Mobile data collection is the use of mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets to collect data. Many organizations working in social impact are migrating from paper forms to mobile data collection due to the ease-of-use and cost-savings of using mobile devices to collect data, among other reasons.
While trying to migrate your organization’s data collection from paper forms to mobile data collection, you will come across many software tools that promise to aid you in this endeavor. Some of these tools are paid, while some are free. Some are simple and straightforward to use, while some give you more powers to customize many aspects of your data collection project.
In this article, I will round up the 10 best mobile data collection software built for development professionals.
ODK is a set of powerful open source tools for developing and deploying offline mobile data collection forms.
The suite comprises of 2 main tools: ODK Collect, an Android app used to collect data, and ODK Central, a data management tool that must be installed on a server and is used to manage user accounts and permissions, store forms and aggregate data collected from ODK Collect.
Forms for ODK are built using ODK Build – a simple and intuitive web and desktop interface for form development. You can also build forms in Excel using the XLSForm standard.
For organizations that need a managed cloud solution and fast support, Open Data Kit provides its ODK Cloud service where you will be able to access ODK without having to invest in IT infrastructure and installing ODK Central on your own.
ODK has earned itself a reputation for setting the standards in mobile data collection with its extensive set of features. which include:
- The ability to collect data offline in the field and synchronizing it when an internet connection is available
- Support for an extensive list of data types such as text, numbers, GPS, photos and videos, among others
- Support for skip logic, calculations, external datasets and multiple languages
- Ability to connect the data to other platforms for data synchronization through the ODK REST API
Cost: Self hosted community version – Free | ODK Cloud: From $169/mo
Available on: Android
KoBoToolbox is a set of free simple, robust and powerful tools for data collection.
Using its simple and intuitive form builder, you will be able to develop data collection forms very quickly. Forms can also be built in Excel using the XLSForm standard.
After developing the forms, data collection can be done offline using its Android app known as KoBoCollect. It also lets you enter data online or offline through the browser.
Not only are you able to download your aggregated data, you will also be able to analyze and visualize your data through its built-in report and map tools.
KoBoToolbox has an extensive list of features that include multiple language support; ability to collect a wide variety of data types; logic for skip patterns, calculated field and validations; as well as integrations through its KoBoToolbox API.
Cost: Managed Cloud Version – FREE | Self Hosted Version: FREE
Available on: Android, Web browsers
The Census and Survey Processing System (CSPro) is a free software package used by hundreds of organizations and tens of thousands of individuals for entering, editing, tabulating, and disseminating census and survey data.
CSPro is developed and maintained by the United States Census Bureau.
The software consists of a Windows application with tools for developing forms, entering data and tabulating results.
Apart from offline data entry using the desktop client, CSPro also has a mobile app called CSEntry used to enter data on Android devices like smartphones and tablets. Data from multiple mobile devices can be exported and aggregated offline using the windows application or aggregated online using a server application called CSWeb.
CSPro has many features that include a sophisticated programming language for implementing skip patterns, validation logic, calculated fields, media capturing and other powerful features.
Available on: Windows, Android
ONA is a mobile data collection solution used by many top international development organizations such as WHO, DFID and the World Bank.
The software is based on the ODK standard and hence has all the great features ODK is known for such as offline data collection, support for a wide range of data types as well as logic for skip patterns, validations and calculations.
Apart from these features, ONA makes it easy to manage forms within projects and organizations by allowing administrators to control access to forms based on roles within projects and the organization.
ONA also has a powerful reporting module that allows for development of charts that can be added to custom dashboards for sharing with stakeholders.
Data can be collected online and offline using the ONA Android app or on any browser.
Cost: Starts FREE. Paid plans start at $99/mo
Available on: Android, Web
Magpi is a mobile data collection solution that has a powerful form building tool allowing you to build highly customizable forms as well as a visualization tool for building custom dashboards using your data.
Forms are built using the Magpi online form builder. Once done, these forms are deployed on mobile devices using the Magpi Android and iOS apps. The apps allow for live synchronization of changes made to the form for instant previewing.
