New technology boosts schools’ office efficiency System allows workers to use cell phones to submit forms on the go.

From eSchool News staff and wire service reports When maintenance workers finish a job at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI), they don’t return to the office to fill out paperwork and pick up their next assignment. Instead, they grab their cell phones.

By punching a few buttons, campus workers can submit forms, calculate the time they spent on a project, and see where the next task awaits them.

Paperless data exchange between field workers and their offices isn’t new. But Florida startup JumpStart Wireless is bringing this capability to regular cell phones with software that bridges incompatibilities among handsets.

Using artificial intelligence, the Delray Beach, Fla.-based company’s application reportedly fits most business software and works with nearly every cell-phone brand. Users–such as IUPUI–say it saves time and money on paperwork, data entry, labor costs, and auditing.

"Any phone you can play a game on, you can run our software on," said Jeff Bonar, who started JumpStart in 2000.

Bonar used his doctorate in artificial intelligence from the University of Massachusetts and a $500,000 initial investment to found JumpStart. His goal was to come up with ways to move business data using gadgets such as cell phones or BlackBerry eMail devices.

"One of the problems in the wireless world for business software is that everything is incompatible," Bonar said. "At no point in the future will Motorola phones be compatible with Nokia phones."

For Bonar, writing custom software for each company was not an option, because there are simply too many business programs to work with. That’s where artificial intelligence comes in.

"We let the computer itself configure the software to meet the needs of a particular customer," Bonar said.

Schools, companies, and other JumpStart clients customize the forms that organize the information they want sent to a field worker. Data bounce from their offices, to JumpStart’s servers, to the worker’s phone and back.

The system helps eliminate paperwork and reduces the need for employees to perform data entry for client billing and in-house accounting. It also can help speed up billing and track staff productivity.

Bonar said the typical customer pays about $35 per user, per month. JumpStart is currently processing more than 350,000 transactions per month, he said.

Several companies already provide real-time business communication and processing services using a variety of mobile devices that look like minicomputers.

For example, Jacksonville, Fla.-based ICS Inc. provides RF-Smart, a real-time wireless data collection tool used in manufacturing distribution and logistics, such as tracking warehouse inventory, said marketing director Pete Palazzolo.

ICS uses handheld devices offered by a handful of companies, such as Symbol Technologies, that often include mini-keyboards, bar-code scanners, and radios. They are generally larger and bulkier than cell phones, but they also lend themselves to more complicated tasks, with larger visual screens, easier-to-use keyboards, and a more rugged build.

Motorola Inc., which bought Symbol in January, currently offers a system that can collect and transmit data through specialized mobile computers and allows workers to talk walkie-talkie style or over a cellular network.

But JumpStart’s service reportedly is the only one so far that works with any standard cell-phone handset.

IUPUI says JumpStart’s technology is saving the school about $300 per month for its 95 maintenance workers, said Russ Woodard, maintenance project manager at the school.

"The thing that really sold our school is that it virtually eliminates mistakes on time cards," Woodard said. "To be able to have everything, all in one unit, is so handy."