Questions posed by previous customers, and the responses.
Q. "I need some help understanding the framework of foAudits."
A. foAudits can be thought in the same way as you would think of Microsoft Excel. Excel is a program, which loads spreadsheets that users can fill out. A spreadsheet can contain a template -- with fields, pick-lists, tabs, and other organizational features that assist the user in entering information.
foAudits is a template of the audit that you would like to capture. This template is stored once on the mobile device (and once on the server). You can then create multiple instances of different customer audits using this template -- with the information being stored on the PDA -- as you take the audits. The template itself is not replicated for each audit on the mobile device, to save space.
As with an Excel template, calculations can be performed as part of the audit, while at the customers' site, so that you can give a preliminary report while you are still on-site.
The data-only is then transmitted (that is, synced) to the server either wirelessly, or when the user connects to the internet. All of the information ends up in one spot for reporting (and backup) purposes.
Q. "Can the mobile carry more than one Type of audit? I have a couple of different audits that I might use, depending upon the situation..."
A. the foAudits tool can hold many different types of audits. You can add in additional audits in the future, using your existing database structure and the foAudits PDA software -- paying only to set the new audit template up. The foAudits tool will automatically display a pick list if it holds multiple types of audits, so that the user can select the one to work with.
Q. "Do you have a recommendation of the type of mobile hardware to get?"
A. There is an Earthtoys article here that talks about the differences between the platforms. We have foAudits running on the Linux (UBPorts), Google Android OS, iOS, QNX (Rim), Palm, Windows Mobile, Pocket PC, WinCe; on tablets, pdas and smart phones; so the options are wide open.
Q. "Do you supply the devices or just the software?"
A. We can either purchase the devices for you; sending them to you fully loaded, tested, and ready to go; or, we can provide install files for you to buy the devices locally and install foAudits on the mobiles yourself.
Most of our customers prefer to get them fully loaded.
Q. "Will the custom audit that we set up be available to other FO customers?"
A. By rule, we do not reuse our clients' audits for other client applications. Each is a custom effort, just for that client, which ensures that any proprietary information, calculations or just the layout of the audit and report remains unique.
In fact, we are very protective of our own customers audits, business plans and arrangements -- all for the sake of our customers. That is why you do not see customer names listed all over our site.
We would protect you the same way.
Q. "Do I need to have a server?"
A. FO provides versions of foAudits for both in-house use or to be run from our database-driven web servers. Our hosted solution is a good deal less expensive.
The client portion of foAudits works exactly the same in either scenario.
Q. "Can we host foAudits in-house?"
A. The foAudits application contains clients side (mobile) and backend services (reporting, websites, synchronization, logging).
In the past, the foAudits backend was offered as an in-house system or hosted by Fundamental Objects.
Over the last 8 years, we have found that it is far less expensive for our customers, as well as easier to maintain -- for us to host the backend services for customers.
This allows us to operate independently of any incompatible architecture within another corporation; and also removes any political barriers to getting these services up and running quickly.
This also allows us to avoid lengthy legal or NDA agreements that would be required if hosting our services within another company.
Our yearly cost for this is much, much lower than similar services offered by competitors; as well as more than an order of magnitude lower than the cost to host these services directly within another corporation.
We still do offer, but do not promote or prefer, hosting our backend within the infrastructure of another company, noting that that price to do so would be significantly higher than having us host this ourselves.
Note that each customers' data is contained in a separate, secured, database on a server in ISPs with restricted physical access; and that this data can be retrieved by the customer over the internet via Excel, CSV files and a number of other optional formats.
The client portion of foAudits works exactly the same in either scenario.
Q. "How is foAudits priced?"
A. Beginning with version 5.0, the user component is licensed annually for $150USD.
There is a separate one-time charge to set up your audit template and optional charges for a server-hosted database or editing tools. Pricing for the backend components is based on the complexity of the information that you wish to capture.
A separate corporate license to design (audits design tool) is available. This design tool allows a company to build their own audits. Click this chart for more information on foAudits component pricing.
Q. "How extensive is reporting?"
A. On the backend (web/database) side -- reporting can be generated as web-based reports and as downloadable report files -- such as Excel filers, Adobe PDFs or text files. There is a lot of flexibility, through the optional foReports adhoc report writer add-in (see: http://www.fundamentalobjects.com/foreports)
On the PDA, simple reports can be generated as leave-behinds for the customer, and can be printed on printers from the mobile device, from belt-printers, or from standalone wireless printers carried into the field -- with the primary restraints here being cost and (probably more importantly) the desire to carry printers into the field.
Q. "Are calculations supported on the PDA itself?"
A. Yes. Calculations can be done on the mobile-side, or the backend database-side, once audit information is passed to it. There is a scripting language in the mobile component that provides for fairly sophisticated run-time calculations in the field, which would be programmed for the customer by us. This could optionally be extended to provide an interface to the inspector/auditor, so that they can create simple energy-related calculations in the field as well.
Q. "If we use foAudits, who owns the tool?"
A. foAudits and the underlying sync engine itself are a toolset, continuously developed since 1997. Think of foAudits like Microsoft Excel. We develop custom templates for individual audits for our customers. Think of these templates as very complex Excel worksheets.
The templates; certainly all customer data; field definitions; and calculations and are yours alone. In fact, we vigorously protect the confidential nature of our customers' audits and calculations. The tool itself is licensed to you to use, but remains the copyrighted property of Fundamental Objects™.
The customer's confidential components are never shown to anyone outside of their organization. Not for marketing purposes, not for demos, not for any reason -- unless you desire us to do so. Q. "Can you tell me more about the Templates?"
A. We set up an Audit template for you to start, along with a website to maintain it.
When used on an audit, the template pulls in, for example - dropdown lists -- that contain 1 to many choices each.
Later, you can add to or change the possible choices in the dropdown list centrally - via the website, on your own; effectively altering the dropdown list ... and the template ... for the next audit/auditor. This is pretty powerful.
The template handles working with a different, similar, projects (or homes); including buildings, rooms, fixtures and so on. The same template then can be used on different projects; and other buildings; with other of your auditors going forward.
There are a number of other constructs , like date, notes, voice, etc, controls; beyond the one dropdown type described above, that work in a similar way.