This week, we released what I believe are the most significant improvements to our tools in the last decade – not a statement I make lightly!

What makes this release so important?

Well, it’s the culmination of hundreds of improvements we believe constitute the next generation in mobile data collection. We’ve completely re-built our form designer to enable you to create powerful forms without any technical expertise. The form designer is accompanied by a shiny new mobile interface for fieldworkers. There are too many improvements to cover here, but I’ll touch on a few highlights.

We’ve completely re-built our form designer to enable you to create powerful forms without technical expertise.

The new tools are available by default when you create a new Mobenzi account. If you have an existing account with us,  get in touch with our support team when you’re ready to try them out.

The technical stuff

First-off, whilst this is quite a technical point to lead with, I feel it’s important to mention upfront that we took the decision to adopt the XForms standard for our new tools as it serves as the basis for a number of other benefits that I’ll circle back to later.

The XForms standard is used by a number of mobile data collection platforms you may already be familiar with, as well as open source tools like ODK. Because we’re now leveraging the same standard as these other platforms, you’ll (soon) be able to import existing forms into your Mobenzi account, provided they conform to this standard. It also means the forms you build using our tools can, in the near future, be exported and captured using another XForms-compliant mobile app (although we hope you’ll consider using our app and reporting dashboards too).

We believe that this new level of interoperability with other tools benefits users by offering them more choice and flexibility in selecting the best tool for their needs. We’ve already begun contributing to the improvement of the standard and will continue to do so in a meaningful way moving forward.

We believe that this new level of interoperability with other tools benefits users by offering them more choice and flexibility in selecting the best tool for their needs.

Now, on to the more exciting aspects of the release.

Our next generation form designer

We’re particularly proud of the new form designer, and we’re confident you’ll agree it does a great job of balancing a simple, intuitive user interface with a powerful feature set.

(The new form designer) does a great job of balancing a simple, intuitive user interface with a powerful feature set.

Aside from being easy to use, the designer is fast…really fast. Fields are organised into “pages” that can display multiple fields on the same screen. The drag-and-drop, what-you-see-is what-you-get interface makes defining your form’s flow effortless. As your form grows in length, the quick navigation pane helps you quickly get to where you need to go, and also serves as a nifty way to move fields and pages around. All your changes save automatically in the background and you can even work offline if your connection drops; your changes will sync to the server when connectivity is re-established. Made a mistake? Just hit “undo” until you’re back to where you want to be.

One of the biggest improvements we’ve made is that you can now instantly preview your form to test flow, validation, skip logic, and translations – right there in your browser. Once you’re happy with the form, publishing it will send it to your field team immediately. Form changes are now automatically synced to fieldworkers when you publish, ensuring the right version is always in the field.

Viewing and editing of submissions captured using older versions of the form are also handled correctly. Data integrity is preserved by keeping a copy of the form every time it’s published so we can display the submission in the form as it was at the time the fieldworker captured it. This is important to avoid data loss or corruption as the form changes over time.

You can now instantly preview your form to test flow, validation, skip logic, and translations – right there in your browser.

If you need to go a little deeper, configuring advanced skip logic is now a breeze – skip rules can be applied to individual fields, or you can organise fields into a group and apply skip logic to all the fields at once. Advanced validation rules can also be configured just as easily. The visual designer allows  you to effortlessly combine multiple rules together.

If you’re slightly more ambitious, check out the built-in functions, which are easily understood thanks to the auto-complete and auto-suggest boxes that guide you as you type.

Top tip:  type “=” when you want to use a function (just like Google Sheets or Microsoft Excel) and “$” when you want to reference a field. Functions and field references can be used to display previously captured data, perform calculations or used in advanced validation or skip rules.

The updated tools also support a range of new field types, including audio and video capture, as well as cascading select lists that allow you to capture hierarchical data that have multiple related levels. In addition to these new fields, we’ve made improvements to all of our existing field types.

Capturing repeating data (like a household roster) is now much easier too – just organise the applicable fields into a group and set it to repeat.

Whilst the new tools by themselves represent a massive leap forward in mobile data collection, we’re just as excited about the foundation they provide for even more features in the very near future. Being able to capture data using any modern web browser is just one of the capabilities we’ll be adding soon, thanks to our upgraded tool set and the underlying technologies they’re built on.