At Qflow one of our core pillars is to simplify the tracking of materials and waste movements on construction sites, and improve the transparency of each movement’s regulatory compliance. To do this we need to systematically remove the pain-points surrounding data entry of paperwork received at the gate, and in 2020 that means a mobile app which foremen can trust to track deliveries and collections every day.
We have just released version 2.0 of our app, to replace the iOS-only app we’ve offered up to now, and want to share some of the considerations and challenges around building a robust offline-first experience for our customers.
Cross-platform and tablet support
Construction companies come in many shapes, sizes, and levels of technology adoption, and we want to provide a high-quality experience to them all. This means building an app with first-class support across iOS and Android, tablets and phones. To support this effort, we chose React Native as our tech stack, a cross-platform framework which lets developers build an application once and deploy it on every major platform. React Native enables us to rapidly iterate and easily support every platform and screen size imaginable.
Offline first and failure tolerant
Probably the most important design consideration here. Many constructions sites are located away from fast mobile internet, making immediate and persistent internet access challenging. The Qflow app is built to work entirely offline, so users can connect to WiFi at convenient points to upload their data. The app manages this process automatically and can suspend uploads mid-way to make the most of whatever connection is available.
Nobody enjoys having to manually digitise the details from paper notes, and this has historically presented a challenge to teams looking to track the compliance of materials and waste, which is where another key aim of our service comes in. Our machine learning technology automatically transcribes photos of Delivery Notes, saving huge amounts of human effort. Just take a photo of a Delivery Note and Qflow will do the hard work. We’re constantly improving this technology in order to remove human intervention from the process.
Self-contained and secure
Since app’s like Qflow are a new innovation to the industry, and companies are adapting to the use of technology, many foremen use shared mobile devices for tracking. For this reason, storing confidential Delivery and Waste Transfer Notes among shared files is both annoying for users and presents legal challenges for customers. The Qflow app keeps all collected data away from a device’s accessible files, and removes data once it’s no longer required, which ensures the use of shared devices is safe.
Respectful of device storage space
High quality images also take up a lot of space on devices, and many devices (looking at you, android) don’t come with significant amounts of free storage. In order to support offline use, we have to store images locally for some period of time, but the app automatically cleans these up once they’re safely stored in the cloud.
We can’t predict how our app will be used in the wild, and it’s very possible that a single device will be used across multiple projects. The Qflow app is designed to maintain a separate history for each user through the log screen, so users can move between sites and retain their work on each.
Mobile apps are an ideal tool for data collection in the field, and we’ve put everything we learned from version 1.0 of the Qflow app into version 2.0, to produce an even better experience for our users. There’s lots more we want to do in the coming year, such as camera enhancements to help users take good quality photos for automation, and we’re looking forward to hearing your feedback so we can keep learning as we go.