Remote Data Collection: 10 of the Best Apps for Gathering Data in the Field

By Matthew Guay

You are reading: Chapter 3 of 9

There are dozens of great form builders and survey tools that you can use to add a new contact form to your website, build an event registration form, or design a customer satisfaction survey.

But what if you're trying to replace the paper forms in a doctor's office, collect data at a trade show, or track your expenses for a repair job?

You'll need a tool designed specifically for data collection, so your team members can enter data like pictures, barcodes and signatures on the go.

The 10 apps in this chapter have been built to help you do just that. You'll be able to collect data on a mobile device, even if you're offline. You'll also be able to use Zapier to integrate many of the tools into your workflow, automating what used to be time-consuming data entry.

Replacing Paper and Clipboards

paper form

Most apps are just shiny new wrappers on age-old concepts. Email is a faster, cheaper letter. E-commerce is the world's largest shopping mall. A CRM is a digital Rolodex.

The same is true of digital forms; especially mobile data collection forms. For years teams have gathered info on paper and clipboards, then catalogued the data once they get back to the office. It works, but it's inefficient.

The Three Rivers Park District in Plymouth, Minnesota, for instance, would gather information on the health of trees in their nursery using pre-printed tags, paper, and pencil. With thousands of trees to log, there could often be a three-month backlog of data to be catalogued.

A mobile data collection form, built using iFormBuilder, proved to be the solution they needed. "The process is now entirely paperless, and the nursery manager can see an almost real-time count of his inventory," says senior manager Simon Morgan. The new forms let field techs gather data, and the field manager can see it in real time in the office.

Three Rivers has extended their use of mobile forms to other projects, too. Their next goal is to modernize ski trail condition reporting, which currently involves a paper form that's faxed back to the office.

Going paperless in the office is an easy transition—with everyone using a computer, you can simply depend on online forms. Going paperless in the field, however, can appear to be an equally daunting task. If you do move away from paper, though, you can modernize your entire team's workflow, helping everyone get more done and saving data entry headaches. It may be even more fulfilling than taking your office paperless.

What you'll need to make it happen is a data collection app—a tool that lets your team fill out forms offline on their smartphones and tablets. These apps are super-powered forms that let you capture images, photos, videos and more, sign forms with a finger, track locations on maps, and much more. They're flexible tools that can help you gather more information and work faster, without having to worry about a wifi signal.

Here are 10 of the best apps for just that.

Icon:  App Best for: Free for: Plans from:
devicemagic Device Magic pre-filled data in forms Basic features on 1 device $17/mo. per device
goformz GoFormz digitizing paper forms 1 form on 1 device $10/mo. per device
nexticy Nexticy paper-style forms on iPad 3 forms & 50 responses $9.99/mo. per device
quicktapsurvey QuickTapSurvey questions and surveys 1 form & 50 entries $19/mo. per device
fulcrum Fulcrum geolocation with custom maps $18/mo. per user
formitize Formitize accepting payments in mobile forms $29.99/mo. per device
iformbuilder iFormBuilder adding data to your database from anywhere 10 forms & 100 records $83/mo.
pushforms PushForms turning paper forms into mobile apps $99/mo.
formhub Formhub open source data collection 100% free
trackvia TrackVia building powerful apps that work anywhere Custom pricing
magpi Magpi mobile forms and automated messaging 20 forms; 6k responses $500/mo.

Device Magic (iPhone, iPad, Android)

for pre-filled data in forms

Device Magic

Typing on your phone can be slow, prone to mistakes, and nearly impossible if you're also trying to juggle other tasks. Device Magic's forms make sure your team doesn't have to type any more than absolutely necessary. You can create forms, push them to your team's devices while they're working, and pre-fill the forms with information you already know.

A repair job form, for example, could be prefilled with the location address, repair description, parts needed, and price estimate, and the team member will only need to fill out the final details about the actual work they did.

Adding that work information is easy, too. Capture an image in a Device Magic form, and you can add quick annotations and sketched diagrams, then send them along with the rest of the form data. You won't even need to capture location data, since Device Magic automatically logs where the form was filled out.

Device Magic Pricing: Free for basic features on one device; from $17/month per device Standard plan for more features and unlimited forms

For a deeper look at Device Magic's features and pricing, check out our Device Magic review.

