Optimizing GNSS Workflow Flexibility
Learn how you can utilize flexible technology solutions for efficiency and accuracy in your workflow.
The technology ecosystem aiding land surveyors and GIS professionals of today is rapidly advancing, incorporating more features and functions that are enabling faster deliverables in sleeker and smaller form factors. However, technology solutions need to be developed with the understanding of what users need in order to accomplish their tasks, especially when it comes to gathering accurate location information for a wide range of surveying, engineering and GIS field applications. To do this, we first must understand how people work. Who are they, and what is their role in the project and in the enterprise? What specific information do they need to do their job? Where and how do they use it? And, what is the desired end result?
Authentic data is crucial for surveying, mapping and GIS applications. Even though a higher level of accuracy often means more time in the field due to the time spent collecting data, rework is clearly more unproductive than mapping the features accurately the first time. More often than not, these professionals want to leverage a blending of multiple technologies to collect data and use that information to streamline field work. Therefore, they require the flexibility in a GNSS receiver based on the performance level that suits the application set(s) while also maximizing the accuracy of these devices.
Surveyors and GIS professionals also want the freedom to configure a customized technology solution that addresses a high level of accuracy and GNSS performance, but that also is rugged enough to operate effectively in any given environment. Pairing a GNSS receiver with smart devices will also increase the overall versatility and flexibility of the GIS professional’s workflow deliverables by enabling quick and accurate data collection by the boots-on-the-ground folks in the field.
So what is the first step to getting started? Before making any purchasing decision on new GNSS solutions, it’s critical to understand the technological needs and match a product that meets those needs, even if they are diverse. Reputable GNSS technology vendors should also be able to address different application requirements and workflow considerations, since mapping and GIS professionals help solve problems for an extremely diverse set of vertical customers — all of whom require the utmost in data accuracy and technology integration/compatibility.
Requirements and Accuracy
Surveying, mapping and GIS professionals should seek out GNSS receiver solutions that:
- Provide the end user the option to select not only the accuracy and GNSS performance level appropriate for their specific application, but are also capable of delivering sub-meter- to centimeter-level positioning accuracy in real time.
- Help achieve a higher level of accuracy in real time using multiple correction sources such as satellite based augmentation systems (SBAS), virtual reference stations (VRS) and real time kinematic (RTK) and real time extended (RTX) correction services.
- Support multiple satellite constellations and augmentation systems to provide maximum accuracy and positioning performance.
- Are able to be paired with mobile/smart devices on a variety of operating systems and platforms.
- Easily integrate with mapping and GIS analysis software to enable data to be easily collected, communicated and processed, providing the users with high-quality deliverables for the entire organization.
- Are built to withstand harsh environmental conditions that meet military specifications for ruggedness.
Why Do Surveyors Need Accuracy?
The engineering and mapping businesses are acutely aware of the efficiencies created by greater accuracy. If data is not accurate, the entire information system will not function smoothly. When information is gathered inaccurately, errors become increasingly costly downstream. The level of accuracy required for each project may vary, so knowing what level is needed to support the final outcome is important from the start and all along the workflow.
Aerial and satellite imagery were initial steps toward generating more accurate data collection, successfully positioning the field team to within a 50-centimeter range of the assets. Eventually, high-speed LiDAR collection tools, designed to capture large areas at 5- to 10-centimeter accuracy, were introduced to the market. While these tools significantly improved data collection, precise measurement typically requires more time, more expenses and highly specific instruments in order to generate more data.
When robust, accurate data is collected there is a direct correlation to improved workflows and operational efficiency. This allows professionals to be more strategic in ensuring that application solutions are effective across the operational landscape.
A few examples of applications that depend on a high level of accuracy include:
- Mapping: Any type of mapping application, including locations, quantities, densities, specific areas and map change.
- Utility Infrastructure/Cable Location: Many assets within the utility infrastructure are located underground. Accuracy is vital in cost-effective data gathering from the right asset. Many industries also use buried cable and depend on accuracy for locating assets.
- Water/Wastewater: Industry professionals may require location and elevation measurements to locate and collect data on manholes or trunk lines.
- Mining: Open mine pits can drastically impede the accuracy of positioning data. It’s important to leverage technology that can overcome even the harshest/ hard-to-reach environments.
The applications vary across vertically focused industries and different businesses have different needs and requirements. However, accuracy remains a critical function across the board. It is up to the surveyor and GIS professionals to determine the level of accuracy their workflow will require.
