Glyn-re-touch-small-BWGlyn Cunnah, head of business development at Footprint Solutions, 

 Any organisation that employs a mobile workforce is looking for two things: cost effectiveness and remote access to real-time information. For decades the digital pen has enhanced the standard of service for staff operating out in the field in sectors such as healthcare, utilities and facilities management. It streamlined data capture for mobile workers, reducing the frustrating delays associated with paper trails and slow back office processing.

Despite an initial flourish for market-leading manufacturers such as Anoto, technical advances have bolstered new technologies in the field of mobile working, and uncovered the significant cost of distributing and running digital pens across an entire mobile workforce.

So how can organisations improve efficiency and remote information capture without incurring significant upfront costs? With a history of providing both digital pens and web-based platforms to our customers, I have come to the conclusion that tablet solutions are fast becoming worthy successors and an indispensable upgrade for mobile workers.

Making the move to digital

The fundamental objective for digital pens and tablet-based solutions is to make mobile reporting more efficient and cost effective. Historically, mobile workers have been reliant on filling out paperwork by hand before scanning them into the computer to retain a digital copy, a process that is both time consuming and costly.

The digital pen works by capturing handwriting using a small in-built camera, which is then transmitted to head office within seconds. The digital pen is suitable for forms that need to be left on-site with the client, or where a paper receipt (i.e. carbon copy) of a form is required for a client record.

By the same token, tablet-based solutions convert paper forms into digital copies; eliminating paper processes – and the associated cost and time consumption – for maximum efficiency. As a mobile worker, this technology allows you to collect and send data almost instantly, actively reducing administration overheads in scanning and manual data-input.

While both solutions offer mobile capabilities, the real test lies in the overall cost of implementing and running the solutions on a larger-scale; this is where tablet-based platforms excel above and beyond digital pens.

When the ink runs dry

If you are looking for the most cost effective and accurate solution for mobile workers, then it is time to reconsider your association with the digital pen.

For the purposes of illustrating the point, did you know that it costs over £290,000 to supply and run 40 digital pens over three years? In fact, printing charges alone can reach over £260,000 over the same time frame. Although the digital pen has been proven to streamline the paper process and its associated costs, it does incur unexpected weighty expenses. A typical NCR pad – specially designed for the digital pen to understand the location of written material on the page – costs £27.50 for 100 pages. Therefore, in order for one worker to complete 30 jobs a day for a month, NCR pads will typically set a company back £165.

There are also issues with accuracy too. Handwriting recognition can often fall short, requiring data validation later on. Mistakes have to be corrected soon after as the user has no real-time visibility of the conversion. So, writing in a rush or with a scribbled form can affect the efficiency of the service. In addition, any photo attachments or barcodes cannot be pre-populated on the form, meaning the worker has to return to base to retrieve all relevant information.

Why tablets are the best medicine

Given the measures most organisations are employing to save money, it is important to identify areas for improvement without affecting the standard of service given to customers. This is where the tablet remedies the digital pen’s weaknesses.

In terms of cost effectiveness, tablet-based digital forms eliminate the need for expensive printing. Instead, a one-off set-up and registration cost is all that is needed for a tablet solution, with no recurring costs associated with the product. Indeed, the service boasts a 79% cost reduction over paper based reporting, which would typically equate to a saving of £56,000 per annum; a significant margin for any company.

It is a smarter product, too. Data capture is both accurate and intelligent, with no need for later verification. Pre-populated forms can be sent to workers in the field for a more up to date service, and a database of templates can be accessed anywhere without prior notice, removing the need to postpone or lengthen the process.

Unlike the digital pen, media can be easily attached to a document, with workers being sent or adding photos and voice memos to specific forms. Also, with the advantages of the tablet, calculations are automatic for data collection forms such as travel and expense claims. In short, the tablet addresses the issues raised by the digital pen while also multiplying the benefits for the mobile workforce.

Tablet platforms can also be easily updated to ensure your customers are getting the most advanced solutions on the market for complete visibility and in some cases increased safety and security, with the added benefit of lone worker protection.

The tablet is mightier than the pen

Migrating away from the digital pen in favour of a tablet-based solution is the best decision for companies that have employees who spend a considerable amount of time interacting with customers in the community. Web and app-based platforms can make light work of mobile working processes, such as data capture, payment collection and service enquiries. So while the digital pen may dry, the tablet offers endless possibilities.