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How Mobile Apps are Helping Protect Florida's Waterways

"As trained experts with detailed knowledge of Florida’s waterways, shorelines and deep-water ports, Florida’s harbor pilots protect our state’s ports from harm and ensure the safe passage of ship traffic– 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. We work diligently to maximize the efficiency of Florida’s seaports that serve as hubs for economic growth and stimulus, making their safety and well-being our top priority." -Capt. Stuart Lilly, President, Florida Harbor Pilots Association (http://www.pepilots.com) Following the paper trail Carl Mahler is a state pilot and partner with Port Everglades Pilots Association. His job is to navigate large ships around Florida’s waterways. With close to 4,000 ships arriving into and departing from Port Everglades each year, harbor pilots play a vital role in the field. Their services help prevent sea captains from running aground and causing damage to their ships, cargo, or the surrounding ecosystems. Port Everglades is a $28 billion-per-year economic driver for South Florida, and it only takes one mistake to shut it all down. Ships need expert pilots to help them avoid these potential disasters. As one would imagine, the information and assets required to conduct this process are myriad. Pilots need to be aware of the navigational equipment on each vessel as well as its maneuvering characteristics. If there are deficiencies in a vessel, these details can be noted so other pilots can operate with an enhanced level of safety and efficiency. Careful management of this data means the difference between smooth operations and possible catastrophe. Since 1931, the business was using a paper logbook to track jobs and a notebook to report information about each vessel. This method presented logistical challenges at every step. First, the notebooks were kept in an on-land office, which didn’t allow the pilots to record information in real-time, and meant that sometimes the information simply wasn’t being logged at all. Second, when pilots logged their data, they had to do so by hand after finishing their arduous jobs navigating ships in and out of the port. This led to inconsistencies in how data was recorded, but also accessibility problems. A digital revolution Carl had the idea to use Google Sheets to store the data from the field reporting, and from there he created an operations app with AppSheet’s Google Sheets app builder add-on. One app allows pilots to send vessel information to the database straight through their mobile devices in real-time. This helped automate their workflow and allowed them to complete tasks as they happened instead of from memory.  Carl has customized his app to require that certain information is always recorded, so pilots are not able to move on to the next portion of the data capture form. If a ship doesn’t yet exist in the database, the user must enter that data so that the new ship can be accounted for going forward. The app also allows for image capture, so pilots can provide photo documentation of any additional details.    And with the standardized data entry methods Carl assigned to the app, the team is able to access data easily anytime, anywhere.    “AppSheet has given us the chance to know the capabilities of a ship before we step foot on the bridge. This information is integral in enabling our pilots to work efficiently and reliably, equipping them to maintain our safety record and protect the port as well as the surrounding ecosystem— both of these efforts are immensely important to us,” says Carl.  This blog post was updated on December 4th, 2019.