What is the Impact of BYOD?
Smart devices are an essential part of how professionals communicate and gather their information. The use of these devices has grown rapidly and they now serve as a way for businesses to work smarter and more efficiently. In the mapping and GIS industries, handhelds and mobile devices (such as smart phones and tablets) have a growing presence in the field. Mapping and GIS professionals have begun to tap into the satellite and mapping features for location and positioning.
The bring your own device (BYOD) trend, which is essentially the use of commercial-grade devices for work purposes, will likely not slow down as organizations continue to adopt BYOD policies in order to gain a competitive advantage. Therefore, GIS professionals should leverage GNSS receiver technology that is able to be easily paired with iOS, Android or Windows mobile handhelds, smart phones and tablets using Bluetooth and/or USB connectivity. When paired with a mobile device, these receivers can quickly add professional-grade GNSS capabilities to enable high-accuracy data collection.
Don’t Forget to Blend
In many cases, it’s important that information can be blended together with data from other sources as needed. Consider the situation of a field GIS technician working for a public utility who uses a GNSS receiver to capture the location of a manhole. Perhaps because of safety or training considerations, the GIS technician doesn’t open the manhole, but can collect imagery and other information along with its location. Later, a different utility crew enters the manhole to inspect its contents and condition. The information that crew gathers is combined with the position data to feed a GIS or utility management system.
Additionally, GNSS receivers are just one technology solution in a broad technology stack. It’s vital that GIS professionals consider the impact that one technology solution can have on their organization’s operations and vice versa. The use of expansive technological ecosystems can enable organizations to make the most efficient use of their information. Blended technologies are created to combine or eliminate steps in the data value chain or workflow. In order to unlock these competitive advantages, surveyor and GIS professionals need to understand the end uses of the information they gather and provide. This understanding enables them to select tools and processes that produce deliverables with the quality and accuracy needed to support the downstream processes.
Productivity, Features and More
In GIS data collection, you can’t separate accuracy from productivity. If you have to collect mass data quickly, you typically end up with lower accuracy, depending on the technology, correction service and location. Therefore, today’s GIS surveyor and GIS professionals require flexible GNSS receiver technology solutions that allow them to configure the necessary features/functions to meet their specific job or application requirements. The versatility of a GNSS receiver that can support GIS and survey workflows, as well as BYOD deployment, enables professionals to collect data using the smart device, workflow and accuracy they choose.
By focusing on the business requirements first and extrapolating your individual requirements for leveraging GNSS receiver technologies, decision-makers will be better equipped to select the best-fit solution that not only improves their workflow and deliverables, but also integrates well within the context of an organization’s overall technology strategy.
Sidebar: 5 Key Questions
Discussing the role of GNSS and various tools and technologies, there are five basic questions that need answers if the tools, techniques, and workflow are going to be matched properly. Sometimes, the questions are harder than the answers. Here is a description of the five questions that form the basis for this discussion of tools and workflow:
- Who are they? This applies not only to who makes up the field crew that collects the data on a particular project. It includes the end users of the data. Implied are questions of experience, qualifications, and capabilities with some of the tools employed.
- What is their role in the project and in the enterprise? A field technician has a different role from the mapper who will ultimately work with the data provided from the field. Both are involved in handling the data and developing the final product that will satisfy the project goals. Communication is critical to ensure the full scope of the project and its implications for each person in the workflow and on their particular activities.
- What specific information do they need to do their job? This can sound simpler than it is. A field crew needs to know more than where the job site is and what the scope of work entails. Some details about the end use of their product will affect the tools and methods they use. The goal is to optimize the result without giving short shrift to the details or spending a disproportionate amount of resources. This is true from the field work to the modeling and mapping.
- Where and how do they use it? In the field, the data being collected may just need to be reviewed and verified, or there may be more work being performed at the source. This will affect who needs what access to data. All along the workflow, the data needs should be defined along with the timeframe for when different functions and roles will need access and to what data. This can change from project to project as different teams are engaged and roles change.
- And, what is the desired end result? Almost any project can be designed from the desired outcome back through each stage and step required to reach that goal. Ensuring all team members have a sense of the goal helps keep everyone engaged and focused on that goal. It can also drive incremental changes and improvements throughout the workflow as team members determine better ways to deliver their results.