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Jim Boudreaux, IT manager at the fire-alarm testing company Critical Systems, turned to Salesforce.com's cloud computing platform to enable the company's inspectors to file their reports from the field via iPhones. "A lot of reports are pretty basic ... so we wanted to differentiate ourselves," he says. "We created a report that's more of an operational document. We have a graphic floor plan for each floor with all the devices plotted on it, and they're color-coded according to whether the device passed or failed."
Previously, the company had simply used Excel spreadsheets to track the data. The challenge in implementing that new format, Boudreaux says, lay in matching the inspector's Excel-based reports with a graphical floor plan. "We have 390 accounts, and every year we'd have to make a copy of the previous year's Excel files," he says. "So every year, I was inheriting 390 more Excel files."
Now, using the Salesforce.com app, the inspectors access each client's floor plans on an iPhone, and all reports are updated in the cloud. "The inspectors will go out with the iPhone, they'll go through each device, they'll change a [data] field to 'pass' or 'fail,' and by updating that field, they're updating the data that's stored in Salesforce," Boudreaux says. "It's not as if they're making a change to an Excel file--they're changing it to that result for the [entire] report."
The point is that all changes are tracked automatically in real time. "I can be on my computer looking at that result list, click 'refresh,' and basically play Big Brother," Boudreaux says. "I can watch [inspectors] walk around the building and see all the devices changing. We're also eliminating the redundancy. I don't have to go back and look at their Excel file. The image is being generated dynamically based on the results that they're changing in the field."
Making adjustments to the app itself, Boudreaux says, is equally straightforward. "If a person in the field needs a new value in a drop-down, he can call me on the phone, I'll add it through the browser," he says. "He'll refresh his iPhone app, and that value will be there. He doesn't have to bring the device into the office, and I don't have to reinstall the application on the device. It's all done through the browser, and I don't have to worry about keeping all the devices in sync. They're all synced naturally."