What You Need to Know About Dispatch & Field Services Optimization

In today’s on-demand economy, more organizations are adding field services to their product lineup. The widespread availability of communications networks and connected devices like smartphones and tablets are enabling and encouraging that. Whether your organization is new to the field services or even if you're an industry veteran, it pays for your company to optimize its dispatch and field service operations. Companies that lag to keep up with these digital innovations will suffer from cost overruns and shrinking margins. And they run the risk of losing rather than building loyalty and wallet share with customers. Mobile apps help organizations that do field work like inspections, installations, maintenance, and repair to better allocate their resources. The AppSheet platform empowers organizations to create their own apps without expertise in coding. On top of that, the apps that are created work across tablets, phones and desktops. Mobile apps provide dispatch and field reporting teams with: Smart technician dispatching and scheduling. Real-time service status tracking. Higher productivity and profitability. Smart Technician Dispatching & Scheduling Mobile apps allow for better resource management by keeping everybody on the same page, regardless of their location or situation. Dispatchers can use apps to create a list of jobs for the day, week, or month. And field workers can find their job assignments and related details of those tasks within the app. Companies can also allow their field personnel to access information like equipment manuals and site-specific requirements and restrictions from their mobile devices. And apps built on the AppSheet platform makes all that information available whether or not a connection is available at that point in time. Field workers face a variety of situations that call for agile and flexible solutions. The standard day for a field service works revolves around unpredictability. Heavy traffic or a flat tire may prevent a field worker from getting to a job. A customer may cancel a call or require emergency service. Specialty equipment may be needed for a job. Mobile apps can help dispatch and field operations more easily adapt to such situations by allowing dispatchers to quickly and easily update assignments and send alerts to workers that require new information. Mobile apps allow for more accountability, less miscommunication, and more efficient use of time and resources. so jobs can get done not only quicker and more safely, but also more securely. Real-Time Service Status Tracking Of course, the ultimate purpose of field service is to address customer needs. That could involve anything from fixing a leaky roof to inspecting a property to installing a new internet connection. When customers are waiting for such things, they like to know what’s going on. Mobile apps can provide field workers with a quick and easy way to log the status of their work. Dispatch and business managers then get real-time visibility into what’s happening in the field. That means account managers and customer service personnel can then more easily access service status and share that information when customers when appropriate. Using mobile apps keeps everyone connected across departments making work more seamless for everyone involved. Status tracking also provides a reliable, time-stamped record of who did what and when. That way businesses and their customers can revisit individual jobs if problems arise down the line. All of this contributes to better customer service. And good customer service and efficient operations adds up to more business and greater profitability. Higher Productivity So much time in a workday can be spent relaying information over phone calls and emails that can be easily displayed over an app. Not only are apps preferable to emails and phone calls, they provide a more secure, more powerful, and more flexible option than paper-based record keeping.  It's surprising how many business are still using paper spreadsheets and forms. Not only do workers have to spend extra time deciphering documents due to non-standardized recording methods, but ironically enough, it's easy for these paper trails to get lost. Mobile apps allow for the standardization and storage of forms and spreadsheets that allows your workers to worry less about understanding what is being asked for or recorded, and more time servicing and reporting out in the field. Mobile apps just generally streamline an organization’s workflow. And that lowers costs and makes businesses run more efficiently and profitably. This post was updated on November 20th, 2019.

Field Inspection: Millicom’s TigoUne Sees Field of Opportunities with AppSheet

Running a communications network isn’t easy and it becomes more involved when it encompasses both fixed and mobile network assets. On top of that, operations and maintenance become even more complex when you’re delivering a broad mix of solutions such as: cloud, data center, internet access, productivity, security, video, and voice services. Supporting this complicated array of infrastructure and services is exactly what TigoUne Telecommunications, a Colombia subsidiary of Millicom, does, and that’s why it wanted to simplify field services as much as possible. It succeeded at doing that with AppSheet no-code technology. The past is paper  In the past, TigoUne field workers conducted audits on paper. After field workers wrote out their notes, they’d store them in a folder. This led to a lot of data being housed through unsecured means, in addition to a variety of physical locations. Having and easy to access app that standardizes the ways workers relay information to one another boosts efficiency. On top of the automation of workflows through mobile apps, it also makes your IT teams' lives easier. When you're dealing with paper documentation, it's easy to get lost or go undocumented. It also created the possibility that the records might never be entered into the system. Having flexible and powerful mobile apps that your field workers can access anywhere boosts productivity. Clearly, this was a less than ideal situation. It was just too complicated. So Sebastian Arango Alzate, TigoUne’s field audit specialist, began looking for a better solution. Automate field reporting workflows First, TigoUne adopted Excel to help streamline the field service audit process. But Excel didn’t have the ease of use Sebastian and his team were looking for. “I was trying to solve our file consolidation problem in Excel but there were still too many manual steps,” he says. So Sebastian continued his quest for the best. “I found AppSheet after searching within the organization and trying free tools like Google Forms,” he says. “In a hall meeting one of the company's managers had solved an inventory problem with AppSheet. I began exploring AppSheet as a possible solution.” After doing some research on AppSheet, Sebastian decided to give it a try. “The AppSheet platform is a secure, stable, dynamic, and economical solution,” he says. It doesn’t require anyone to type in information after the fact, as TigoUne’s initial paper-based process did. It makes information available online in real time, has monitor indicators, the ability to deliver reports via mail, and more. Plus, it’s far easier to populate and change than Excel. But what Sebastian likes best about AppSheet is how easy it is to make and update apps with the platform. “The best feature of our application is the quick modifications that can be made, without going through a long and tedious development process,” Sebastian says. More than 80 people at TigoUne currently use the app created with AppSheet’s platform. It’s employed exclusively for field work audits. The company does audits for about 80 percent of its field operations work—5,600 to 6,700 audits on 5,300 to 6,000 end customers, 35 to 40 mobile network tower sites and 250 to 280 network rollouts per month. “This is the eyes of the organization,” says Sebastian.   About TigoUne TigoUne was created through the 2014 merger of Millicom International Cellular S.A.’s Colombian mobile unit Tigo Colombia and fixed line operator Une-EPM. In Colombia, Tigo is the 3rd biggest market player in mobile, 2nd in broadband and 2nd in PayTV. Its service revenue in 2017 was 1.6 billion U.S. dollars. The company serves small and medium businesses, large companies and government, residential users, and wholesale companies. You can learn more about TigoUne at www.tigoune.com.co, Millicom at www.millicom.com This post was updated on November 18th, 2019.