Apart from the mobile app, Magpi also lets you collect data through SMS and Interactive Voice Response (IVR).
Magpi has a powerful visualization tool that lets you build custom dashboards for real-time analysis of your data.
Users also have the ability to integrate their data with a range of tools such as databases, Salesforce, Google Sheets and Microsoft Excel.
Cost: Starts FREE | Paid plans start at $500/mo
Available on: Android, iOS
SurveyCTO is another powerful mobile data collection solution that was built with development professionals in mind.
You can use the built-in form builder to develop data collection forms or use the XLSForm standard where forms are developed in Excel and uploaded to SurveyCTO.
Data can be collected online or offline using the SurveyCTO mobile app or through the browser.
Just like ONA and KoBoToolbox which are all based on the ODK standard, SurveyCTO which is also based on the same standard, has the capabilities for collecting a wide variety of data types such as text, numbers, GPS and media.
You have the ability to implement basic and advanced logic for skip controls, data validations and calculations.
Cost: From $198/mo (with free 15 days trial)
Available on: Android, iOS, Web
Epi Info™ is a free set of interoperable software tools designed for the global community of public health practitioners and researchers.
The suite includes windows software for form creation, data entry and data analysis known as Epi Info for Windows.
Forms developed on Epi Info for Windows can be loaded onto the Epi Info for Mobile Android app for data collection. Data can also be collected through the browser using Epi Info Web Survey or Epi Info Cloud Data Capture.
Epi Info’s data capturing capabilities are very robust. Since it is based on databases, it is easy to develop longitudinal surveys with case management. Using it’s form logic called Check Code, a user can define validations, skip logic and calculations using form fields.
The suite’s data analysis and visualization capabilities are even more robust, allowing you to analyze and present the data collected with ease. The analyses available include general statistical functions as well ones that are public health specific.
Available on: Windows, iOS, Android, Web
TeamScope is a new powerful tool for developing offline mobile data collection forms.
It boasts an easy-to-use drag-and-drop form builder with more than a dozen field types.
Where TeamScope shines is the ability to track cases over time in longitudinal studies.
TeamScope has both Android and iOS apps for data entry. Soon they will also be offering data entry through web browsers.
Basic data visualizations are available to aid in the analysis and presentation of your data. More exciting data visualizations and analyses are being added to the software.
The software also boasts a robust team management feature to collaborate, share and control access to forms and data.
Cost: From €30/mo (billed annually) with Free 7-day trial
Available on: Android, iOS
CommCare by dimagi is inarguably one of the most powerful mobile data collection software.
The platform is loaded with features that enable development professionals to develop data collection tools for any use case.
With CommCare, you can develop multiple connected forms with lookup functionality, making it possible to track cases across stages in your programs.
Based on the XLSForm standard, CommCare’s form builder is easy-to-use and rich in functionality that include support for a wide range of field types and logic for skip patterns, validations and calculations.
CommCare integrates has SMS functionality for field team alerts or for SMS data collection.
The platform also allows users to develop custom reports using charts, maps and tables for data analysis.
Cost: Starts $250/mo for paid plans. Free trial and community versions available
Available on: Android
Survey Solutions is a mobile and web data collection solution developed by the World Bank.
The software has evolved over the years to include powerful features and integrations that include macros, calculated variables, lookup tables, nested rosters, cascading and lining questions, as well as the ability to collect data from external sensors. Aside from these features, Survey Solutions supports multiple data types such as text, numbers, audios, photos and GPS.
The GIS features in Survey Solutions are very powerful, allowing you to calculate distances and areas, as well as applying geofencing and location guidance.
The software also has data analysis and reporting functionality to make getting insights from your data easy and convenient.
Survey Solutions can be installed on a server on your premises or online on cloud services such as Microsoft Azure or Amazon Web Services.
Available on: Android, Web
The technology for mobile data collection has evolved very rapidly over the years, spawning solutions with powerful and exciting features. Many of these features cannot be easily replicated using paper forms. It goes without saying hence that organizations that haven’t yet embraced the use of mobile devices to collect data must start thinking of how they can benefit from the many reasons mobile data collection is many times better than data collection using paper forms.