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Smart phones, tablets and planning

by on July 11, 2012

I’ve been noticing an iPad or two appearing in meetings and in the office recently – brought from home and not government-subsidised, I hasten to add!

With tablet and smart phone sales surging and PC sales waning I’d be very interested to understand how colleagues in planning and building control are using mobile technology – be it a smart phone or a tablet or indeed something else – as part of their working day.

  • Are any local authorities or inspectors using them for site visits?
  • Any architects using any of the apps for basic (or maybe not so basic) drawings?
  • Any plans to switch from traditional computing models to enable more mobile working?
  • Does anyone use the Portal for information or accessing applications on a tablet or other device?
  • Do you have any recommendations for essential apps for planning and building?

Please let me know by adding a comment below.

  1. From a private consultancy perspective I use an iPad to read emails and store Local Plan documents, unfortunately local plan maps are difficult to view in PDF form….

    AutoCAD WS is great for viewing drawings just upload them before going on site!

    When I worked in local government (a while back now) we did look at various mobile technologies, the barrier was really the end user. Many people found the learning curve too steep & this was pre-iPad.

    I’m now in a rural area and the Planning/BC officers aside from mobile phones don’t use technology much on site. There’s a big mobile coverage gap here (2G only) so any connected technologies require better mobile data coverage first.

    • PortalDirector permalink

      Thanks for the comment, Elliot. And thanks for the recommendation for the useful app. If I get enough recommendations I’ll post a list of user-recommended apps for planners, architects etc. Unless someone’s already done this…

  2. David Young permalink

    Definitely no plans to introduce an iPad or smartphone into the business environment. The PC still rules for me.

  3. We are not using iPad’s with our planners as yet, but I am sure it will come. I have noticed that the Adobe Reader for iOS (iPad) can’t make use of the electronic measuring tools enabled by Live Cycle, which would be really useful. Other types of mark-up are there, so its not all doom and gloom and I am sure Adobe will enable this in future with the relevant prod in the right direction.

    Our BC inspectors have been mobile working since around 2005 using PDA’s.

    As for the PP’s mobile web presence, iOS does not support flash and so the interactive guides do not work. Its the same for the volume and carbon calculator. The emapsite plans can be exported to CAD but whether this can be used to create site plans for online applications using the available CAD software on iOS would need to be looked into. Would an agent really want to submit a basic (works to tree) application online?

    GPS could certainly play a role in identifying the site, either as x,y or listing nearest UPRN’s. Add to this the fact that photos and video can be taken when the agent visits the site and then added as part of the application.

    I suppose it will come down to who wants to work using smart devices and when that might be. Some of our planning officers would like to either bring their own or be issued with a tablet device; some can’t imagine using them on site.

  4. I am a planning and design consultant and regularly use my iPad for client and LA meetings as well as appeals. There some very good apps that allow you to sketch over a photo of a site. Excellent for pre-app meetings and client presentations.

    • PortalDirector permalink

      Thanks for the comment, Glenn. Is there any chance you could share the names of some of the apps you mention?

  5. Robert Willson permalink

    I am a building surveyor and have just bought and starting to use my ipad for business purposes. Taking it tentatively at first.

    Apps that I am currently trialling are as follows.
    1) AutoCad WS – Mobile Cad platform useful to view and ammend drawings during site inspection etc…
    2) Pages and Numbers – Useful for viewing schedules of works prelims for specific projects rather than lugging the documents around. Additionally enables valuations contract instruction etc to be drafted during site inspection within reason. I have also tried Polaris Office which also seems resonable as an all in one office solution. As with all these programmes do not expect to produce a sizeable thesis, they are more tailored to a support role of editing.
    3) I have also purchased Wacom bamboo note paper and stylus for written site notes and sketches it ok but also trialling 7note that has a writing recognition.
    4) Evernote for collating information on relevant project and regulations, this syncs acoss my iphone, ipad and mac pro. So project specific trade information is at hand.

    Form Mobi is a new app that i am currently playing with where you can develop typical inspection sheets etc… It appears to offer quite an aray of user defined forms including sketch paper and a cad sketch utility although not .dwg compliant.

    All good so far, but not good in the rain, so I still need to take paper and pencils with me.

    I am trying to integrate it more on a day to day basis, certainly more useful than my old psion was.