Mobile Apps Keep I-care ‘Machine’ Running Smoothly

The I-care Group provides machine measurement services to industrial companies around the world. These field services are vital to companies who do business in energy, oil, pharmaceutical, mining, automotive and many other verticals. The company is based in Belgium. It also has offices in Germany, Italy, Spain, Poland, France, Switzerland, the Netherlands, the U.S., and soon Australia. But most of I-care’s 350 employees spend the bulk of their time in the field. These machine doctors, as I-care Group’s Reliability Engineer Julien Grégoire calls them, provide field services  for customer sites and other offsite locations where equipment resides. There they use vibration, infrared, ultrasound, and other tools and technologies to collect data about machine health. The data provided from these field reports is sent back to businesses for analysis. These services help determine what the equipment requires in the way of lubrication, repair, or other maintenance.                                                                    Courtesy of I-care Group                                                                     Searching for Efficient Solutions through Mobile Apps Most of I-care's machine doctors are still using paper and other inefficient software tools to collect their field reports and document assessments. So when Julien became available for a new project, his colleagues asked him to investigate how I-care might improve field workers efficiency. “It was all about saving time in the field and having very accurate and reliable information from the field,” Julien says. “So no more copying from a sheet of paper to an Excel file and then putting the Excel file in the Word and making a report from that.” Designing Apps Specific to Your Needs Julien is very familiar with Excel and Google Sheets. He’s not a software developer. Nonetheless, AppSheet’s no-code platform allowed him to create 10 to 15 mobile apps for I-care. “Now we have very high-performing apps—not just a Google Form,” says Julien, adding his colleagues previously used AppSheet for simple forms, but hadn’t explored the platform beyond that. I-care field workers use one of those apps during vibration analysis of turning machines. “The AppSheet-powered app is not taking vibration data, we have specific tools for that,” Julien explains. “The app helps them taking data from the machine, with pictures and the location as well, some useful information for the health analysis, and some technical specifications.”   Courtesy of I-care Group The app also allows those field workers to generate reports from that data more efficiently, share that information with others, and even access schedules showing what machines they need to visit next. Improving field work efficiency is the main focus area of I-care’s AppSheet efforts. But the company is using AppSheet at the office as well. The company built an attendance app for the office. Workers and visitors enter their information into the app as they come onsite. That way, if there’s ever a fire at the facility, I-care will know what people are in the building and need to be accounted for. Apps Providing Concrete Results Five people have been using the I-care vibration analysis app. The app initially ran as part of a pilot project for a single I-care customer. Julien got the request for this app at the end of September. A first prototype was ready and being tested in November. Beta users then asked for a few changes and upgrades. The app has been stable since December. “They told me they were saving a lot of time in their field program, being able to take measures of more equipments in a day," Julien says. With the app, vibration analysis engineers no longer waste time waiting to access schedules and populate machine measurements into databases and less efficient applications. “I believe that for vibration analysis I-care previously just took the database from the device that makes the measurements,” Julien explains. “But this is very slow and heavy, so they lost a lot of time. For the scheduling we just used some big Google Sheets, and they had to make some filters themselves to figure out what they had to do.” He adds that the photo feature of the app is also beneficial. It allows vibration engineers to take pictures of the machine and draw on those photos to remember the specifics of their visits. I-care expects to make the vibration analysis app available to between 50 and 100 people in the coming months. And I-care uses the office safety app across the organization. In addition to addressing safety, this app makes it easy for people to enter data and helps I-care meet Belgium’s compliance requirements. Creating Your Future These are just a few examples of the AppSheet apps I-care is using or has in development. Julien is also making a lubrication analysis app that’s similar to the vibration analysis app.  He’s also creating a corporate FAQ app at the request of his supervisor. That will deliver answers about internal processes. And it will provide all employees with quick and easy access to people who can assist them with specific questions and challenges. “AppSheet is getting more and more popular within the company,” says Julien, who spends two days a week creating apps. He hopes to transition to creating apps full time starting this year. Creating your apps doesn't have to be a solitary experience either. AppSheet has a robust community forum where fellow creators and AppSheet employees can share and troubleshoot ideas together. Editor's note: Curious to see how I-care Group's work? While we cannot provide those apps, we do have more than 60 app templates for you to copy and customize. These apps work on phones, tablets and desktops, as shown by the Field Services sample app below. On AppSheet Sample App Page, you can filter apps by Industry, Function, or Feature. This blog post was updated on November 12th, 2019.

