Going digital to grow your business

It’s time to take a step back and consider whether going digital is right for you in order to protect and grow your business. Digital recording, which is the recording of images and/or video to a computer file, affords contractors both control and tremendous flexibility in presenting their findings to a customer for consideration on a job.

Let's face it. People and your customers are going digital. Today, 86% of Americans have at least one computer, according to the Consumer Electronics Association. And we're in the age of TVs, video game systems and set-top boxes that provide easy playback of digital files from a thumb drive.

So, what does this mean to you? It's time to take a step back and consider whether going digital is right for you in order to protect and grow your business. Digital recording, which is the recording of images and/or video to a computer file, affords contractors both control and tremendous flexibility in presenting their findings to a customer for consideration on a job.

Capturing digital recordings
To start, consider the many hardware options that can help you capture digital data, like simple digital recording monitors, monitors with full reporting and text entry, combination DVD and digital, laptop interfaces and off-the-shelf electronics. Before selecting recording hardware, it's important to understand some key terms:

• Resolution: Determines how detailed/crisp an image or video will be.

For most drain inspection applications, 640 x 480 is plenty. Keep in mind that a higher resolution means more space is required for recorded files, making them harder to transport and store.

Frames per second (FPS): Impacts how "choppy" a video will be.

When inspecting drains, a file that is 10 FPS will look smooth and consistent. Here, high FPS will require more storage space for the file.

• Video Codec: Directs whether or not special software will be needed to play back a file.

For example, a MJPEG (.avi) allows for almost universal playback, but is generally a large file. DivX and MPEG-4, which are also .avi files, may require a software download, but provide great quality video in a small size.

Resolution, frames per second and video codecs are important considerations that depend on what you want to do with the files and how much file space you have for inspection storage. The goal is to get high-quality video for your application while keeping the file size as small as possible.

Utilizing digital recordings
Once you’ve recorded your inspections to a digital file, you have a wide range of ways to communicate with your customers. Digital recordings can be moved to a thumb drive, burned to DVDs or even hosted on the web for easy and secure delivery.

Before considering the right solution for you, it’s important to consider the pros and cons for delivery to your customer, including cost, convenience, familiarity with the medium, ease of sharing, download time and security. For example, thumb drives are great deliverables, but can be expensive to give away.

Some online solutions are hard to secure and leave your data publically available. However some allow users to store reporting online in a password-secured digital space, limiting access by date or to a certain number of views while also allowing you to deliver reports and media quickly, efficiently and in a way that will be easily understood by your customer.

A big benefit to an online digital solution is that it can help cut the time between inspection and repair. With a DVD, you record the inspection, burn a DVD, leave it with the resident for review with other decision makers and then repair at a later date. With an online digital solution, you can record the inspection, show the file to the resident on a laptop and e-mail the report to other decision makers for immediate approval, close the sale and repair on-site.

While the upfront cost of going digital might be a barrier, going digital provides the professionalism, flexibility and method of delivery many customers are looking for. The tremendous flexibility gained from having your inspections in digital files will let you continue to deliver your inspections via DVD while allowing you to switch over to digital delivery as time goes on.

Josh Sooy is product manager for inspection systems and networks at Ridgid.