  6. Rob Webster permalink

    As a Local Authority Planning Officer I always prefer to take my (personal) iPad on site visits than taking paper plans. Its far easier to view and discuss electronic plans on site (viewing them through the Council website) – not least because an iPad isnt likely to act like a sail in the same way an A1 sheet does on a windy day!

    As the need to have paper copies of plans around the office diminishes as well, our Admin team don’t produce non-public paper copies of plans for householder applications until the latter end of the consultation period. So just taking the iPad out means its far easier to do a site visit within a day or two of receipt of the application, which is generally to everyones benefit.

  7. Andrew Thompson permalink

    It needs to be seriously looked at as there is a move to paperless (or less paper) offices. I read somewhere that Wandsworth were already doing this. Plans are already used online with the adobe measuring tool. There are no paper copies in the public domain for example which has freed up a lot of filing space and saved a lot in printing costs.

    As for plans and preparation, social media continues to be a desire but how do you capture comments and ensure that it meets the legal requirements: “:-) lol” for example or something as simple as “like” on Facebook. A quantitative objection in 144 characters?

    From a professional body perspective, I would love to see more investment in our online image. I know a lot of work has gone into the new website and more is to follow but the regions are still way behind. If we are to ensure that we, as planners are not the hard to reach community and to reclaim the ownership of the profession we need to be easy to find on all internet and social media.
    The Centenary in 2014 is the perfect platform for iPads, apps and the next wave of communication aides. If we are going to get the younger generations realise the existence of planning, we need to talk on their terms and in their environment. Just as we have moved (slowly) to the internet, we need to move to other forms.

    I suspect this also has to do with the personalties of some planners and the way we have always done things but also volunteer nature of regional committees. That said those who are enthusiastic need to take the lead (as I am on my Regional Committee) but we need to get a grip on this. The world is moving (fast) and we need to catch up or the very professional will be considered out of date.

    If anyone in the west midlands wants to get in touch, I am on linkedin – I am the current Regional Chair.

    • PortalDirector permalink

      Thanks Andrew, couldn’t agree more and for good measure I’ve sent you an invitation to connect on LinkedIn.

  8. James Coulter permalink

    Have to say that the playbook with the new OS2 is by far the best tablet on the market. Most apps are free or under £5 and is invaluable for the sheer power – presentations, videos at 1080p and the battery life if the brightness is kept down and u are not connecting to a poor quality network signal.

    For usefulness windows/linux tablets are hard to beat. These use a stylus for accuracy and keeps the screen clean.


  9. Bill Morris permalink

    I am about to purchase a tablet as I am now convinced that for meetings they are a super tool that avoids printing reams of paper, much of which you read once and bin. In my roles as a Parish Councillor and School Governor this is going to save me time, paper and toner; it will save the Council around £4K a year at least, in copying, postage etc. and that is beofre we count admin person time The Council will be seriously considering buying an iPad for each Councillor and that will still pay back within a year from the savings and with a 3-4 year life – good business sense. I am delighted to see a CAD application available. I have two notes of caution: this won’t replace the PC (laptop or desktop) as tablets are not really friendly for writing volumes and when you need a keyboard (well, not with my fat fingers anyway) but they are great for minor editing. The second point is IT security – if you are going to encourage the use of private equipment to connect to the non-public side of your network (in the office or from outside if you have VPN connectivity for example), you had better have a word with your Chief Security or Chief Information Oficer or they’ll ruin your day! They’ll be worried (rightly) about introduction of Malware and/or theft of confidential data. Connection as a member of the public via the corporate firewall should be OK.

    • PortalDirector permalink

      That’s really interesting, Bill – and a sign of how time has moved on. I remember attending a meeting with councillors in DCLG’s HQ some six or seven years ago. DCLG asked councillors and clerks how they would engage more in e-planning. the top two answers were 1. give us PCs and 2. give us broadband.

      Please keep us updated on the council’s plans to issue iPads for councillors. Thanks for the comment.

  10. I used to use one of the original TabletPC’s back in the early 00’s. Touch screen via a stylus and running WinXP, but the units were too heavy, too big and had limited run time. Too unreliable for site work, and too finicky to use. I never trusted them for safe keeping of site notes or data

    Even with today’s tablets, they are only useful for reading stuff with minimal interaction and marking up. I certainly don’t thing something like AutoCAD WS is viable for anything other than reading files.