Five Ways Mobile Apps Boost Field Service Productivity

Are you a field service provider contemplating jumping on the mobile bandwagon? Are you stuck on the fence, wondering if it will provide ROI and actually be worth the effort? Do you want to make your company a mean, lean, providing machine? The good news is that mobile apps empower field service agents to boost productivity, improve service quality, and increase customer satisfaction. These factors combined help provide a higher, more efficient return. Mobile apps are transforming the efficacy of field services across industries. As companies invest in mobile service applications for remote workers, they are seeing excellent results, and mobile apps are now a main IT concern for field service industries such as construction, equipment manufacturing, and other service-focused fields. Here are five reasons to equip your field service technicians with the appropriate mobile tools to help them get the job done right the first time. Use real-time data to make key decisions, and track and assess tasks. Using real-time data with your mobile apps in the field allows techs to collect and sync information with the back office to create an immediate response. Mobile apps provide transparency and accountability in real-time at every step of the service process ensuring customer satisfaction, efficiency, and better outcomes.  Schedule the right technician for each job and connect the team. Using mobile apps that connect to centralized visual scheduling software boosts field service management efficacy. Schedulers can more easily send the best tech for the assignment based on real-time technician location, availability, and skill set, and allows all agents in the field to be connected to each other and to the home office. This real-time connection allows for a more informed, accountable team. Maintain lean spare parts inventory. Using mobile apps to track inventory and compare it to client product needs allow organizations to maintain a leaner spare parts inventory, thus reducing investment in stock that sits around. With a connected mobile app, spare parts consumption is visible from anywhere in the organization: service vans, offices, warehouses, and more. Improve customer relations. Mobile apps provide easy access to field service history, and equipment and repair information, thus helping insure better communication and services with clients. Mobile apps provide records in real-time, on location, resulting in better customer service relationships. Techs using mobile apps can report on-site equipped with the appropriate parts and knowledge of the service history of the equipment, allowing them to do the job quickly and correctly. Enable verification and consistency of completed work. Verify on-site work via photos and signature collection and utilize centralized inspections and field forms to insure consistency. Mobile apps allow techs to document completed work by taking photos on mobile devices and can capture customer signatures for work orders, billing, and other authorizations. By creating mobile apps with standard field forms including checklists, audits, and other fields. Organizations can ensure that their field techs are carrying out their duties in a consistent and efficient manner. The future of field service is digital. Field service management is being revolutionized by mobile apps. These applications provide simple, trackable solutions to workflow such as managing field data and equipment inspections to transporting materials. The oil and gas industry are prime examples for showing the immense growth of  service through the adoption of mobile apps to their platforms. A recent white paper from CDW stated, these companies already face a number of dynamic challenges in their efforts to produce, sell, and distribute energy, and “energy businesses are reviewing their IT strategies and solutions, including their field service mobility strategies. According to Oil and Gas IQ, an energy website, employees in the oil and gas sector are already ahead of this trend, with 71 percent of workers using mobile devices for work purposes. Ultimately, the CDW white paper concluded, “With a choice of mobile devices, capable of anytime, anywhere access to data, IT decision-makers view field service mobility as the perfect vehicle for improving field operations, increasing customer satisfaction and transforming it from a cost center into a differentiating asset – or better yet, a profit center.” And creating unique mobile apps, designed for your specific needs, can take your company further. AppSheet can help develop custom apps to fit your needs. See how you can get started today! This blog post was updated on November 7th, 2019.