See Device Magic integrations on Zapier

GoFormz (iPhone, iPad, Android)

for digitizing paper forms

goformz

Does your team currently rely on a paper form? If so, GoFormz lets you continue using the exact same forms inside its app, simplifying data collection without your team having to learn anything new. Just upload a PDF of your form to GoFormz, then you can add fields that'll match what you need to capture. Add text fields to normal text boxes, perhaps, and put a date field in the date box so you can easily pick today's date.

GoFormz can then make your forms smarter, too. If you had a paper form with a spot to tape or glue on a photo—perhaps for a license or membership application form—GoFormz could let you tap that photo field, capture a photo from your tablet and have it show up in the original form's template. You can even store data on your server, pre-fill form fields, and include spreadsheet-like fields where you can list expenses and calculate the total sale price—or any other sums—automatically. And once you're done, you can export the filled form as a PDF to give your clients a printed work order or invoice. GoFormz saves the data to its server, too, so you can analyze the data back in the office.

GoFormz Pricing: Free for one form and one user; from $10/month per user Professional plan for unlimited templates, 1GB online storage, and more

Nexticy (iPad)

for paper-style forms on iPad

Nexticy

If your team's already accustomed to paper forms, using a mobile app might feel a bit strange at first. You can fill out paper forms in any order, and arrange questions in columns with formatting, things that often aren't available in digital forms. Nexticy, though, gives you the feeling of paper forms, along with the advantages of digital forms.

With Nexticy's iPad app, you can drag-and-drop elements into the order you want. Or, you can import pre-made forms from Nexticy's FormBox template site. Then, you can share them to other iPads to let your team gather data together. It's a simpler way to get paper-like mobile forms, without complicated sharing tools.

Nexticy Pricing: Free for 3 forms and 50 responses; from $9.99/month Standard account for 10 forms and 500 responses

For a deeper look at Nexticy's features and pricing, check out our Nexticy review.

See Nexticy integrations on Zapier

QuickTapSurvey (iPhone, iPad, Android)

for questions and surveys

quicktapsurvey

Is your form filled multiple choice and yes/no options? Then QuickTapSurvey might be the right tool for you. It's designed for rapidly building mobile surveys with multiple choice questions.

If you need more advanced fields, you'll find them in QuickTapSurvey, as well. These forms capture signatures, photos, and QR codes—perfect for on-site jobs such as inspections, door-to-door surveys, and other data collection with surveys. And since it can import SurveyMonkey forms, it's a great way to take your online forms with you anywhere.

QuickTapSurvey Pricing: Free for one survey on one device with 50 entries; $19/month Basic plan for one device with unlimited surveys and responses

Formitize (iPhone, iPad, Android)

for accepting payments in mobile forms

Formitize

If you're making forms to help complete on-site jobs, you likely need to bill your customers for your work and time. Formitize is a form builder that lets you save one step in the process, since it can accept credit card payments right inside your mobile form. It can calculate the total service price based on the items you entered in the form fields—time spent on the job, parts, tax and more—and then let your customer pay, finally sending them a receipt via email.

Formitize also helps you keep track of team data. It offers a built-in resources library, so team members have company documentation and guides handy. You can also tag photos you've captured in a form, making them easier to find later and helping your team build a photo library to document their work.

Formitize Pricing: $29.99/month per user for unlimited forms and features

For a deeper look at Formitize' features and pricing, check out our Formitize review.

See Formitize integrations on Zapier

Fulcrum (iPhone, iPad, Android)

for geolocation with custom maps

Fulcrum

Location matters. Fulcrum makes sure you can identify any location you need in your forms with custom maps. It includes maps from Mapbox, MapQuest, and OpenStreetMap, and you can upload your own maps or get Fulcrum to create a map from your own data. You can also plot your form entries on maps that contain the data you need—something especially important for remote data collection.

Then, if you need to share your data, Fulcrum lets you build template documents that pull data from your forms and export it as a PDF right from your phone. That lets you make, for example, an invoice template that your team can use to generate PDF invoices just by filling out the form. Or, you can export collected data back at the office in GIS format to use in professional mapping apps, or save it in CSV format to use in your spreadsheet app.

Fulcrum Pricing: From $18/month per user Mini plan for basic features and 10GB storage

For a deeper look at Fulcrum's features and pricing, check out our Fulcrum review.

