The dream of the paperless office has been around for decades, but sometimes it feels like it’s further away than ever.
Even if you’ve managed to do away with paper invoices and receipts, there are probably still times when you need to reach for printed documentation in a folder on the shelf.
It might not ever be practical to completely eliminate the printed page from your work day, but it’s still worth considering where improvements can be made.
If you rely on folders full of regulations, manuals or schematics then digitising it all could offer a serious productivity boost. Converting reams of paper into PDF files makes them easier to store, search, share and update. It also makes it easy to backup, as shelves full of paper are obviously vulnerable to fire and flood. If your office sprinklers went off today, how much of a hassle would it be to replace everything on your office bookshelf?
Going digital makes even more sense if you’re forced to take all this documentation on the road, such as schematics and manuals for onsite maintenance and repair jobs. Whether you’re working on Itanium servers or diesel engines, having the right documentation at your fingertips can save you a trip back to the van or, worse yet, back to the office. Even if it only saves you 10 minutes on every job you do this week, the numbers add up and there might be a clear business case for digitising your documentation.
If you are contemplating issuing tablets to your mobile workforce there are several things to consider before you take the plunge. It’s also worth running a pilot to iron out the kinks before you roll out a business-wide solution.
A tablet which leaves the office needs to be rugged, especially if it’s going to live in the toolbox of a lift mechanic or structural engineer. Apple’s iPads might offer a slick user experience, but they’re far from sturdy. It’s worth considering rugged Android and Windows alternatives. If you do settle on iPads, a sturdy carry case is a must – perhaps something which is water and dust proof. Also allow for grubby hands and test out a few protective skins for the screen.
The next thing to consider is power, as a flat tablet is basically an expensive paperweight. These days you should get a full day out of many tablets, but it’s worth thinking about where they’ll charge overnight, and perhaps in-vehicle chargers for top ups during the day.
You also need to consider how you’re going to manage the files on your tablet. Dumping a bunch of PDF files into a basic PDF reader app might be practical if you’re a sole operator, but if you’re managing a fleet of tablets then you’ll want to be more systematic about it, to ensure that potential productivity gains are actually realised.
Applications such as GoodReader for iPad have the ability to sync files with cloud services such as Dropbox, SkyDrive, SugarSync and any WebDAV, AFP, SMB, FTP or SFTP server. You’ve also the option of syncing individual folders and files. Central management of your files makes it easier to manage document revisions, so you can ensure that everyone is on the same page.
From here you can look at a range of enterprise-grade document management solutions which also include extra security features for handling sensitive materials.
If you’re breaking your back lugging around printed manuals and schematics then perhaps it’s time to take a tablet to ease the pain.
David Hancock is the founder and managing director of Geeks2U, a national on-site computer repair and support company.