Saturday, 10 January 2015

Making Digital Technology Work For You on the Golf Course

Digital technology is slowly creeping into a golf course maintenance operation near you whether you like it or not.  As the younger more tech-savvy generation move up the ranks they bring with them new ways to use the digital technology to make their operations better. Being one of the early adopters, I have noticed a lot of good examples and a lot of bad examples of how superintendents have implemented these systems on the golf course. I want to share with you some of the lessons and tricks I have learned to make a few of the most common uses of digital planning and record keeping actually improve your operation.

Digital Job Board

The digital job board is a trend that has recently taken off with golf course maintenance operations. At first is was just the high end clubs that were doing this but the low budget operations quickly caught on the benefits that a digital job board can offer. At first they might seem excessive for small mom and pop operations but they are in fact even more essential for today's small golf course operations. Small operations don't have the budget for many managers to direct staff and keep everyone organized. With a properly designed job board the superintendent can manage the operations as if he has 2 assistants for the one-time cost of $500 assuming you already have a smart phone. Some might see the digital job board as just a way to spend more money but this just isn't true if the job board is created and used properly.

Google Sheets is a versatile medium for a digital job board
Unfortunately most of the digital job boards I have seen are not much better than their white board alternatives. Basically they only offer a fancy way of presenting the data and help your messages be more clearly presented. They don't actually save you, as a supervisor, any work. You still have to keep them updated and for the most part must be physically present in the shop to make changes. This is just as much work as writing on a chalk board but costs a lot more!

When creating your digital job board consider the following:

  • Clear presentation with not too much information. If necessary put the tasks on 2 pages and rotate through them with a tool such as Revolver for chrome. Add in the weather pages to the rotation to give you staff even more information!
  • Ability to plan ahead. This will allow you to better schedule tasks that need to be done and add jobs directly to the job board instead of other organizational documents. I have talked about my job board in a recent blog post. This also saves time from having to copy data from other notes. Add it direct to the job board!
  • Ability to update on your mobile device. An online or cloud based spreadsheet program will make this easy. I use Google Sheets. This makes changes possible while out on the golf course or on your days off while at home or on holiday!
  • Make it accessible to your staff. I only have one computer in my operation so my job board and computer are on the work bench so everyone can access it to see what needs to be done.

So when planning your job board for 2015 remember to make it work for you! There's no point in making one if it doesn't make your job easier! Check out my board and let me know if I can help you customize it to suit your operation.

Record Keeping

Private web page to make access
to my forms easy for me and my staff
Other ways that superintendents are using digital tools to save time is by taking their records off paper and into spreadsheets. Many are creating online forms that automatically update the spreadsheet with data. Some examples of these can be equipment use records, spray records, fertilizer records, disease monitoring and even weather reports. One mistake I see a lot of people making is that they still make it too hard to fill our the form. In order for a record to be useful you actually have to use it! You will quickly stop using a record if it takes you too much time to fill out. Too many questions and difficult access are some things that will prevent you from using your forms to their maximum potential. Even forgetting to take records for a short time can ruin the effectiveness of the data collected.

A simple web form takes
5 seconds to fill out and only
collects data that I can use
In order to get the most out of your online forms I find it beneficial to try the following:

  • keep them short, too many questions takes too long
  • easily accessed, I have my forms embedded on a private web page that is formatted for mobile. Here is an post I did about my equipment use form
  • Accessible in the field, put the forms online if possible and accessible on your mobile phone or any of your staff's phones.I put a shortcut to this on my phone home page.
  • Only collect data that you will use, all the other stuff just takes long and clutters up your database.
  • Train your staff to use the forms, a form can standardize the added data making is easy to sort through it all. Use drop down lists for commonly used terms.
  • Standardize, don't use a bunch of different programs for records, find a good online spreadsheet program and stick with it, copying data from one medium to the other wastes time.
When I first started as a superintendent I really wanted to step up my record keeping. An example of a pest monitoring record in our local IPM manual was very thorough but would probably take 10 minutes to fill out! I tried to make this work but only filled out 1 report all year! It was hard to always keep all that paper handy and I often couldn't find my pencil. I was too busy with my small operation to take effective records. Now with smart phones and cloud based technology we can make dozens of observations every day in a fraction of the time!
While very thorough, this record takes too long to fill out and the
data isn't easily manipulated. You would have to hire an additional staff member
just to analyze this data!
Another advantage of using an online spreadsheet program combined with an online form is that you instantly have the data available to sort and compare. With the old paper method it would take a lot of work to make sense of any information useful. So when creating new forms for record keeping this year remember to keep the data relevant and simple. We aren't doing scientific research here, just organizing our observations in a way that we can use to analyze what actually happened out there.

I hope that these few tips have helped and if anyone has any questions always feel free to comment below or send me an email. I would love to help you make the most out of the awesome digital tools we now have available. 

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