See Fulcrum integrations on Zapier

iFormBuilder (iPhone, iPad, Android)

for adding data to your database from anywhere

iFormBuilder

iFormBuilder lets you track all of your data in one database. You can import your old data, use integrations to add data from spreadsheets and other apps, and store it alongside the data you're collecting in your forms. That way, you can track everything you've gathered in paper forms along with your new digital form records.

Then, you can make more powerful forms by pre-filling form fields from your database. You could, perhaps, enter a client's name in a form, and iFormBuilder can then pull their address and other contact info from your database, so you won't have to re-type their phone number and email each time you fill out the form. Your team can then work together on your tasks, assigning forms to each other—perhaps with part of the info already filled—and acknowledge when they're able to start work on a task. All that, just from the same forms they'll use to log their work in progress.

iFormBuilder Pricing: Free for up to 10 forms, 50 users, and 100 records per form; from $83/month Starter plan for up to 100 forms, 10 users, and unlimited records

For a deeper look at iFormBuilder's features and pricing, check out our iFormBuilder review.

See iFormBuilder integrations on Zapier

PushForms (iPhone, iPad, Android)

for turning paper forms into mobile apps

PushForms

Want a quick way to turn your old paper forms into sleek modern forms that are easy to fill out anywhere? PushForms is ready to upgrade your forms for you. Make a new account and the second step you'll be asked to complete is to send an email to their team with a copy of your PDF form. PushForms then turns the form into a smart, mobile form that your team can immediately use to start collecting data. All your team will need to do is download the PushForms app and scan a QR code, and they can start sending data—no accounts or authorizations needed.

If you want to do more with your form, just dive into PushForms' online editor, where you'll see a spreadsheet-like interface that lists your form fields, data types, and answer options. It's a quicker way to put together a form, since you won't have any visual clutter, and you can pick from a wide range of fields to capture barcodes, NFC data, video, documents from other apps, and more.

PushForms Pricing: From $99/month Basic plan for 50 forms, 3,000 submissions, and unlimited users

PushForms Zapier integration coming soon

Formhub (Android, Web)

for open source data collection

Formhub

Looking for a way to build mobile forms that store data on your own servers and let you extend and tweak their code as much as you want? Formhub, a project from the Modi Research Group at Columbia University, is the tool for you. It has a much steeper learning curve, but if you're willing to put the time and effort in, it can be much more powerful than most mobile form apps.

There's no form builder, so instead you'll use a spreadsheet to list your form fields using the XLSform syntax. Once that's done, upload your spreadsheet and your team can fill it out online or with the free ODK Collect app for Android, which works offline and lets you add photos, GPS locations, and more to your forms. Back on your server or in Formhub's app, you can manage your form entries, and even plot them on a map in Google Earth.

Formhub Pricing: Free, with open source to run on your own server

TrackVia (iPhone, iPad, Android)

for building powerful apps that work anywhere

trackvia

When you first decided to move away from paper forms, you probably considered building your own app. That'd be one option—a pricey, time-consuming option that's likely not what you really need. Instead, a database app builder like TrackVia can give you 90% of the features of a custom app, with less than a tenth of the effort. And, with TrackVia's mobile app, you'll still have a great tool for gathering data on the go.

You're able to put together the features you need to manage your customers, products, assets, projects and more online. Then you can make forms to send to TrackVia's mobile apps so your team can gather data, attach files from other mobile apps, and include images. It even supports barcodes, so your team can scan a code that looks up a product in your database and pre-fills the form with most of the data automatically, even when working offline. It's a more powerful alternative to the simpler form tools.

TrackVia Pricing: Custom pricing available upon request

For a deeper look at TrackVia's features and pricing, check out our TrackVia review.

See TrackVia integrations on Zapier

Magpi (iOS, Android, Symbian, any phone via SMS)

for forms and automated messaging

Magpi

Need a way to gather data on almost any device, and get in touch with people anywhere? Magpi has what you're looking for. It's a mobile data collection tool with apps for iOS, Android, and Symbian—along with downloadable forms for other devices—so you can collect data remotely from anywhere.

