Voice message systems that may save your butt

August 11, 2010

Web-based applications like NoteVault allow construction supervisors to conduct field reporting, including RFIs, change orders, and safety inspections, using their mobile phones. The service records, transcribes, and stores all voice mails to help avoid or resolve disputes.
Palmtops, laptops, and tablet PCs are all great tools for processing project information. But no matter the speed of the microprocessor inside or the quality of the screen outside, the ultra-fast pace of today's fast-track projects often doesn't allow key people the time to work with any device more complicated than a cell phone. That's why the growth of voice messaging, dictating, and documentation services for cell phones is of great interest to Building Team members.
One of the first systems to offer these features was SkyLog, launched nearly a decade ago by Pacific DataVision (PDV), Clifton, N.J. At the time, Peter Lasensky, owner of a construction company in San Diego, was trying to collect a bad debt based on some oral change orders from a customer. Without adequate written records or other documentation, Lasensky found he couldn't collect. So he invented a way to store oral messages in case he ever got burned again.

With SkyLog, you talk into a Nextel push-to-talk phone and the system saves your message on a website as a digital file. The file can then be emailed as is or transcribed and sent. SkyLog allows you to record RFIs, change orders, safety inspection notes, and other crucial project details. SkyLog's time and date stamp on all voice messages provides verification by a third party to help avoid or quickly resolve disputes. The only problem was that PDV was only available in southern California.

In 2003, PDV partnered with Nextel to roll out a nationwide version called NextMail. Both systems have enjoyed success, even expanding into other markets such as healthcare, real estate, and transportation. But many users needed a system that worked with other phone systems besides Nextel.

PDV then developed SkyMail, which works across all major U.S. cellular carriers. With SkyMail, the recipient gets an email containing a link to the voice message and a text reply box, which allows the recipient to reply with a text message delivered directly to the sender's phone. All SkyMail messages are time-and-date stamped for documentation and stored on a secure password-protected website for tracking and record-keeping purposes.

Both NextMail and SkyMail allow professionals to record, document, and share critical information from the field with office personnel via e-mail. With both systems, you don't have to purchase additional software. SkyMail is just another phone call, and NextMail is just another walkie-talkie call. After scrolling down the phone's contact list, you simply select a contact, press the button, speak the message, and hang up. The voice documentation is sent automatically.

Enhanced functions. PDV has expanded SkyMail to include a locator function. Now you can enhance a SkyMail message by attaching an interactive map, the location coordinates, and the street address of your position. Maps are provided by Navteq, a Chicago-based firm that creates digital map information for automotive navigation systems, mobile navigation devices, Internet-based mapping applications, and government and business solutions throughout the world.

In June, Locator earned runner-up honors in the Navteq Global LBS Challenge (Asia-Pacific Region), a competition that invites application developers around the world to build location-based services (LBS) that work with mobile phones or wireless handheld devices using dynamic positioning technology and Navteq maps. The award earned PDV $157,500 in cash and licenses.

New kid on the block. Just last month, PDV founder Lasensky launched a new company called NoteVault that competes with PDV. Similar to SkyMail but targeted specifically to the construction industry, NoteVault improves the collection and dissemination of field-reported information by allowing field workers to do their reporting from their mobile phones. NoteVault immediately makes available transcribed, printable reports to any authorized recipient via the Web.

NoteVault's User Dashboard enables you to see in sequence all the notes recorded for the previous day, notes that have yet to be approved and released, a list of your current projects, and a special “Super Center” that contains key Web links to products regularly purchased for jobsite management and safety.

NoteVault's Project Dashboard include a window for live jobcam viewing, a clickable calendar to examine a particular day's activities, weather conditions, the Super Center, and a place to note current manpower requirements and conditions on the jobsite.

NoteVault also contains some features unique to this technology. You can:
  • Use more than one phone.

  • Review and approve speech-to-text transcriptions.

  • Attach phone-generated photos and videos to the speech message.

  • Call in to listen to prior days' notes.

  • Receive automatic notification if someone on your team is not keeping up with the reporting requirements you have set in the NoteVault system.

One final note: NoteVault text can be posted into project management software. In fact, at this year's user conference for project management software Prolog, host vendor Meridian Systems' VP of engineering successfully performed a live demonstration of a NoteVault voice interface into Prolog.


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