Create a mobile app with Geolocation and Google Maps in 5 minutes

  Anyone can build an app. It's our philosophy at AppSheet, and we want to support our citizen developers as they create their own customized apps for their businesses. In our continuing "Build an App" series, we're highlighting some of the most popular uses of our platform. In this post, we're creating a simple app with geolocation and Google Maps. Using your data, you can use this app to identify important locations and how to navigate to them. This app can be utilized in many ways, especially for those businesses that travel to multiple locations to perform services. If you've already created an AppSheet account, you can click on "My Apps" and "Create New Mobile App" to get started. If you haven't signed up yet, click the "Start for Free" button. Next, choose your data source. In this case, we're using Google Sheets, but you can use data from Excel, Dropbox, SmartSheet, Office365, mySQL, and a number of other programs. Click on the data you want to use and upload it into AppSheet's platform.     Everything that will go into our app comes from our spreadsheet. The spreadsheet we're using here has the name of the property, its latitude/longitudinal coordinates (you can also use standard addresses), an image, and any notes about the location (i.e. what services need to be performed there). AppSheet's platform will pull the data and automatically create the app. If you click on the "map view" you can see all the different locations noted with blue dots, indicating all the locations a field service technician would need to visit on that day.     If that's all you need, you can stop there, and you've made your own geolocation app. But if you're looking to add features and expand your app, keep reading. AppSheet has literally hundreds of options available to app creators, so they can build the best app for their business.     For example, you can use the "columns" feature in the app editor to specify what types of columns you have in your spreadsheet and how you want them to function. If you want different columns to act differently (like if you want a column to be searchable or if it has sensitive data) you can customize that. You can learn more about columns here. You can also create "slices" or subsets of the data. Slices can be used in a number of ways, like if you only want certain employees to see certain parts of the app, or if you want to create a UX view with only part of the table data. You can learn more about slices here.     You can also customize how your app looks. If you prefer a list or table view, you can change it in AppSheet's platforms to what makes the most sense for you. You can change the colors and branding to fit your business, and create "formatting rules" that will dictate how current and future data will look in your app. Click here for a step-by-step guide on changing your app's appearance. The "behavior" tab will also tell your app how to respond as tasks are completed. You can customize it to add or delete rows or jump to different views, depending on your preference. You can also create workflows. For example, when a task is completed the app can send out an email notification. It can also generate daily reports for supervisors. You can generate an instant messenger conversation within the app for all employees involved. If you need extra security, you can create a user sign-in feature and determine who has access to the app. You can connect it to various authenticators, like Google or AWS, to ensure the most secure access. You can use as many or as few of these features as you want to make your app uniquely suited to your needs. Learn more about what you can do with the behavior tab here.     Once you've customized the app to your specifications, you're ready to deploy it. On the left side of your screen, click the "Not Deployed" link, and then the button that says "Move to Deployed Status". Your app is now ready to use, and any users you've designated will receive an email notification and can download the app for their mobile or desktop device. Check out this video tutorial for a more in-depth look at the process. If you're not ready to build your own app from scratch, AppSheet has dozens of sample apps you can copy and customize for free to get started.         

