vTests™ - Cloud-Based Testing on the iPad

Editable PDF, rendered in full-editable mode.

Editable PDF, rendered in full-editable mode.

INTRODUCTION

When the iPad 1 first came out, we were early adopters. We tried to convince ourselves that the iPad was made for field testing. But the truth was not so comfortable. In the beginning it was really awkward to use an iPad. Sometimes our test forms looked like a bomb had gone off. And sometimes it was taking longer to use the iPad. Other people reported the same thing. We backed away, and used Mac Airs - until recently.

TEST WRITING VENUES

Commissioning tests have typically been written in MS Word or MS Excel. Sometimes they are converted to PDFs. Any combination of these methods has, in our experience, yielded mixed results when using an iPad.

To overcome past problems, Virtual Commissioning is now moving away from using Word and Excel as the basis of our test forms. Instead, we are producing fully editable PDFs, optimized - from the ground up - for iPad (tablet). This also means we are not using any of our existing Word or Excel documents or former PDF files. Instead, we've built a whole new set of forms, using editable PDFs. Fields are very easy to change, and test results are surprisingly easy to enter. Utilizing voice integration compatibility, field personnel can now speak instead of typing - a real time saver. And that's the point - to save time.

But to make all this happen required a shift in how we used, coordinated and managed our testing documents. We already knew that it wasn't as simple as converting a Word doc to a PDF. That's what a lot of us did when the iPad came out - to very mixed reviews. But now that PDF software and PDF apps have advanced, it's become a whole new game.

CONSIDERATIONS

If you decide to enter the world of editable PDFs - in order to make your test writing and field testing faster and easier - that's a good thing. But there's a significant learning curve and investment. Some of the considerations needed to pull this off include:

  • Hosting on cloud based servers - are they reliable? Secure? 
  • Test forms that are fast and easy to use - otherwise, why go to all the trouble? 
  • Automatic 'Save', and 'Save As' capability - not so easy to do 
  • Integration with Dropbox (or Google Drive, Box, etc.)  
  • Optimizing your forms  - iPad (tablet) optimization requires careful form design 
  • Ability to accept 'real' signatures, printed signatures or certified signatures 
  • Ability to perform testing without an internet connection 
  • Automatic sync with a cloud server, once a wireless connection is available 
  • A method of preserving the original (blank) test forms, while creating executed (filled out) forms 
  • Easy method of navigating test folders and files 
  • Strong search functionality 
  • Ability to both edit AND mark-up or annotate documents - on the fly 
  • Ability to integrate the test form's data fields with a database 
  • Preserving backup or mirror copies Intelligent file structure and test organization 
  • Ability to input data using your hand, a stylus, a keyboard or your voice 
  • A seamless method to scroll through documents 
  • Ability to create a 'flat' document, that can no longer be edited or changed  
  • Research, test and select iPad (tablet) PDF apps with robust capability
  • Ability to be easily attached or included in a Cx Final Report
Editable PDF - flattened file, which does not allow edit functionality to be visible. 

Editable PDF - flattened file, which does not allow edit functionality to be visible. 

We also had to go through an extended vetting process to determine which PDF software and app(s) would meet our needs. Our list of needs included the ability to both fill in and save editable PDFs.

Keep in mind that the iPad saves locally on the iPad itself. You can overcome that by sending files to yourself through email, but if your project has a hundred test forms to fill out, then a hundred or more emails can be a real pain to coordinate. Why take on a lot of extra work - which defeats the purpose of using an iPad? What you really need is a way to save back to a hosted server. In our case, we didn't want an awkward Save As function. We wanted to pull our PDF off of a cloud-based server, and then have a real-time file overwrite doing an automatic save of the original PDF back on the server.

To make all this happen, we made a decision which has meant a significant time investment - creating an entirely new, built-from-scratch test library, fully optimized for iPad. That's every single checklists, PFT, script, FTP and IST you have ever written, modified or created. Throw them out., and start over. Has it been worth it? So far, yes. 

Our new test forms, which we call vTests, are super fast and super easy to use. The time we spend both writing the tests and entering data in the field has fallen measurably. Form entry is no longer drudgery - it's nearly effortless. vTests actually makes testing fun - because it takes the focus off of the paperwork and puts it where it belongs: on the testing and analysis of systems.

* vTests have been developed by our sister software firm, biix, Inc.