By Nikki Cummings, President of World Wind & Solar
Forms play an essential role in the operations of construction and field services in the solar industry. In an age where mobile devices are prevalent and cloud-based storage solutions are readily available, paper forms—while still widely used—prove to be time consuming and decrease workflow efficiency. They are cumbersome, vulnerable to human error and difficult for digital systems to process. The flow of every business process is extremely efficient and effective with paperless systems, and those in the solar industry should consider moving away from paper-based systems.
The use of mobile forms, also known as smart business forms, reduces time and costs and more accurately stores and analyzes information using instant, real-time facts and figures. Mobile devices like iPads can easily capture “modern” information like GPS coordinates and mobile photos. This data then becomes instantly shareable with other systems. It is also instantly searchable, which saves greatly on administrative costs and time.
Consider a solar technician out on a remote job site, perhaps inspecting solar panels and recording data. The job becomes time consuming and awkward with paper forms in hand. The technician would be tasked with carrying a clipboard, stopping to record information on multiple paper forms and making calculations. The employee then needs to return to his vehicle to secure the forms, finish completing them and finally find a place to scan or fax them to the main office. Using a paperless system with a mobile device immediately eliminates this once clumsy assignment and documents more complete data.
Paperless inspection forms offer greater efficiency and accuracy. These forms are most often used to document a visual examination of a jobsite, a vehicle or even a particular piece of equipment. Unlike its paper counterpart, the mobile version gathers and organizes data so it can be reviewed post-inspection more efficiently. The inspector can instantly take a picture and upload the image along with the paper-free form, augmenting the written descriptions with greater accuracy and visual backup, pinpointing exact locations using the device’s GPS system.
Not only can employees document their findings on the job more accurately and efficiently, but a paperless system is also a great way to green business. A paper-based system uses an inordinate amount of paper and printing ink. These papers then sit in a file cabinet, taking up space, adding to the wasteful process of maintaining paper files.
When we at World Wind & Solar made the decision to move from paper to paperless, part of what we opted for was a system from GoFormz, which we’ve found to be relatively easy and convenient. Their smart data system integrates with hundreds of other software systems, such as QuickBooks, Box and ServiceMax, allowing form data to be automatically saved into these additional support systems. Furthermore, this system also works offline which is imperative when many jobs are in remote locations. It seamlessly syncs when it’s back online.
While the benefits of smart, mobile business forms certainly outweigh the challenges, they hesitations are worth addressing. Organizations considering the switch to paperless forms are typically concerned they will need to develop a new mobile app, thus adding time and additional cost into the process. However, most paperless services are readily available to download and install with a few button clicks.
“Anyone can download our mobile app and use the GoFormz platform to create a mobile form that looks exactly like your existing forms. Because the mobile forms are a replica of the paper versions, little to no training is required, and existing workflows and processes are preserved,” said Ren Chin, vice president of marketing at GoFormz. “The forms and data are instantly stored in our cloud storage system, which reduces costs and frees up administrative time. Since it’s all digital, you can easily run reports and analytics on your mobile forms instead of having to hunt around in files.”
For those still wanting to use paper in some instances, there is an option to save paperless forms as PDFs and process them manually.
Another concern might be that a new, mobile system is an unsafe place to store information. To alleviate these concerns, the mobile forms and data are stored within an encrypted system with multiple redundancies to back up information.
According to Chin, there are eight mobile forms every solar field service and construction contractor should consider starting going paperless with:
- Time tracking sheet
- Service report/work order
- Behavior-based safety observation form
- Quality assurance documents
- Invoice/change order/time and materials requests
- Near miss/incident/injury and illness reporting documents
- Inspections forms such as: vehicle, safety equipment and tooling documents
- Site audit documents
A final concern about moving from paper to paperless is the testing and internal implementation of the system. We have found that assigning a technologically savvy point person who will dig her heels in to first learn the system inside and out and then take the lead to drive the initiative and manage priorities, is the best way to efficiently accomplish such a huge task. A “how-to” manual and beta test group creates an opportunity to work out kinks in the information flow and fix any issues before rolling the system out company-wide. This person could also lead the training and testing of programs so the team isn’t frustrated when it’s time to implement the paperless system.
Businesses are only as smart as the infrastructure in place to support themselves. In an ever-changing society led by technology, the best way to proceed is with paperless forms because they reduce costs, save time, increase accuracy and leave customers and employees happier and more productive.