Over the past two years, I have been preaching the use of handheld computers when on-site, whether you are touring the facility as part of a the design phase, construction phase, surveying for energy or equipment condition assessment, or O&M assessment. In this computer age, pretty much everything we document is done through the use of software. Now we can bring our software with us when we leave the office by bringing along a handheld computer. This technology is further enhanced when the conveniently sized unit has a bar code scanner attachment. Integral with the use of a handheld computer application should be a scanner that can efficiently open the door to a wealth of information particular to the role of the person holding the computer.

Course Correction

Today I'm recommending a course correction that you could call, "Plan B" with the introduction of the tablet computer. Why the change in technology? Simply put, a tablet computer has all the benefits of a handheld, but it comes with a larger screen to view the document on the computer. Yes, this other computer is equally as easy to handle, relatively rugged, and can be recharged on the job site. Most importantly, you can still use a bar code scanning to bring up the files associated with the piece of equipment, valve, or room bar code. In the grand scheme of things, this handy business tool offers a larger, user-friendlier computer monitor that makes the application easier to use.

While both the handheld computer and the tablet computer can accommodate touchscreen applications when using these handy devices, it is the wider viewing screen that makes the Plan B equipment easier to use. For our group, we have been able to download into the tablet any and all of our standardized checklists when completing a facility survey, energy survey, construction inspection, project closeout, or PM workorder. The range of application is as diverse as your file directory. The touchscreen application increases speed of documentation and accuracy of the documentation, and it reduces and/or eliminates the manual checklist's need to input the information again on the computer back at the office.

Tomorrow's Engineer, Today

The endorsement and use of portable computers complements both this column's philosophy and this magazine's vision that our industry embrace the use of today and tomorrow's technology while encouraging the archiving of those lingering 20th-century business procedures. With our "CMMS Ready Challenge," a bar code scanner can easily upload the equipment data, operation, procedures, maintenance procedures, CAD drawing locating the equipment, and/or showing the system flow diagram. With handheld technology in the form of a tablet computer as the vehicle delivering the software files, business documentation beginning in the design phase, proceding through the construction phase, and ultimately ending up in the hands of the building manager can be seamlessly enhanced and passed on, rather then lost along the way.

A good example of this is the transfer of a design phase database, such as a room finish schedule to the contractor. The contractor then grows this inventory of rooms to a bar coded room database for documenting project closeout punchlist observations. While the contractor is using the database in one way, the building owner can employ a co-op student to inventory and bar code furnishings located in each room into the same database. All this can happen before the first person moves into the new building on day one of occupancy. The benefit is a time management method of transforming the design phase database to eventually an asset database for the financial community, as well as for the facility management community working within this new building.

Maximizing Efficiency

Today, we are capable of capturing pertinent information on our computer on-site during the day and attaching this information to an e-mail for immediate sharing of information at the end of the day. Heck, we are now capable to document, through touchscreen software, our on-site commissioning process when observing the functional performance test demonstration and issuing the system results that evening for quick corrective response by the trade contractors. Time is money for all parties involved with designing, construction, and maintaining buildings.

It is important to remember today that we produce all our documents using computer software, digital cameras, and CAD. The days of pencil and paper are gone, and Plan B should be the tool of choice for our industry in the immediate future. We should recognize how useful and mobile we can be when employing this computerized business tool if we choose the right computer as we leave for the job site. What is needed to occur now is to make that a very large culture change to further embrace computer technology. Who knows when Plan C will appear on the horizon? ES