Canadian Standards Association converts to MDF

Workers who rely on Canadian Standards Association (CSA) documents on the job can soon do away with toting bulky materials once they become accessible on handheld devices.

Convenience and portability are the primary anticipated benefits of mobile device format (MDF)-converted standards documents, especially considering field workers often toil in confined spaces and remote areas, said Eileen McNally, product manager for information products with CSA. “The idea of carting a 600-page document versus a BlackBerry to access the same information, I think is more appealing to our end users,” she said.

More than half of CSA customers use mobile devices on the job, and three quarters were interested in seeing CSA standards accessible on handhelds. The Canadian Electrical Code was the most sought after standard in MDF by users, said McNally.

A PDF document comprising 80 pages can occupy 3.5MB of memory, but the equivalent quantity in MDF would take up less than five per cent of that.

To that end, CSA partnered with Nova Scotia-based mobile and Web application developer Alcaeus Innovations Inc. on the initiative. Handheld users can install the company’s customized document reader, Alcaeus Mobile Editions Software (AMES), from their desktop to their device. Once done, users can access converted MDF standards documents.

When downloaded, the MDF standards reside on the handheld, making the documents “Internet free.” The documents are also encrypted once on the device to ensure the association’s intellectual property is protected, said McNally.

Users can also perform search queries on the MDF standards, and view tables and diagrams that adjust to portrait or landscape view, and calculate answers by entering variables into equations.

The converted standards will first be available for the Windows Mobile operating system only; BlackBerry users will have to wait till the fall.

McNally said they are currently creating an independent platform upon which the software will be interoperable with both Windows Mobile and BlackBerry devices. CSA chose initial interoperability with Windows Mobile given its ubiquity on mobile device manufacturers like Dell, HP, Palm Treo and others, she added. “Obviously we wanted to ensure our product is applicable to as many devices as possible on the onset.”

There will certainly be a demand for MDF standards especially considering the number of issues that exist concerning reading attachments on handhelds, said Michael Rozender, consultant with Oakville, Ont.-based Rozender Consultants International.

It’s not uncommon to receive megabyte-sized attachments that are time-consuming to download, and may not even be readable, said Rozender. And, he added, there’s also the cost factor. “Within Canada with the triopoly of carrier services, they sure know how to charge.”

The setup, said Rozender, does respond to the association’s need to constantly disseminate large amounts of information in text format, coupled with an increasing desire by people in general to access data on handhelds.

With respect to the MDF documents only being initially available for Windows Mobile users, Rozender thinks the BlackBerry platform actually trumps Windows Mobile in popularity in Canada. And, he said he’s also anxious to see how the technology evolves for Google’s Android mobile operating system.

The MDF format, he said, has applicability in a number of areas including those industries that require their product and services actively being shown or viewed, like financial services or location-based services.

CSA will make available MDF standards through its online store beginning with the C22.1 Canadian Electrical Code. Additional standards in the areas of oil and gas, occupational health and safety, health care, and construction and engineering will follow.

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