, in some cases making the investment in hardware the largest cost of implementation. The software works on any product with Windows, including Tablet PCs and laptops, Chaltry said.
Hardware costs range from $200 for a Pocket PC to $4,000 for an industrial quality handheld device, Chaltry said. The price for the CMF is per product, but per user licenses are available for clients that will have many users.
Jim Maslowski, vice president of business development for Centare, said purchasing CMF is similar to buying a car.
"Every car has a frame and basic components and everyone has the option to upgrade to leather seats," he said. "(With CMF) Centare provides the frame and basic components, and it is up the clients to decide what other features they want."
Companies that do not wish to purchase the handheld devices can lease the equipment, which can reduce the upfront cost significantly for the company, Maslowski said. sought out a customized mobile framework that was easy to use and automatically organized information, said Andrew Salamone, president of currently services about 150 dealers across three states and before implementing CMF, employees would visit each dealership to collect information and photos of the dealer’s inventory, Salamone said.
Since implementing CMF four months ago, can now rent the industrial quality handheld device with a Wi-Fi enabled camera to dealers to take photos of cars, vehicle identification numbers (VINs) and to collect information about each vehicle in the dealer inventory, Salamone said. previously used a digital camera and a PDA that were not connected, and the information did not always match the photos, he said.
"If a guy is in the field all day taking photos of cars, it is a hassle to manually label the photos," Salamone said. "And if the system did not work properly, which happened frequently, we would end up with 800 photos not labeled properly. We had to figure out which photo went with which car and sometimes had photos of 80 steering wheels. It was a big mess."
Working with industrial handheld devices allows to scan the VIN as a bar code. The CMF software allows the camera to automatically connect a photo with a VIN and to store more information in databases including cubic feet, towing capacity and the engine horsepower of a vehicle without error, Salamone said.
"The investment from our standpoint makes us more efficient, but the big thing is that it opens us up to a national market where we were previously limited to a certain geographic region," Salamone said. "Clients want the ability to (take photos and collect information) themselves and now we can work with a client anywhere."
CMF can be a fit with any company that has not automated a process in the past because of the mobility of employees or from a lack of technology knowledge, Maslowski said.
"Fieldworkers that deliver services or products to a house will typically use a paper-based form to gather information," Maslowski said. "At the end of the day, they may have a stack of invoices that they take back to the office and hand over to an administrator. The administrator may be collecting invoices from 16 different people and then entering the information into a system for billing and finally the invoice goes out to the client. We go directly from the first step to the business billing system."

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Elizabeth Geldermann is a reporter for Small Business Times. Send technology news to her at
or by calling her at (414) 277-8181, ext. 121. Technology news can also be sent to: Elizabeth Geldermann, Small Business Times, 1123 N. Water St., Milwaukee, WI 53202.

May 13, 2005, Small Business Times, Milwaukee, WI

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