On Nov. 18th I attended a workshop hosted by Sitka, StreamNet, and PNAMP to learn how their many regional partners were using mobile devices for field data collection and even enforcement on streams, wetlands, and nearshore waters.
It was fascinating to hear people share their experiences working with a wide range of mobile data collection platforms, many for the first time, including Open Data Kit, Fulcrum, Formhub, iFormBuilder, ESRI Collection, and other custom solutions. I had researched many of these platforms over the previous two years while we were designing our Digital Deck product at Point 97, and this was an opportunity to learn how far they had come, how far people were able to take them, and where they fell short.
The most versatile platform, if not the most visually polished, seemed to be iFormBuilder. Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife were using it to deploy a variety of applications for offline data collection including sampling surveys and inventories on iOS and Android phones and tablets. They were also using it for enforcement and making using of external hardware including bar code scanners and printers all powered by bluetooth. It’s impressive what iFormBuilder has accomplished in terms of hardware integration. It really sets them apart from other platforms.
Where all of these platforms fall short is protocol standardization and data synthesis. Like Point 97, Sitka Tech is keen to focuse on these areas, and create a software solution that lets you design surveys with a strict protocol, and then aggregate and synthesize the results to provide insights and value. All in a single automated package. That said, Sitka is creating their software on the iOS platform with limited support for external devices like PIT tag readers, scanners, and printers that many agencies are interested in. Time will tell if they’ll be able to evolve in these areas.
There was a lot of heated discussion about the fact that each agency seemed to be rolling their own solution and in many cases reinventing the wheel. Why aren’t people sharing their solutions with each other? One person pointed out that in some cases they do make their solutions available, but no one takes it, opting to create their own solution. In my experience that doesn’t mean that there isn’t some knowledge transfer going on. As a developer, I will often look through other people’s code, and as a designer I will often study other peoples UI’s and end up borrowing the best ideas. I think a great next step would be for everyone to be more transparent and vocal about what they’re doing and showing their work for others to see. That way best practices are distributed more quickly and innovation happens faster.
This workshop is expected to be held again next year. Looking forward to it.