"Civilization advances by extending the number of important operations which we can perform without thinking of them." - Alfred North Whitehead
I may be dating myself, but when I started working in the environmental industry, the fax machine was just becoming standard office equipment. They were slow, used thermal paper that came on a roll, and you had to cut the paper into the right size yourself.
The Fax Machine - Circa 1990 paper was difficult to work with as it wanted to roll back up on itself. When we needed results from a laboratory in a hurry, we would ask them to "fax it over." We would have to re-type the data ourselves into whatever format we wanted it in. Tables I worked on back then were mostly rudimentary tables constructed in a software called "WordPerfect".
I spent hours and hours re-typing data from paper to a computer only to print it back out on paper again. It was a good thing both I and my employer were getting paid by the hour.
It was around the time that e-mail became mainstream in the late 1990s to early 2000s that the laboratories started giving you the option of having your data delivered via fax machine or e-mail, but it was still just a pdf. It wasn't until the early to mid-2000s that most labs started giving you the option of having your data delivered as an Excel file. These alternative data deliverable options however were driven by customer demand, not necessarily lab initiatives.
When the Excel data deliverable became more main stream, the getting paid to re-type data went away as well. Think of the hundreds of millions of dollars saved collectively across the country over the years by end-user environmental clients simply by not having to re-type data because the data table could be delivered digitally. Seems like a small thing now, but it was a huge savings overall. Laboratories that embraced the e-mail data delivery early on, gave themselves a competitive advantage over late adopters of the digital data delivery method. Although this new method cut into the billable hours of the engineering consulting firms, it ultimately made them more competitive in the eyes of their end-user clients.
The disheartening thing is that it's been roughly 19 years since the first digital data delivery via e-mail and that's where the technology largely stands today. Granted, most labs will customize an Excel file to their client's exact specifications, but it's still just a fraction of what the end user client needs as their final data deliverable.
The end user client (the regulated oil companies, manufacturing firms, property owners, etc.) and the regulators need full reports, full color reports with all the graphs, maps, contours and data tables. Data Box Maps, Contour & Iso-Chemical Maps, Graphs, Tables, etc... completed, well beyond the Excel table.
I've often wondered why labs haven't gotten out in front of this obvious need before. Labs are, for the most part, the originators of the data. 7 of the biggest 10 companies in the world right now are data companies. 20 years ago, it was zero. Data delivered in a directly usable and understandable format is the modern-day gold rush.
The future is a scenario where the laboratory is providing the mechanism for the client to get all those required full color reports as an electronic deliverable. It's the next logical technological.
Learn About the SampleServe Mobile Lab App progression in data deliverable's. I've had conversations with numerous laboratories about taking the next step, as SampleServe's software has been developed for just this purpose.
The resistance to this concept is evolving, initially the typical response I heard was, "The consulting engineering firms will perceive that we are competing with them and might not use us anymore." I could understand this initial reaction, but it doesn't stand up to the history of technological advancements. If a technology delivers a comparable product, saves time, and saves money, it will ultimately win in the market place. The most common reaction now is "Of course, makes sense. When can we get started?"
The situation is similar to the days when Excel files were first delivered. I personally remember making the decision not to use a particular lab because they couldn't deliver data as an Excel file. A lab wouldn't even consider not delivering data via Excel these days. No one would use them.
There will be a day in the very near future when delivering data means delivering the data in as many formats and fashions as the client can think of. Not being able to do so will mean not getting the business.