    Anyway I’m an Android user so I don’t know if all of the following are available for iOS or not

    Dropbox,, Google Drive and for all your online storage – you can get 10gb from each of these for free

    AutoCAD WS or Webxcad. Works in the Chrome browser for viewing and editing cad files

    D-measures. Take a photo and quickly draw on dimension arrows or notes and share to others

    Smart Tools. Various measuring tools including sound and vibration

    Evernote. Copy whole pages, text or photos from the browser, edit and mark up, and store in a searchable ‘notebook’ format on-line, and share links

    Skitch. Draw sketches, or mark-up and draw on photos or image files and then share via email or online links. Works with Evernote

    Google Latitude. Uses the gps in your device to locate you. Share with chosen people if you are going out alone on site who can then track you in case you need to be found! Don’t worry, you can turn it off if you need to be incognito

    I’m on Google Plus (G+) more than FB or Twiltter or Linkedin, and a brilliant part of that is the Hangout feature. Video conference with 10 other people and you can also see images or read documents stored in your Google drive account and you can also work on them at the same time. If you are on site and need to talk to others whilst showing them what’s going on, then this is a great feature

    • PortalDirector permalink

      Yes, some of those apps are definitely available on the iPad, I’ll defer to James Coulter (another commenter on this post) as to whether the apps are available on the PlayBook. When I put together a summary I’ll make it clear where apps are available across the different platforms.

      Thanks for taking the time to add your comment, much appreciated!

  11. Colin Mendelowitz permalink

    I am an Architect & Project Manager and use my iPad extensively for work.

    Apps I use are:

    Camera+ for progress shots of projects. This has great editing and notation facilities.

    Skitch (same stable as Evernote) for comments and overlays on drawings and photos. It can import from several sources, including the web, maps, photos, screen shots etc.

    iBooks for PDFs of relevant drawings, minutes and notes to have at meetings

    AutoCad WS for detailed drawing review

    AutoCad SketchBook Pro for freehand sketching to explain a detail or point. (Mainly used for drawing for fun.) You need a stylus for this and the best is the Wacom bamboo. This is one of my favourite apps and gives you just about every drawing and painting tool you could ever desire. It also uses layers which can be independently controlled.

    I now access the web more from the iPad than my Mac or PC
    This is from my iPad.

  12. Luke permalink

    Can’t live without my ipad and iphone for reading PDFs of development plan documents, essential for inquiries and committees – a lot less to carry about!

  13. Stephen Knight-Gregson permalink

    As the previous commentator says…absolutely brilliant for carrying around essential reference materials in paperless .pdf format in iBooks…iPad 3 is very fast for accessing the web, downloading pdfs and storing them in iBooks.

  14. I am a solicitor and have been using iPad2 for some time now. Initially for personal use but increasingly using for business use. Obvious connection with real time office syatems via Citrix link. Useful for client meeting / inquiry for document review and access to statutes / cases / policy documents (pdfs). Camera for onsite work and Skitch for comment / overlay on drawings / photographs. Looking forward to your summary of what people are using out there.

