As portable devices continue to get smaller and more powerful, they are increasingly becoming more suitable for taking over everyday office duties. Over the past year, I've found myself using my tablet and smartphone more for tasks that I had previously allocated to my laptop.
I won't get caught up in the Android vs. Apple vs. Microsoft argument, but I absolutely love my Android devices, so I'd like to share a quick summary of some of the Android apps that I've found to be helpful for a business analyst, systems analyst, or consultant. Best of all, every one of these apps is free, so you can play with them without any risk or cost.
Cloud storage is an essential part of a software solution. There are plenty of options available, but my pick is Dropbox. Not only can you store files in the cloud, but you can store local files on each connected device and work offline when necessary. It automatically syncs your files when connected to the internet. It is also supported by a very large number of Android apps. For apps that don't natively support Dropbox, consider using Dropsync. Dropbox comes with 2gb of free space, but you can use referrals to get more free space, or you can pay for more storage space if necessary. Google Drive is another great option and offers much more free space.
There are quite a few office apps available. None of them are the perfect replacement for the Microsoft Office products, but the one that comes closest in my opinion is Kingsoft Office. You can create documents, spreadsheets, and presentations. It can read and write Microsoft files and can store files on the cloud. I've used Kingsoft Office to take notes during meetings, edit documents from my tablet or smartphone, and it is great for reading PDF documents.
You may have noticed that Kingsoft Offoce doesn't have a Visio replacement. There are surprisingly few such apps available, but the best option is probably Droidia. This app gives you pretty much all of the essential tools you need for creating diagrams. The biggest downside, however, is that it uses its own file format and is not compatible with Visio.
Although my Android devices came with a keyboard app, I have replaced them all with Google Keyboard. Instead of only being able to tap on each letter, you can keep your finger on the screen and swipe out each word. You don’t need to be perfect - it is incredibly intuitive. Also, if it gets a word wrong, it gives you quick list of similar words and you can tap on the correct one. Other similar keyboard apps include the Swype Keyboard and SwiftKey.
While I've found this to be a great way to enter text into my devices, it still isn't as fast as a real, full sized keyboard. If you are using your device for a large amount of data entry, consider getting a bluetooth keyboard. I picked up a great, nearly full-sized bluetooth keyboard from DealExtreme for about $25 and absolutely love it.
Although Evernote has a massive number of features, it is a particularly great app for recording notes and maintaining lists. You can install it on your tablet, smartphone, and PC, and it will automatically sync all of your notes across all devices. Like Dropbox, it stores local copies on each device, for offline use. With the PC version, you can even encrypt sensitive note contents. You can also access your notes from any web browser.
One of the really cool things about Evernote is the ability to store scanned documents. You take pictures of paper documents, or upload scanned documents, and Evernote will automatically look for keywords in the image and index the images for you using those keywords.
Skitch Add-on for Evernote
Once you get hooked on using Evernote, you might want to consider adding Skitch. With this great app, you can take screenshots of anything, and then mark up the screenshot with boxes, arrows, and text.
As a BA, you often get inundated with paper documents. It is often not possible to get electronic versions of these documents from the client/business user. If you don't have a scanner readily available, you might want to consider using CamScanner. It lets you take a picture of the document with your camera. It then finds the edges of the page automatically. You can adjust those edges if necessary. It then straightens, crops, and clarifies the document for you automatically. You can then save the document as a PDF. You can even scan multiple pages and have it put all of them into one multipage PDF.
Evernote is also capable of similar functionality, but I’ve found CamScanner does a very nice job cropping the image, straightening it, and adjusting contrast. Pair CamScanner up with Evernote and you've got an impressive solution for storing and indexing paper documents.
Smart Voice Recorder
If you are at a requirements workshop or are interviewing a business user and don't have a scribe available, you might want to consider a simple voice recording app like Smart Voice Recorder. This is a very simple app for recording and playing back recordings.
Just remember to ask permission before recording any conversations...
Other Notable Apps
- File Manager HD: one of many great file managers available for Android.
- Tasker: not free, but an incredibly cool way to automate functions on your tablet or smartphone.
- Link2SD: I use this on my rooted Samsung Galaxy Tab. It lets you move your apps to an external SD card - a function not available on newer versions of Android.
- Where's My Droid: a great tool to help you find a lost smartphone. Among its tools, you can send a text message to your phone and it will turn on your GPS, gather the coordinates, and send a series of text messages back with the phone's coordinates and address.
It has been exciting to see the number and quality of business-related applications grow and grow. It has become more and more feasible to use these devices for traditional BA activities. In many cases, you can perform functions that were never possible with laptops, and the devices are exceptionally portable. While you probably can't completely replace your laptop quite yet, there is no doubt that these portable devices will fundamentally change the way that we collect and manage information.