Have you ever thought about using your phone to keep better track of your time, or identify a tree? What about to locate a control point? These are just some of the creative applications that students in my Advanced Technologies class at The University of Texas Tyler came up with when tasked with researching mobile apps to improve their daily work. Often that assignment was the first time they had explored work-related apps, and it spurred other ideas on ways in which they could put their phones to work for them.

As our phones become more powerful and as mobile applications become more intuitive, extensive and customized, how and when should you start to implement mobile apps into your daily workflow? Here are some points to ponder:

1. What are you comfortable with? If you already use smartphones and mobile apps in your personal life, then integrating them into your workflow at some level is a natural next step. For example, I know of firms that are already using iPads to control survey instruments and remotely access and manipulate data. Conversely, if you’re still using a flip phone and jotting notes on paper, you’ll want to give yourself more time for research and evaluation before jumping headfirst into the app pool. 

2. What technical level are your employees comfortable with, and how much time are you willing to allow for learning curves? Just because you’re comfortable with mobile technology doesn’t mean it will be an instant success when applied across your firm. Like any other technology, you will need to allow some time for training and expect some mistakes to be made along the way. Start slowly, take time to develop a standard workflow, and keep your expectations realistic to have the best chance for success.

3. What is your budget? Are you willing to pay for a customized app designed for your company’s (or your client’s) specific needs? Do you want to pay for generic apps? Or do you just want to use the free apps that are available? Keep in mind that “free” usually involves some sort of trade-off, such as allowing the app to access your location or data. That isn’t always a bad thing. Just make sure you understand your needs, and review the permissions fine print before installing any app across your organization.

4. What will your backup be? Mobile apps are great, but what happens when you don’t have service or your phone runs out of battery life? It is possible to use some apps creatively in ways that don’t require location and/or cell service. For example, voice memo apps can be used to describe site conditions, and the phone’s camera can be used to capture field book pages and descriptions. Car chargers and smartphone cases with built-in batteries can help you extend your phone’s battery life. Think through some different scenarios and have a plan to avoid problems. 

Regardless of where you or your employees are in the spectrum of app adoption, mobile applications can be a timesaver. If you are looking to start small, check out some of the time keeper applications such as HoursTracker, office time, and TimeCard Lite, which allow users to log time spent on specific tasks that they create. These apps generate reports on total time and how that time was allocated within the given tasks.

Some of the newest mobile applications are those that allow you to take credit card payments with your phone. Square and Intuit both have card readers that they will send you free of charge. You plug them into your phone and swipe your client’s card. The payment is then deposited straight into your bank account.

Take some time and explore your options. Get your employees involved; maybe even offer incentives for them to find new and innovative ways to implement mobile technologies into their own work and the company’s workflow. After all, everyone needs a break from Angry Birds, Facebook and Twitter every once in awhile.