  15. Aaron Davies permalink

    I’m a designer, residential sector, and my work includes client based and personal development projects, working within project values rangining from 35K – 2.2m – small scale work in the greater scheme of things. This preamble is important. There are many small scale business like mine who struggle with the work load imposed by the ever increasing amount of legislation, some of which is important and long overdue, some of which is quite simply daft. The point is that small business can benefit from some aspects of technology, both software and hardware. Email, information issued in e-format, sophisticated PDF software, and so on, help reduce piles of paper, which takes up valuable space, and reduces duplication in respect to printing. It can also improve collaborative project team work, essential at a time when direct employment is dropping off in favour of individuals setting themselves up as consultants/specialists. In terms of hardware, smart phones and tablets offer the opportunity to enhance communication and build deeper understandings between the various people involved in any given project, be it the client, contractor or legislators. However, all these technology advancements are only tools within a process that is as old as time – the production of live and work spaces – and that is dependent not on ‘paper’ but people, and the quality of communication between them. The problems endemic within the industry are rooted in the lack of focus on outcome, particularly when it comes to legislators. The tehcnology we have offers an unprecedented opportunity for fast, high quality and accurate communication of ideas, plans, schemes, and proof of compliance, but the system in which we opperate consistently fails to leverage that opportunity for the benefit of the risk-takers. I am heartened by some of the above comments, particularly that of the regional planning officer, but such people are an exception and I suspect are given a hard time in the office. I don’t underestimate the legal implactions of change, and I understand the fears and dangers surrounding a cultural change in working practices, but until these issues are addressed, and a clearer focus placed on outcomes, the potential role of the technology we already have will be hamstrung. At present, planners and legilsators have become harder to reach, and the opportunity for face to face discussion has been virutally obliterated. Yet 30 minutes face to face discussion can enable a level of communication that could potentially save all parties many days, and reduce misunderstandings. Technology is a tool for communication but without the opportunity to engage in direct discussion it’s full benefit will remain unrealised, and therefore under-utilised. What I would advocate is a planning standard for applications issued in PDF format, a streamlined electronic application system that allows for faster upload and that recognises the value of simple 3D work, particularly that issued in Google Sketchup, and includes at least one 30 minute slot for face to face meetings with the planning officers for any give scheme. This alone would speed up the process, and therefore add value to the invesment in technology. I would encourage planning officers to take on board that any given scheme has the potential to add value to the local community, and that applications should be treated with far greater respect, as each scheme we complete adds value to the local revenue, via taxation, employment, regeneration, and so on; money that helps pay the wages of those who are judging the merits of any given application! Indeed, technology has a very important role to play in this process, but if the process itself does not change the potential leverage within the technology is minised and therefore the investment becomes a burden.

  16. Aaron makes some good points. I know it’s deviating slightly but I very much agree with being able to meet the planning officer briefly. Not only does it help to discuss aspects of even a simple domestic scheme, it’s also am opportunity to build a professional working relationship. With good communications this contact could take place at the time the officer makes the initial site meeting.

  17. Hi, I am an Urban Design and Architectural consultant with just over 20 years of experience in the business. I am also a bit of a computer buff.
    My view is that pads are currently simply not powerful enough to deliver the sort of work I produce on a laptop or desktop PC. They are also very limited in memory and storage capacity – but you can use cloud services (often adding another cost though).
    A lot of people do not realise that for not much more than the cost of an Ipad, you can get a laptop (with all the added extra’s like usb ports/ dvd re-writer drives etc etc – that Ipad’s do not have), and that laptop would be capable of running all your cad and office programs – including hardcore rendering software like maya and softimage – for example, that an Ipad simply cannot handle.

    The only real benefit of an Ipad is that it is small and light – but power books are getting lighter all the time. For the money I would rather buy a serious work horse – and I think Ipad’s are seriously overpriced for what they are and provide – for example a galaxy notebook is a tablet (designed to have a smaller screen than an Ipad so perhaps you could argue that it is even more portable), but it can do pretty much what an Ipad can and an iPhone combined.

    Bottom line – iPads are a ‘fashionable toy’ that presently do not even begin to deliver the technological capability of a power book / lap top – yet they almost cost the same. If you need something that you can do serious work on then a laptop or desktop is still the only way to go.
    If you want to present to clients or take notes in meetings then an Ipad might be handy, but only as a supporting device – and even in that instance my first choice would be a much smarter device (like the notebook I mentioned). As a small business you might want to keep your costs down though and a pad would most definitely be an unnecessary purchase in that case.

  18. I run an Architectural Practice working in the residential sector. We use tablet PCs on site for connecting to total stations and laser measures etc for topographical and measured building surveys. This data is then transferred to our 3d Cad system / BIM software. We produce 2d and 3d visuals for Cleints and Planners etc and usually show these on ipad or laptop. We then proudce the planning documents – its a pain we have to plot them out before submitting them to the planning portal – but thats the rules even though we have never had one not print from the .pdf we are uploading. Just a waste of paper??? Once we have planning we produce the final construction documents for Building Control and Contarctors. We submit this by e-mail. Apart from 2 contarctors who are ipad wizards we supply A1 or A0 drawings to contractors. .dwg or .pdf to Structural Engineers and other specilists.

  19. I am a Development Management Officer with Hastings Council and have recently produced a poster for our planning reception that includes QR codes for planning guidance – including the Planning Portal’s on-line appeals and interactive guides. Although this LPA uses lap-tops and basic phones, I had noticed that an increasing number of our customers in the planning reception do use smart phones and tablets.

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