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Hard Yakka: Choosing a mobile device tough enough for the job

Sara Howard
Smarter Writer

As a business owner and writer, Sara Howard has first-hand experience in marketing, cash flow management and technology

Sara Howard
Smarter Writer

As a business owner and writer, Sara Howard has first-hand experience in marketing, cash flow management and technology

Today’s tradies need to dedicate a slot in their tool belts for what is becoming their most important tool – their mobile or tablet.

Mobile technology has revolutionised the way we live and work – even on a construction site where traditionally information technology has had no place.

Construction man on tablet Construction sites need tech that can handle the tough conditions.

Now that we’re connected 24/7, expectations are changing. Embracing mobile technology can help your company’s job profitability and efficiency.

When 2015 Telstra Northern Territory Start-up Award winner Plumbing NT switched to mobile technology in 2013, they went from the pain of
paper-based systems to streamlined cloud-based systems, and never looked back.

“It is difficult to quantify the impact on our profitability, but it has definitely made our team more efficient, which has helped us to grow,” says Patrick Whitehead, Managing Director, Plumbing NT.

Servicing Darwin and Palmerston, Plumbing NT has seven plumbers on the road. They now rely on the ServiceM8 application to run their day to day business.

“The guys can do everything from their phones or tablets while they’re out and about,” says Patrick, “from quoting to ordering parts, to tracking jobs and invoicing. It connects directly with Xero, which makes our billing cycle much quicker – and easier. The GPS feature of the app allows us to allocate urgent jobs to the nearest plumber and, if necessary, communicate with the other guys any flow-on schedule changes without having to interrupt them with a phone call.”


On-the-go mobile advantage

Mobile tech has had a significant impact across all areas of construction, including:

  • Data tracking – capture labour and equipment hours with ease    

  • Real-time information – ideal for accurate cost tracking and project timeline monitoring, so you can avoid any surprises at the end

  • Improved communications – think instant requests, approvals and updates.

Forget trekking back to the office to collect a document. With a smartphone and mobile data, you can share or exchange documents, data and images while on the go. Connect staff in the field with those in the office and keep everyone up to date with the latest project information. With all these productivity and profitability benefits, all you need is a phone tough enough to go all the places you do; one that can keep pace with your workflow. Unfortunately, that’s not as simple as popping a sturdy case on your own phone.

A harsh environment requires a rugged, yet efficient device. Consider these three key factors:

  • Is it physically strong enough to operate in your work environment?

  • Is it easy to use in the parameters of your work environment?

  • Is it capable of running all the software you need?

Here are some tips on what to look for.


Is it tough enough?

Tough or “ruggedised” phones, tablets and laptops have to undergo more rigorous physical testing than your regular smartphone. When you’ve got your device on site, it has to go with the flow, just like you do. Check the manufacturer’s specifications carefully. Is it water-resistant or waterproof? You don’t pack it in when it starts to sprinkle, so neither should your phone. Some phones can survive an hour in up to three feet of water.

Check its shock rating so you know what sort of fall it will handle. It’s the kind of thing you don’t necessarily want to test, but it’s good to know that if it does fall out of your hands onto a concrete floor, it will dust itself off and get back to work. Speaking of dust, is it dust-proof? Let’s face it, it’s dirty work and you won’t always be able to keep the phone clean.

A cracked screen can make things tricky, so look for a Gorilla Glass touchscreen– a commercially manufactured glass that is highly robust but thin. Best of all, it still works when you’ve got gloves on! And if you need to consider extreme temperatures for work in a cold room or by heat-generating machinery, make sure your device is up to the challenge.


Is it easy to use?

It’s no good having a phone that can handle rough and tumble if it’s difficult to use. If you work in regional or rural locations, look for a Blue Tick on the phone specs. Some phones will also offer an external RF port to connect a patch antenna for better connectivity.

You need optimal screen clarity, even in direct sunlight. There’s no time to run back to the site office every time you need to read a message, log a request – or charge a battery. Built-in wireless charging capabilities compatible with a charging pad are a bonus.

Your phone should to be able to multitask to keep up with you, so make sure you have enough data storage to cope with loads of apps being open at once. And if you need to take photos for quotes or evidence of completed work, check the camera resolution.


Can it do all that you need it to?

The scope of mobile technology is so enormous you can do almost anything you need to on the go today. For example, remembering which job a photo belongs to, or even why you took a particular shot, becomes much easier with the help of FotoIN. for the construction industry, this clever app automates project identification logic based on GPS location and offers easy photo tagging, annotating and commenting. And it’s easy to upload to the destination of your choice.

Australian app Deputy keeps your business moving with a job rostering and workforce management solution. It takes control of rostering by assigning, monitoring and communicating to employees via a simple, easy-to-use interface.

Construction plans are large, making them cumbersome on site – not to mention expensive to print. Put all your construction plans and documents in the PlanGrid  app, and multiple users can access, share and alter documents in real time. You can be sure that everyone is working from the same page – literally.

A workflow management app is a real time saver. Our picks are GeoOp or ServiceM8 (used by Plumbing NT). Both record the story of every job – quotes, invoices, photos, emails, SMS, customer signatures, bookings and payments. With built-in GPS capabilities, the office can locate staff in real time, which is useful when they need to be despatched for urgent jobs.

An essential app for tradespeople is Find My Phone. When you’re working on site, it’s easy to put down your phone and forget about it.

If you’re looking for a phone that can do all this and more, Telstra recently released the Tough Max, which should measure up to your expectations. It’s rugged and reliable, ready to tackle whatever challenges you throw at it on your worksite. The

Tough Max:

  • Is waterproof for up to 30 minutes at a depth of 1 metre

  • Is IP67 rated for dust resistance

  • Is Blue Tick rated to provide the best possible coverage in regional and rural locations

  • Has an external RF port allows you to connect a patch antenna for better connectivity
  • Has a 13-megapixel camera and a 5-megapixel selfie camera

  • Has a bright 4.7-inch HD screen and scratch-resistant Gorilla Glass 3 display
  • Has generous 2500 mAH battery and built-in wireless charging capabilities when you buy a compatible charging pad

  • Plus 2GB of RAM and a 1.2GHz Quad core processor.

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