Rugged tablets for agileBase

As a modern cloud-based web application, the agileBase platform has always worked on all manner of devices, from laptops to tablets to phones.

However there’s no doubting that for relatively complex apps built on the platform, the experience on a computer is the best – on a phone for example, there’s more scrolling, swiping and pinching, not to mention reduced typing speed, making tasks a bit slower to complete. That’s fine when looking up info or adding a comment to a record out in the field, but you wouldn’t want to use it for everything all day.

We’ve been mulling over various options for improving the mobile experience for a long time. Recently, we were delighted to get the opportunity to try out some ideas in the real world due to a customer request from Lewis Pies. To go with the introduction of a new purchase ordering system built on agileBase, the Goods In dept. wanted to be able to book in incoming stock quickly and efficiently.

Following some brainstorming and meetings with Lewis Pies staff and partner Little House Consulting, we came up with a solution that’s gone down really well and which MD Wilf Lewis is ‘really excited about’.

tablet_small
The system in use in the Lewis Pies warehouse

In brief, the system replaces the standard ‘form’ interface with popup prompts designed specifically for mobile use. These new prompts mean that only one tap on the screen is necessary to kick off data entry for a number of fields, which pop up one after the other. Each prompt has large text and a specific keyboard or data entry type used on the tablet (for dates, numbers etc.). A massive amount of time is saved compared to having to scroll around, tap into fields, hide the keyboard in order to find other fields etc. Help text is shown for each data entry prompt.

How does this fit into their working day? Neil George, Company Platform Developer describes the process:

Goods in will operate by replacing the current paper system with the tablet solution:

  1. use the agenda calendar view to action each goods in record which needs to be assigned to a booking in slot or not.

  2. use the tablet interface to complete technical and vehicle checks of overall order.

  3. book in each delivery line by using field prompts of quantity, quality check, expiry date, batch code and sign off.

  4. each line has a unique ID which is used throughout the technical traceability system.

  5. sign off delivery by photographing and uploading the delivery note provided.

All delivery data is now accessible at a click of a button!

How can this be applied to other situations?

Facilities like these can be used by many other customers and applications that may require tablet devices.

As an administrator, to try it out, just tick the ‘required’ or ‘prominent’ tickboxes for any fields that you want prompted under a tab. Then, when a user clicks on a row under the tab, all those fields will be prompted for immediately. This feature appears only when a tablet or other mobile device is used, and only when a row is selected in a tab.

Ruggedised tablets

Finally, being used in a warehouse environment means a certain amount of protection is necessary for the devices themselves. Lewis Pies are grateful to Tetratab for providing devices to help when developing and testing the system.

Addendum – options for mobile apps

Here are some of the options we considered before building the above. Although this time we went for the third option below, all options are always under consideration for future developments in our roadmap and we may well revisit them for further developments in future.

Creating a native mobile ‘app’

Pros

  • Apps are typically seen as providing the best possible performance and user experience, if well designed

Cons

  • Expensive and time consuming to develop
  • The need to create and test two variants, one for Apple iOS and one for Google Android devices
  • Reduced flexibility – agileBase’s three core characteristics are ‘fast’, ‘friendly’ and ‘flexible’. Flexibility is the main killer here. In agileBase, adding a field, altering a view or tweaking business rules is as easy as pie, but those changes could break any app which relies on a fixed way of working

Building a bespoke web app for a particular purpose

In this case, that would be building a bespoke ‘goods in’ user interface, separate to the standard agileBase interface, perhaps using the API to communicate with the main system

Pros

  • Relatively quick development
  • The ability to tailor the user experience for the particular needs of the users

Cons

  • Lack of re-use. The app would have no life beyond it’s relatively narrow use case
  • The app would need maintenance and support in addition to the the main system

Adding mobile-only features and changes

In the end, this is what we went for, as described above.

Pros

  • Very quick development
  • Can potentially benefit many use cases, not just the one app under consideration

Cons

  • The initial solution may not fit all needs, further development may be needed for some other applications.

We look forward to working with other customers on mobile interfaces – please get in touch if you have any ideas you’d like to try out!

 

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