Tablet As Building Engineering Tool, Part 5: The Business Of Engineering
From ideas to expense report, the last installment in this series looks at some needs in the course of standing engineering business, and what the still relatively new world of apps is offering up to meet them.
On my recent travels, I noted the seas of tablets that are now installed at several prominent airports. Several of the terminal areas at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport are graced with hundreds of iPads tethered to counters and tables in gates and concessions. Travelers can check email and social media as well as their flight’s status, or order beverages, food, and products from airport concessions. It’s yet another application of tablet technology, but this one aimed at travelers, whether for business or otherwise, enhancing convenience and streamlining business transactions.
This common thread of enhancing convenience and productivity can be realized through the use of a number of apps that can be applied to everyday business. I like to think of them in three categories of action:
- Stay connected
- Manage and track
- Capture notes and ideas
- Stay secure
Staying connected to clients, colleagues, and project teams is essential, and since this is one of the foremost purposes of mobile devices in the first place, a cadre of apps support and enhance this primary capability. There are of course the app versions of the online meeting world, GoTo Meeting and Cisco WebEx. And Microsoft Office for iPad or Office Mobile for Android make it easy to stay connected and to work on the fly. If your organization uses Lync, the Lync 2013 app in particular offers complete workplace connectivity. The LinkedIn app is handy for broader networking and maintaining connections to colleagues.
There are also some apps that make staying engaged with work just a little easier. Let’s take, for example, the need to sign time-sensitive documents. The app HelloSign enables you to sign and send documents from your mobile device and directly from your email.
Manage and Track
We all could use additional help when it comes to managing our time, projects, and expenses. It is often challenging to stay on top of keeping timesheets up to date or submitting expense reports. There are many technology solutions available, and here are a couple that I have found to be useful. Concur, a leading travel and expense system, offers apps in both iOS and Android form. I can take snapshots of receipts with my phone and they show up a moment later to be added to an expense report. Say goodbye to piles of paper receipts stowing away in your suitcase. In a similar manner, Deltak Vision offers an app to accompany their comprehensive ERP solution for professional services firms, giving you one less excuse for not having filled out your timesheet.
Capture Notes and Ideas
One of the most significant challenges and correspondingly greatest benefits for me of smartphone and tablet apps is the ability to investigate resources before they are lost, or to capture ideas when they occur. This can be done a variety of ways with various apps, and here are a few favorites.
I regularly use Microsoft OneNote, essentially a digital notebook, as a work journal and repository for project notes, resources, and ideas. The app synchronizes with the application on my PC, making it easy to work on one platform or another. Furthermore, it is integrated with Microsoft Office, making it easy to share items amongst the various applications. I also mentioned Notability in the past as an excellent note-taking application. Many people are fans of Evernote as well, as a means for journaling and capturing every detail in business and life.
With recent notorious security and data breaches in the news, many of us are concerned about security of our data, emails, messages, and conversations. A recent New York Times article, “Privacy Please, Tools to Shield Your Smartphone,” offers a variety of apps that encrypt data and/or voice, yielding secure exchanges on mobile devices. While not perfect, the apps listed below provide more secure communication options on your existing devices if you need them.
Since this is the last installment of this series, I would like to make some final notes on mobile device platforms. For much of this series, I made reference to iOS apps as the bulk of my experience was with Apple devices. However, I recently changed jobs, and with the new job came a brand new Android smart phone, a HTC One. After I got over the initial disorientation that comes with a new device that one relies heavily on, I have come to really appreciate it and the Android platform. Both iOS and Android devices do many of the same things; however, they do not do all of the same things as well as one another, with each having its inherent strengths and weaknesses. In any case, I am very much looking forward to exploring much of the same ground covered in this series, but from the Android perspective. It has been my pleasure sharing this series with you and I hope that it has been helpful, and that you will continue to explore applications of the latest tools and technology in making your work more productive and enjoyable.