Why do companies need checklists and forms?
Forms are part of many processes in companies.
Essentially, there are two types of forms: those that serve as pure proof of an activity such as a review, and those that trigger a follow-up process in the business. Depending on the company and industry, there can be as many as hundreds of these types in the service or maintenance area of a company. These include, among other things, maintenance checklists, status assessments or functional tests of plants or checklists for technical objects. The condition assessment of third-party systems, in order to create an offer for maintenance or plant improvement, can be completed in a form.
The digitalization of forms and checklists is an essential step in the electronic maintenance of the maintenance and service process. The advantages of digitization are obvious: On the one hand, this ensures that the technician fills in the right checklist at the right time and can only complete it when it is complete. This is a significant advantage against the background of legally required work processes or contracted services. On the other hand, the office staff no longer has to manually transfer or scan the completed forms or checklists into the backend system. This avoids errors, improves data quality and saves time. By digitally transferring the data to the back-end systems, poor state acquisition values can also trigger earlier machine maintenance, avoiding potential system downtime and downtime (predictive maintenance).
From the paper form to the tablet
Digitized forms make maintenance and service processes much more flexible and adaptable. Updated documents are pulled centrally from the server and updated in the background. This allows updates to be rolled out cost-effectively and efficiently. A contract can also generate a form. If the market requirements change, a company can adapt the contractual services in the form and thus react very quickly and completely.
At the beginning, a company should analyze the starting situation and make an inventory of the existing forms. Then it should be examined whether there are forms that are redundant and can be summarized or on the company in the future even completely dispense. Also, the recipients of forms, such as customers, should be included in this process to accommodate their feedback and needs. In a pilot project, the department should then start with a selection of three to five forms and test them in operation. If necessary, it also makes sense to divide it into pure proof documents without follow-up processes and into "intelligent" forms that trigger another process (see also question 2). The second variant will be much more rewarding in terms of time and cost savings through digitization, unless the amount of pure proof documents is significantly greater.
Factory maintenance with digital forms
Which mobile device is best depends on the circumstances of the input. A service technician who needs to check a transmission tower is better served with a small, lightweight device than with a laptop. However, the more complex and extensive the checklists and forms of a company are, the larger the mobile terminal should be in order to allow a clear input. Tablets as well as convertibles and laptops offer a higher user comfort to create longer free texts with an (additional) keyboard.
Unlike paper forms, their digital counterparts pull data directly from the business process. Therefore, they offer many more possibilities in the presentation and should be redesigned accordingly and not a mere replica of the paper versions. Some digital form solutions
can access the master data of the leading system, such as SAP ERP, via scripts. This has the advantage that many data can be automatically transferred to the form and the technician no longer has to manually fill or select them. These may be, for example, the name of the technician, the order details or the customer name with address. Input fields can also be dynamically generated, for example, based on characteristics or measuring points on the technical object, on measured value acquisition lists or code groups.
Values collected via checklists can be stored both unstructured as a document or file (e.g., PDF) and structured as a record (e.g., a metric) in back-end systems (e.g., Microsoft Dynamics or other systems). Structured feedback can be used, for example, to record measured values (as measurement document at measurement points) or master data (as characteristics for devices) and many more. respectively.
Checklists can be created either manually - for example when creating a job for each asset individually - or through an automation system in the back-end system, that is, with the help of rules and data from the backend (for example, via a maintenance plan at SAP). A maintenance plan contains recurring checks with specific cycle information, such as an annual check, and automatically generates a check request when it is due. The object to be checked is listed in the order header as a technical location (or alternatively as equipment). An inspection lot is generated for this object, which can be viewed and edited as a checklist or form.
Intelligent forms can be used to avoid incorrect entries.
In order to avoid taking over and storing erroneous data, an automatic validation of the values with rules from the ERP system should already take place during the entry. Since this check should also work in offline mode, it is necessary to store these rules in the form as well. Therefore, the intelligent form should have a certain complexity in order to be able to implement comprehensive checking rules that go beyond a mere check of mandatory fields.
The digital form that the technician fills differs from the final PDF form for the customer, which is subject to regulatory compliance or CI compliance depending on the industry and the organization. The editing view is designed to provide a user-friendly, clear and fast input, in which the layout plays a minor role.
To create the layout of the PDF forms, companies can usually resort to a standard design or customize it. With a designer tool, text fields, graphics or tables can be dragged and dropped and formatting done. To adapt to the corporate design of a company, logos and other graphic elements can be easily integrated into the document. Companies can therefore use a paper form as a template in the graphical tool to create the digital version.
Forms and checklists should be treated like the mobile software used for order processing. You should create, maintain and distribute centrally. So, if a software update is distributed by the administrator, the rollout of updated forms should work through a similarly automated, centralized process. Therefore, it is advisable to think early about how updates can be performed efficiently and completely so that they do not unnecessarily hinder the on-site worker's work process.
Forms can be created in different languages and assigned to specific user groups. This ensures that the desired form is displayed, depending on the national language. There is also the option of filling out the form in another language (for example, with defined blocks of text), as ultimately provided to the client. Therefore, at least the descriptive texts should not be "hard-coded" and also variable, depending on whether the technician fills out or prints the form.
Creating simple, static checklists and forms requires basic knowledge of a markup language to represent hierarchically structured data in the form of text files such as XML. After training, this can be done by the specialist department. Depicting dynamic dependencies within more complex forms usually requires developer skills. Because of this, the creation of these forms will be more likely to be done by the IT department rather than the specialist department, or both departments will work together.
When choosing the tool for creating digital forms, companies should consider that for semiautomatic or fully automated forms they need a development environment where they can use test data to check the behavior of the forms and pinpoint errors.
Concrete insight into customer projects and applications can be found in our case studies