Wednesday March 7, 2012 (On The Straits Times)

Tablets end tedious paper shuffling

THE paper shuffling seemed endless at cable laying company HHK Delta.

Every day supervisors would check on the attendance of workers, ticking their names on time sheets as their shifts started and ended.

They would also have to manually record overtime and accidents.

Every two weeks, more than 800 time sheets from seven teams working in different parts of Singapore were submitted to HHK's Jurong office.

Administrative executives then waded through the records and manually: calculated the daily-rated workers' salaries.

Office staff frequently queried supervisors on their entries because sometimes the numbers did not tally.

This tedious method, one that ate up hundreds of man - hours a month, has been replaced by a tablet computer using software developed by a local company.


"Now all the paper is thrown out. We've eliminated manual salary calculations and all the errors and disputes that crop up ... Information flow is now immediate and critical issues ... are flagged immediately. Everything that our supervisors need is in the tablet, from maps and drawings to worker attendance and safety records." Mr Vincent Ting, HHK Delta's director

Supervisors now mark attendance by scanning a worker's ID card with the tablet's camera. This identifies the employee and enters the times his shift started and ended.

"Now all the paper is thrown out. We've eliminated manual salary calculations and all the errors and disputes that crop up," said Mr Vincent Ting, HHK's director.

"Information flow is now immediate and critical issues such as worker absences or errors in number of hours worked are flagged immediately.
"Everything that our supervisors need is in the tablet, from maps and drawings to worker attendance and safety records."

The automation means Mr Ting does not have to visit each of his seven cable-laying teams if he wants information or to relay messages. He can now send e-mails to the supervisors, cutting travel time and saving petrol.

Called the Site Mobile Application Solution (SMAS), the system was rolled out in January and February.
It cost about $60,000 but HHK calculates that it saves about 380 man-hours per month on admin tasks, and about $10,500 a month. Supervisors also find that data entry is less of a hassle as there are no bundles of paper to wrestle with.

"Previously they used to throw their files in the truck. They do the data entry at the end of the day or once every few days because the process was tedious. Now data collected is very accurate, which is good for planning future work."

Mr Ting added: "About 90 per cent of what we do happens at the cable-laying site. Yet, I'm blind to what is going there; I don't know if the workers have started work, whether the daily meetings have been carried out or if the supervisors have done all the paperwork."

With information now at his fingertips, he knows at a glance how many employees are not working because they are ill or the accident record has gone up at a site. He can then take immediate action.

The system can also access all the maps and engineering drawings for the cable-laying projects from the company's computers. Project amendments can also be instantly sent via e-mail to the supervisors.

HHK is claiming the cost of the project from the Productivity and Innovation Credit Scheme. It can claim a 70 per cent rebate against the project cost in its 2011 tax returns.

The company, which started in 1990, lays high voltage cables. Business has expanded quickly in the past few years. In 2009 turnover was $5 million and hit $8 million in 2010.

"Our deals are now worth about $8 million to $9 million each. With this automation in place, our processes are stronger which lets me bid for bigger projects in the range of $20 million each," said Mr Ting.

An electrical engineer by training, the idea of automating his record-keeping came when he bought an iPad last year.

"The iPad was convenient for accessing information and collecting information. So I thought I could use a tablet for my company's automation too," he added.

The IT system was developed by local company Capps Solutions, whose director, Mr Sean Chew, was Mr Ting's classmate.

This was one of Capps' earliest projects as Mr Chew had founded the company only early last year after he left a big foreign IT consultancy.

"I wanted to help SMEs in IT. It was coincidental that Vincent and I met casually and he mentioned to me that he wanted to automate the worker scheduling process. The rest just flowed from there," he said.

The software was written in six months, tested in October and November, then downloaded into a seven-inch Samsung tablet. The seven supervisors were each given a tablet.

The Samsung tablet was chosen because it was about 20 per cent cheaper than an iPad, he added.

Supervisors were given a day's training on the tablets. They liked it, said Mr Chew, because the software was intuitive and easy to use. But the biggest hurdle was the payroll information, said Mr Chew.

"There were many types of payments to account for overtime and bonuses. We had to get this correct.

"After we got over this hump, everything progressed smoothly. We trained the supervisors and they found the system and the tablet easy to use," he added.