Using Camera Phones for Business

Originally titled 'Thank You, Camera Phone'

Improvements in camera phone technology have made these devices increasingly useful in the workplace.

There have been so many great technological advances already during this century that it is hard to keep track of them all. For sure, we live in a time in which these advances seem to come about at an increasingly rapid rate, making it hard for the average person to predict what’s next.

One technological advance that most of us already have in the palm of our hands is the camera phone. Although camera phones have been around for quite a few years, recent advances have made their image quality and editing capabilities even more useful. Many of us even have ditched our traditional high-end cameras in favor of the convenience and compactness of the cameras built into our phones. What’s more, we are finding more and more uses for these camera phones, especially in business. In my case, they have almost completely replaced the need for pen and paper.

There are obvious uses for camera phones in business today, including:
 • recording of kaizen events (workplace organization, process improvement), capturing “before” and “after” conditions;
 • documenting receipt of damaged products;
 • verifying the condition of products being shipped to customers or installers;
 • recording daily progress on construction/renovation projects; and
 • documenting unsafe workplace conditions that require immediate attention.

Yet companies are coming up with still other clever applications for camera phones. Here are just a few I have come across lately:

Time Recording on Jobs 

One manufacturer required employees to log into jobs when they started and log off when they stopped. Although mistakes were being made within the job process, the real problem was that employees were not logging in or off at all. Upon investigation, the shop found that, despite a number of hands-on training sessions (and a “help” function at the machine), most employees did not understand how the process was supposed to work. It required going to a computer station and accessing a number of 
different screens.

As a solution, management decided to create a visual instruction sheet that could be posted at each computer. A sequential series of photos was taken of each screen using a camera phone. Notes were added to the photos to provide further clarity when deemed necessary. The overall process was not that complex, and just a few photos covered more than 95 percent of what the employees needed to do. Soon after the instruction sheets were posted, every employee was logging in and logging off jobs accurately and in a timely manner.

Timely Communication of Materials Received

A fabric manufacturer had a very busy receiving department, charged with unloading material from delivery trailers each day. On occasion, sample materials would be ordered by technical staff. These samples (critically important to the person ordering them) were often loaded onto the same truck as other material, but required different handling. It was expected that receiving department employees would “drop everything” and call the person who ordered the samples when they arrived. However, in the daily whirlwind of unloading, calls sometimes were not made or went unanswered, and as a result, samples could sit in the receiving department for hours or even days. 

To avoid this problem, the shop introduced a new procedure for handling samples in which receiving department employees would use a camera phone to take a photo of the packing list and send it to a specific person or a designated “mailbox” in a department. Communication of the received samples is now almost instantaneous, and they no longer sit in the receiving department for very long.

Documenting Procedures of All Types

Although photos have long been used to document assembly, testing, setup and other operating procedures, camera phones offer the ability to record the live video of these procedures as well as snap a photo during the recording process. On many phones, the photo can be taken during the video recording process, in the event something of importance is noted at that time. Otherwise, a screen shot can be taken during the video playback process. Either way, this capability allows users to capture an entire procedure and select a portion of the procedure for inclusion in a visual work instruction.

One company with a multilingual workforce recently committed to modifying all of its existing work instructions by replacing text with photos as much as possible. In some cases, the shop has been able to employ short videos of procedures to further enhance employee learning, although this has required acquisition of computer tablets to train employees within the work area rather than in a training room, where large computers and video screens can be used. Early results indicate employees are learning new procedures faster and are more comfortable moving to different work areas.

In this age of rapid technological advancement, most of us already have smartphones equipped with at least basic camera functionality, so we should find the right applications to put these devices to good use in our workplaces.