Now more than ever, people are using their smartphones and mobile apps to do almost anything at any time — including your employees. So why not harness that inclination to your advantage?

That’s the question posed by Michael Benedict, vice president of application store and content at Canvas Solutions. Canvas is a software program that eliminates the need for paper forms all along the supply chain by allowing individuals to fill them out easily and quickly on their tablet or smartphone. And it doesn’t just allow your commissary to go paperless, but also to harness the big data collected and offer analytics that ultimately result in greater profits.

“We work with a lot people across the food spectrum, both in food manufacturing as well as restaurants and food wholesalers,” Benedict says. “What we’re about is not so much the way a client would use a score-based or manufacture-based app — we’re primarily in business-to-business  — so we’re focusing on how the businesses run their operations.”

To be clear, this is just one of many mobile-app options a commissary can consider when making the transition to being a paperless operation — other competitors include brands like LogicGate, ServiceTrade Commercial, TrackVia, and Snappii among many others — but Canvas serves as a good example for showing how these apps work.

The most successful small- to medium-sized businesses use this data to improve their operations, according to an Aberdeen Research study cited by The Wall Street Journal, which said that these companies saw an average 29-percent increase in profits — seven times the industry average overall.

A perfect example is MOM Brands, formerly known as Malt-O-Meal, which has been using Canvas for its paperless operations since 2010.

“It has allowed us to move from cumbersome manual field reporting to much more efficient and reliable electronic data collection, increasing accuracy and efficiency amongst our field teams,” says Ed Alencewicz, director of retail excellence for MOM. “From a cost efficiency standpoint, we have a very robust retail reporting infrastructure at a fraction of the cost.”

With 138 field reps using the technology, MOM has replaced over 50,000 paper forms, improved rep productivity by more than 12 percent, and saved over $75,000 in paper and productivity since 2010.

“It is used primarily by internal consumers of the data collected,” Alencewicz elaborates, “however we do share audit reports and scorecards with our retail business partners, which can be sent directly to them from the field.”

And it’s not just filling out forms, either.

“It is more of an electronic data collection device,” Alencewicz says, “as it can provide us with GPS location, image captures, signatures, etc. It allows us to create a customized interface to collect the information required accurately and efficiently. In our business, with tens of thousands of submissions completed to data, we have a very robust data warehouse today as a result.”

And this isn’t the kind of app that takes an 8.5 x 11-in paper and shrinks it down to fit your screen. You open it up on your device and find all of the forms you need for everything from food inventory and inspection to HACCP compliance and machine checks.

“What we do is we take the form and break it up into individual screens,” Benedict says. “What we’re really trying to do here is take paper forms — which are only so useful in the information they capture, right? — and try to use the mobile devices that are ubiquitous in business and overlay it with a lot more powerful information. So for example, if you’re measuring the temperature of beef and it’s at 78°, you want this immediately to pop up and say if it’s undercooked or overcooked.”

The app’s GPS component tells you where a worker was when they filled out the form, so for instance, you can tell if an employee was actually standing next to the machine they were inspecting or if they were in the breakroom cutting corners. It also allows that inspecting employee to take photos of the machine in question should a defect be found.

“Say a meat cutting machine’s blade is dull or if there’s a safety hazard — you can photograph it and document it, and now you have a date-time stamp and a photograph that documents that this meat-cutting machine was problematic on this day,” Benedict says.

“It’s really just bringing paper forms into the 21st century. So you fill all that out and a PDF is generated that can be immediately emailed to anyone, say a supervisor, your boss, or maintenance to issue a work order, and that’s how we modernize paperwork. Because this can be on any employee’s device — and people are much more likely to fill out paperwork if they’re just doing a couple of quick clicks and making use of their camera, because we do it all day — we take selfies and update Instagram, right? It’s just a different context.”

It’s not just a static group of forms that are available either; every user can customize a template to their own needs and then share it through the app store for free, allowing all users — no matter their business — the ability to download the forms that work best for them. At this point, the forms are then referred to as “apps” themselves, and as of press time there are over 2,000 available.

“Commissaries use our product for daily and more frequent inspections to ensure that things like allergen cross-contact don’t happen,” Benedict says. “Cleanliness is a big issue too, we see that all the time. When you have to do multiple inspections a day you end up seeing employee breakage, and if all I have to do is whip out my smartphone and spend literally 60 seconds filling out an app? I can do that.”

One of the greatest advantages to this technology is that not only do you have instant access to every compliance form you may need when being audited, but it’s also cloud-based, so documentation is always backed up.

“You have immediate proof, and everything you need is typed versus handwritten,” Benedict says. “And then what we do beyond that is we integrate all this data with back-end systems such as databases and software systems, so there’s no more re-keying of data from paper forms, and then we can even take it and start extracting out insights. So for example, which machines are giving you the most problems? Which employees are continuously undercooking food, or have the greatest spoilage?”

All of this then leads to a safer and more efficient workplace — and just as important — a safer standing as a (more profitable) business.