Free Apps and Excel Templates for Truck Drivers and Dispatch Managers

Truck and delivery drivers give 'on-the-go' a whole new meaning. In any 7-day period in the U.S., some drivers are on the road for up to 77 hours. Some drivers contract out work, some work for a company, and some own their own businesses. What's the one thing they all have in common, aside from their profession? They all work hard and deserve access to the tools available to help them succeed. According to McKinsey & Company, technology helps workers manage customer demand through remote dispatch monitoring, flexible workforce management, and improved performance management.  We agree and that's why we created several free spreadsheet templates and mobile apps for all those drivers on-the-go! Short on time? Jump to the template you're most interested in: Mileage and Cost Tracker Delivery Tracking Driver Dispatch and Scheduling Mileage and Cost Tracker This mileage tracker spreadsheet keeps track of destinations (End), estimated mileage (Distance (Est, Mile)), actual mileage (Distance (Actual, Mile)), and the cost (Total Cost) of the trip. The Photo column adds a personal element to the sheet. The estimated actual mileage column is green for zero (or less) extra miles, yellow for 0-10, and red for more than 10 miles. The Distance (Est, Mile) links to Google Maps so you can see exactly what the recommended route is too! Bonus: What better way to take advantage of these tools than to turn this mileage tracker into a mobile app? With an app you get a number of "bonus" benefits:  Speed. You can enter the data wherever you are—even offline—making for faster data entry. Fewer errors. No need for paper trails of information before you have time to update your spreadsheet resulting in less data entry errors—especially important when dealing with numbers that can determine cost and payment. Convenience. You don't need to carry your laptop with you—all you need is a mobile phone or tablet. Automation. The app automatically captures the date and time for you—so less time spent entering data! Delivery Tracking Delivery management is fast-paced and time-sensitive. Managing the process is much easier when the information is stored in such a way that the whole team can access it online. Happy customers, happy employees, and a less hectic delivery day. Everybody wins! With this spreadsheet, you can track: Delivery destination and time. Contact person name and phone number. A color-coated delivery status customizable to your preference. Comments on the delivery. Bonus: I love this spreadsheet but one vital component of the delivery experience is missing: signatures. The mobile app we created from this spreadsheet includes all the key components of the spreadsheet with the added signature feature. It's ideal for delivery workers and dispatch managers to update and track progress in real time and the signature denotes that the package was received—a great way to ensure that the delivery was successful. The mobile app version also includes a map, giving delivery managers the opportunity to visualize routes without needing to open another app to figure out exact destinations. Driver Dispatch and Scheduling This spreadsheet is personalized for dispatch managers to view employee hours and manage scheduling. It has sections for each employee and includes their schedule, deliveries, and hours. It also contains a personalizable pivot table for a dynamic and organized view of your data! This template tracks: Hours by day. Weekly hours. Hours per item delivered. Driver shifts. Bonus: Work smarter, not harder. Why not use the technology at your fingertips and turn this spreadsheet into a mobile app? Here are the added features that makes driver dispatch and scheduling so much easier: Calendar view. This calendar includes daily, weekly, and monthly viewing options—making it easier to visualize schedules. Location mapping. The app maps the destinations—making is easier to plan routes. Tracking. Each job number has its own data, delivery status, and customer—making it easier to track the progress of deliveries. By now, I'm pretty sure you've noticed a theme here: the app makes the whole process much easier so why not copy it and start using it today? Personal Note My favorite part about these spreadsheets is how easy it is to turn them into mobile apps. As someone with minimal technical experience, I never thought I could do this. But with AppSheet, I am an app maker! If you have any other favorite dispatch templates or apps, leave the links in the comments below—I am always looking for new spreadsheets or templates to appify! Related Stories: Annual Load Book: An App for Truck Owner-Operators or Fleet Owners How 1-800-GOT-JUNK? Streamlines Junk Removal With a Fleet Management App How to Manage Stock in Excel: Three Free Stock Templates  