Then, to get in touch with people, you can use Magpi's messaging features to send SMS or voice messages to anyone on a schedule. You can even send out your forms as an SMS chat bot, gather data as people reply to your text. It's a great way to poll people and gather data remotely beyond just your own team.

Magpi Pricing: Free for up to 20 forms with 100 questions per form and 6k responses per year; from $500/month Pro plan for unlimited forms and responses

For a deeper look at Magpi's features and pricing, check out our Magpi review.

See Magpi integrations on Zapier

Fit Mobile Forms Into Your Workflow

Collecting data is only one part of the puzzle. Now that your new forms are available in the office as your team's devices are online, you can do a lot more with the data your team's collected.

Using an integration tool like Zapier, or your form app's own integrations, you can get custom notifications when forms are filled out, save data to your team's database or spreadsheet, update your mailing list, and much more.

Save Data Where You Want

Now that your team's collecting data efficiently, you'll need a place to store everything, analyze it, and use it to help in your work. For that, you'll likely want to use a database or spreadsheet, perhaps with special queries, pivot tables, or visualizations to make sense of your data.

The Three Rivers Park District, for instance, was already storing their data from paper forms in a database. When they moved to an iFormBuilder-powered form, all they had to do was connect their new form to the existing database and everything worked as normal—just faster.

Whether your team's storing info in a database, spreadsheet, or even a notebook, you can save new field data automatically with integrations like these.

Or, if you'd rather use your form app's database as the main place to store your data—something that might be a great choice if you use a database builder tool to make your form—then you can use a Zapier integration to send entries from other sources to your form database.

The Efficient Foundations team, an IT firm that helps companies manage their data, uses this trick to send data from a Google Sheets spreadsheet to their own iFormBuilder form's database. Having so much data in one place has helped their team work more efficiently, with pre-filled form fields cutting down on typing mistakes.

"We are no longer reliant on correct spelling or people not completing all fields," says Efficient Foundations director Sven Scheepers. "Field users can simply select a site name and it will automatically populate the other fields. This makes reporting far more accurate and allows more informed business decisions to be made, saving companies a lot of time and money."

Log Your Work

Mobile forms are designed to be used while working, so you likely need to bill for your time and perhaps even send invoices to your customers when the work is done. Your form can handle that automatically if you connect it to your time tracking or invoice app. Instead of having to remember to start your time tracking app when you begin a job, have your form log the job start and finish time and send it to your time tracker. It can then add your client to your billing app, and send them an invoice as soon as you've submitted the form.

If you're using a CRM app to track data about your customers and suppliers, you can use your form to update each contact's entry as you fill out the form. Then, if you're talking with a new potential customer, you can use the form to make a new contact entry in your CRM automatically.

Schedule Appointments

Not able to finish the whole job today? Or want a form that allows your team to inspect the entry before scheduling a project? Then you'll want an easy way to schedule an appointment from your form. All you need to do is connect your form to Google Calendar, or the calendar tool of your choice, and have it automatically create an appointment when the form is filled out.

You could even include a field in your form for the appointment date and your client's email, so you can invite them to the correct appointment as soon as you save your form input.

Notify Anyone

Need to let your team members know when a form is filled out, or thank the customer for their business once you've finished a job? Zapier can send an SMS, email message, or push notification whenever anything happens in your form, so you can make sure everyone's notified. You can even use Zapier's custom filters to only send notifications when specific entries are received.

Stay in Touch

Don't let the project you're working on now be the last thing you do for your customer. Instead, add them to your email mailing list to make sure they remember your company and perhaps hire you for a new job. All you need to do is collect the customer's email address in your mobile form, and you can then add it to your email marketing list or marketing automation app as soon as you're done working.


Whether you're tracking the health of trees in a park, repairing your client's plumbing, or auditing the equipment your company owns, these apps and integrations are what you need to make the leap from paper forms. They'll be so much simpler than having to log data and then type it in from paper, you'll wonder how you ever lived without them!

Building a form looks easy, but you might be surprised to find out how many hidden features more form builder apps include. So, before you start building your new form, Chapter 4 will dig into the most powerful yet often overlooked form features.

Go to Chapter 4!

Written by Zapier Marketer Matthew Guay.

Image Credits: iPad photo by Ordnance Survey via Flickr; Paper survey photo by Cavale Doom via Flickr.

Updated 25 April 2016 to add Magpi.

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