If you ever take the underground metro in Montreal, Canada, either as a resident or a tourist, you will be pleased to learn that you have cell service in the stations around the downtown core. But as you move away from the downtown stations, you lose network connectivity. When that happens and you are trying to kill time during your metro ride with the help of your cell phone or tablet, you suddenly begin to realize the value of apps that you can use while offline. In an ideal world, you would still be able to use your app to play your favorite game, or learn a new language, and when you get online again after exiting the underground subway, the data would synchronize and your progress would be recorded.
Taking an underground subway and having limited use of your mobile device because of a lack of cell service is not the end of the world. All you have to do is arm yourself with a little bit of patience until your “ordeal” is over. But what about the use of mobile devices in EHS? There has been a growth in the use of EHS mobile apps for remote incident reporting, audits, inspections, access to health and safety information on chemicals (e.g. Safety Data Sheets), approval workflows, and others.
Back in 2014, Paul Leavoy from LNS Research made 3 EHS predictions for 2015. One of them was: “Mobility will become the Norm, and Offline is the New Online”. The second part of the sentence is noteworthy. The fact is that network connectivity cannot be taken for granted in some locations where some industries operate (e.g. Mining and Metals, Oil and Gas, Transportation). “Be it a remote Congolese mine, an offshore oil rig, or a cruise ship, sometimes we just don’t have consistent connectivity, and we need solutions that adapt to that”, Leavoy said.
More recently, I had a chance to attend the Verdantix webinar 2016 Predictions For EH&S Information Management: Platforms, Mobile, Analytics And Acquisitions. David Metcalfe, Verdantix CEO, also echoed strongly the need for offline functionality for EHS mobile apps, going as far as ranking it among the most important features. To put it simply, mobile solutions without offline capability are less competitive in the marketplace.
Mobile apps for EHS must offer offline capabilities as much as possible, to make sure that business operations remain efficient. However, offline capability creates a need to have very strict data synchronization rules to ensure that data is not duplicated or inaccurate. Data must be uploaded and synchronized in real-time with the central EHS management system the moment the offline device is connected again.
Once you realize the growing use of mobility in EHS, you get a real appreciation of the importance of offline functionality, and how it enhances worker productivity, in addition to improving safety.