Annual Load Book: An App for Truck Owner-Operators or Fleet Owners

Every person’s path to becoming an app creator is different. And every app is unique in its own way. For Annual Load Book owner Jack Bates, this is a story about how a simple app designed to formulate the cost and revenue per mile for each of his trucking jobs became an app that all truckers could use to manage their expenses, calculate the cost and revenue per mile, and share information about food and other services on routes. Like many app creators, Jack started out trying to solve a specific business problem: how to calculate the revenue per mile for a load to determine whether he should take on a job. While the spreadsheet he created calculated the revenue based on all the costs he entered, it was difficult to use when he was talking with freight brokers about loads. Enter AppSheet. Jack used the platform to create an app that he could use on his phone as he was talking with brokers about loads so that he could calculate load costs and revenue in real-time. In the red? Don’t take the load. In the black? Take the load. The app streamlined Jack’s decision-making process and steered him towards the most profitable jobs. On the road, it made his job much easier as he could simply enter expenses, etc., using his phone. And then Jack got a big idea. If the app worked so well for him, couldn’t it work for other owner operators or fleet managers? And that is how the Annual Load Book got its start. To find out more about Jack’s big idea and app that helps drivers calculate their revenue, go here. And if you’d like to see what kind of app you can create using the AppSheet platform, just sign up here to build your app.

How a Great App Platform Helps Support Our Data-Driven Non-Profit

  Fruits and vegetables are a beautiful thing. They’re nutritious and delicious. But nobody ever said they had to be perfect. However, to make it onto grocers’ shelves, produce needs to meet conformity standards. You’d be amazed at the amount of produce that goes to waste simply because it’s not pretty. A gigantic carrot or misshapen onion may be fresh and ready to enjoy, but everything needs to fit just right on a grocery store shelf. And if produce looks a little out of the ordinary it’s headed to the trash heap of history. Grocery stores reject ugly produce. Actually, this food might not even make it that far in the value chain. Knowing grocery stores won’t want it, distributors might not even try to sell it. Sometimes farmers don’t even harvest it in the field. But when they do, distributors and farmers may donate it to food banks. That’s where we come in. What We Do Brighter Bites brings the donated food to families who otherwise wouldn’t have access to fruits and vegetables. We bag it and add tip sheets on how to prepare it. Then we deliver it to families at schools in low-income areas in which affordable produce is hard to find. When families pick up their two bags of fresh produce, we stage food demonstrations and offer snack samples. We also provide recipe suggestions. These gatherings occur at 70 school locations, 16 weeks out of the school year, and during eight-week summer programs. The schools are in Austin, Dallas, and Houston, our headquarter city. Our employees and volunteers also stage demos and distributions at our new schools in Washington, D.C.; New York; and Immokalee in southwest Florida. Our 501c3 non-profit has 30 full-time and 20 part-time employees. We have hundreds of volunteers weekly – mostly parents from the schools, but also community members. And about 15,000 families are enrolled to receive Brighter Bites’ produce and services. A lot of people and resources need to come together to make the program work. But we’re happy to make it all happen, because providing fresh produce and related education to these families is the Brighter Bites mission. So we continue to work to bring our families these important sources of nutrition. And, as part of that effort, we strive to make our organization more efficient and data-driven. That’s where AppSheet comes in. The company now powers about 16 Brighter Bites applications. These applications mean our employees and volunteers can spend more time working with families and less effort on data entry. Data collected with AppSheet-powered apps also is more accurate. Plus, the AppSheet platform provides Brighter Bites and its donors with quick access to the most current information. And they help us in several other areas. I’ll tell you more about all our AppSheet-powered apps in a moment. But let me start by telling you what brought us to AppSheet in the first place. Brighter Bites keeps track of who attends and gets produce, recipe cards, and tip sheets (like how to slice an avocado) at our distribution events. We check in several thousand families on our roster weekly. The distributed produce changes based on what’s available. So we use a roster to track the contents of a standard bag on a given day. We also track the employees and volunteers working each event. Now that we’ve embraced AppSheet, we even track the weather on one of our apps. That helps us understand how storms and other weather events impact attendance at our events. Our Pain Point Prior to adopting AppSheet, Brighter Bites used Excel to track family attendance and bag pickups at our distribution events. Sometimes the spreadsheets were printed out, so workers had to re-enter the data later. That process was error-prone and inconvenient. Some of our schools are an hour or more from our offices, so data re-entry meant data wasn’t immediately available. Other times our workers used computers running Excel. So they spent a lot of time scrolling to the right column and row to input data. And they had less time to interact with our families. But data input errors and on-site inefficiencies were just part of the problem with Excel. Another major issue was that our data was so disorganized. It was everywhere. So creating reports was an extremely painful exercise. As a result, we typically compiled our data just once or twice a year. That meant if our leaders or donors had questions, we’d have to scramble to create a special report, or they’d just wait for the annual report. Brighter Bites is a data-driven organization, so this situation couldn’t continue. We like to know and show that we’re making a positive impact. And when our funding sources – whether it's a private donor or the Department of Agriculture – request information, we need to deliver. A Better Way So, having recently joined Brighter Bites, I decided it was time to centralize our data and improve out input process. We started out using Google Sheets. But then I found AppSheet and realized it was the perfect match for our attendance rosters. AppSheet greatly improves data entry and editing, and access to data. And AppSheet apps can run on a laptop, a PC, or a smartphone. AppSheet allows for quick and easy field-based data input. If no connection is available at a school, it syncs the data when connectivity becomes available. And it offers workflow features like notifications, which are really great. The Power of Notification A big part of my role at Brighter Bites is program fidelity. That means making sure we’re implementing our program correctly and in the same way everywhere. So I like to provide tools to our leadership team that offer updates on our programs in each city. Notifications enable that. We also do a survey at every school distribution. After someone at the event submits the survey, the AppSheet notification feature delivers it to the person who filled it out and to his or her supervisor. It comes to them instantly via email, so they don’t have to search for it. Notifications also allow us to send alerts when we add a new produce items or tipsheets. The roster, our initial AppSheet-enabled solution, and the daily site survey are our two primary AppSheet apps. All our workers use these data-specific apps, as we call them. We also now run various internal apps and research apps on the AppSheet platform. That includes internal apps that allow our employees to request data from our marketing team or help from out IT team. For example, if someone at Brighter Bites is preparing a speech or getting ready to be interviewed by local media, they might use the app to request talking points from our marketing folks. And if a Brighter Bites employee is having computer problems, he or she can use the app to find someone in IT for assistance. This app makes it much faster and easier for people to access the resources they need when and where they need them. Our research apps, meanwhile, help us better understand the effectiveness of our program. Here’s one example of a research effort AppSheet is helping enable. Fifth graders at select schools have enrolled in a study through which we track what they select, eat, and trash for lunch during the school day. We post four research staff in the lunchroom to record this information – one to enter the data and the others help with observation and ensure entered data is correct. The aim is to help us understand whether and to what extent our program is prompting the children of our families to eat more produce. Between 40 and 50 people use our internal applications, 30 to 40 use our data-specific apps, and about 10 use the research apps. They are used every day, constantly. I mentioned we’re in 70 schools, well we’re probably active in 40 or 50 of them at a time. I built nearly all of these applications. For some of them, like the IT help system, I used an AppSheet sample app to get started. Others I created from scratch. In fact, I built so many apps that some people were challenged to keep track of them. It’s funny, I feel like every time I have a problem, AppSheet a week before I contact them about it introduces a solution. In this case the solution was App Launcher. App Launcher is a single app through which people can access other apps, group the apps and sort them by access. People love it. And it helps me too. If I have an update, I just do the update in App Launcher. What’s Next As you can see, we’ve already created a strong stable of apps using AppSheet. But we just keep coming up with great new ways to use the platform to support our efforts. For example, I’m creating an app so we can send customized messages to our families. We plan to use this to inform our families what to expect at select events. News of a specific demo, or that we’ve added a certain fruit or vegetable to our bags, may prompt a family to make the trip out to an event. The app, which will also leverage Google and Twilio technology, will also support one-on-one conversations. That way if a family is running late and needs us to hold their bags, we can do that. We’re also working to introduce a new roster app notification to deliver alerts to our families when they check in at our events. The alerts might be something like “You attended two bag pickups this season. That’s more than 100 servings of produce you’ve received!” I’ve been using the AppSheet platform for a while now. And, as you can probably tell, I’m still pretty excited about it. Here’s why I love AppSheet. They don’t stop releasing new features. With other tools, you buy into it, and there’s silence. But AppSheet continues to innovate. The AppSheet platform has so many uses. The way we work now is that if a need arises, we say “Can we do that within AppSheet?” The answer is almost always yes. Greg Bounds is director of analytics at Brighter Bites (www.brighterbites.org).

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