I recently performed some research for a customer which I thought would be worth sharing more generally. I was amazed at what a cost effective solution this can turn out to be.
We are very excited about how this technology can interact with Microsoft Flow to trigger specific actions while on the move. (We will outline what we see as the value of Flow in a future blog). Link to Microsoft Overview
An accurate way to log working hours at external sites
The client was looking at a cost-effective way of capturing the time spent by their contractors at a particular location while carrying out work for them.
This is something that a range of companies could find useful; cleaning companies, landscaping, maintenance contractors all have a finite number of locations which people visit regularly and would find it useful to accurately track time spent at each place. So, we set about creating a system to achieve it.
Naturally, as we were creating a system to log movement, we thought of mobile phones.
We then started to think about how to record movement data using mobiles.
The obvious answer seemed to be to record GPS information by tracking a phone. However, a stumbling block with this system is ensuring consistent access to that information: I can testify to issues within old buildings (home and office) and some more remote areas. Also, it’s fair to say that some people find the thought of being tracked via their phone uncomfortable.
We then considered using Barcode or QR code reading capabilities, but a simple photocopy could provide an opportunity for spoofing the system.
Deciphering cardless technology
So, our thoughts turned to cardless technology.
To make this work, we needed to get the cardless technology to operate in the reverse to standard usage. Traditionally, you have a static recording device and a mobile data provider (the contactless debit/credit card); our case required a static data provider with a mobile recording device (the mobile phone).
I had an interesting and informative hour researching and getting to grips with this, although my feeling at the end of this is that a 12-year-old would have said: “Duh! Didn’t you know that?” (see the YouTube videos on smart tags; it seems fairly mainstream).
After deciphering the usual tech jargon, I discovered the right words to use and Googling was simple.
The process of gathering data from smart cards appears to be widely known as Near Field Communication (NFC) and it uses a technology called Radio-frequency identification (RFID).
We believe that there is mileage in using Smart Tag technology. A static tag can be configured with data and a mobile phone can read that data.
In the “clocking” example, a unique identifier can be configured on each Smart Tag and the tags can then be placed at the location to be read by an app on the mobile phone. The clocking action would be recorded on the mobile phone and stored until such time as the phone can connect with a service to receive messages about clocking events.
Note that the ability to read smart tags has to be built into a device, and even Apple avoided doing it until iPhone 6. For a list of NFC-enabled phones click here
An important consideration when developing apps for mobile devices is that different apps are needed for each family of devices: Apple, Android, Blackberry and Windows.
It is possible to build apps that work across platforms, but they tend to support only the lowest common denominator of device capabilities. I feel that NFC functionality is not yet in that bracket (for example, cameras were not but can now be considered in the class of lowest common denominator: their availability is now standard and not a differentiator when selling devices).
This makes mobile applications for use in a diverse device environment more expensive to produce (unless devices are provided by the employer, in which case a single device family can be used).
To make this simpler, we use a development platform called Xamarin for developing mobile applications. Xamarin attempts to combine the productivity of cross platform development with easy use of device-specific extensions, and it does it with a good degree of success.
We are always interested in exploring new and innovative ideas for using technology to improve business processes. If you want to chat about any ideas you may have or to discuss frustrations that you think could be sorted by newer technologies please give us a call.
These YouTube videos informed the idea: