In Record Time

January 31, 2006
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For centuries, survey documents have been recorded, archived and retrieved through state and county recorders. This mechanism has served the surveying profession well throughout history, and surveyors have accepted the system's limitations without question. But when I first heard about HubTack, a company based in Naperville, Ill., that offers a subscription-based service to obtain monument records and other land survey records via the Internet, I thought it was a fairly novel concept that made a lot of sense.

I am the executive director of the Oklahoma Society of Land Surveyors (OSLS) and an employee of Smith Roberts Baldischwiler in Oklahoma City, Okla. Smith Roberts Baldischwiler provides specialized services and expertise in land surveying, right-of-way, stormwater management, drainage, hydrologic and hydraulic analysis and design, roadway and bridge design, traffic signalization, water distribution and sanitary sewer improvements. To maintain our competitive edge, we are always seeking ways to do business better and faster.

I was introduced to HubTack's services at the annual OSLS meeting last March, and witnessed firsthand how the web-based service could directly impact research for my firm and the surveying profession in general. Shortly afterward, I met with Jim Allen, PLS, HubTack's founder, and Andy Parker, CEO. I ultimately became an avid HubTack fan and customer because of its many benefits.

The Benefit of Online Records

HubTack's goal is to create and make available online a national database of monument records and other land records; in the first quarter of 2006, the company had records online for Oklahoma, Missouri, parts of Florida and northern Illinois. HubTack is currently focusing only on document acquisition in Public Land Survey System (PLSS) states.

In my role at OSLS, I have talked to some surveyors who feel that it is the responsibility of the archiving body (the Oklahoma Department of Libraries, or ODL, in Oklahoma's case) to provide this service. In fact, the ODL had planned a similar project, but due to funding and human resource constraints would not have been able to implement the project for several more years. HubTack has been able to offer something that an archiving body cannot do without government or taxpayer funding, which in today's economy is becoming more and more difficult to obtain.

By building the beginnings of a national database of records, HubTack has the benefit of being able to amortize the expenses associated with providing this service across a user base in multiple states. This has resulted in an affordable offering to the individual surveyor, and is especially beneficial to surveyors who do projects in multiple states. Rather than having to navigate through multiple systems provided by different archiving bodies, they can look to one central source for documents.

HubTack designed its website, www.hubtack.com, and online services specifically for surveyors. It is easy to navigate and since Smith Roberts has subscribed to HubTack's service, I for one have found it easy to use in my work. On the website, monument records are displayed on a township and range grid map, where it is easy to identify and locate the documents needed. I can hover over the document icon to see its latest filing date before selecting the document for printing or copying to my desktop. The grid map also makes it easier to do a proposal because I can look at the entire township and range and see what's been recorded.

Minimizing Downtime

We have found the convenience to be the biggest benefit of HubTack's service. We are now able to retrieve documents whenever we need them. We can get documents on nights and weekends or on the road without waiting. This has improved our ability to respond to rush jobs and proposal requests. And we can retrieve records when the ODL is closed during the early morning, after hours or on the weekend.

Not long ago we had a crew out of town performing an ALTA survey for a large retail client. As usual, the time frame was short. We sent the crew out with all of our preliminary research and corner record information. When they arrived at the site and began the field work, it became obvious that they were going to have to search for additional section corners in order to confirm the boundary.

The crew called the office, and we went right to the HubTack website. We gathered the additional corner information and relayed the corner ties to the party chief in the field. He confirmed the section corner and was able to complete the survey with no downtime.

If we had requested the information from the ODL, the crew would not have been able to continue working until we received a fax from the library-and that could have taken anywhere from a couple of hours to a day. Especially when a crew is out of town we can't afford that kind of delay. The cost savings we experienced by not having to stop field work and return to the site later was worth more than the cost of the service.

Assuring Quality

HubTack has a rigorous quality assurance process that reflects its founder Jim Allen's passion for making the surveying profession the best it can be. Archiving survey documents has always been subject to error. It is the archivist's job to file the documents as they are recorded. Though surveyors take great care to ensure the accuracy of their records, it is inevitable that some errors will occur. HubTack's staff reviews all monument records for accuracy prior to publishing them on the website. Documents that appear to contain discrepancies are given to Allen for further review. Allen checks the survey data and contacts the surveyor of record to discuss any conflicts and talk about refiling if necessary.

Additionally, the documents from HubTack are better for reading quality. I was accustomed to receiving third- or fourth-generation documents via fax and mail. Often these documents are old and hard to read due to multiple copying and faxing. In Oklahoma, HubTack worked with the ODL to obtain copies of the original filed documents, which were then converted to PDF format. Now, when we download a document from HubTack's website, we get documents that are much easier to read.

Corners are displayed in PDF format, allowing users to zoom in, print or save the document.

Monetary Benefits

I have listened to some surveyors' concerns that Hubtack's subscription fees would not be justifiable for their businesses. But at Smith Roberts, we have experienced monetary benefits using HubTack's service. During the period of January 2005 through August 2005 we spent an average of $75.00 per month with the ODL; now we only spend $35.95 per month for access to HubTack's database. This fee includes a pre-paid annual discount. Our invoicing to clients is also easier and more accurate now thanks to the monthly invoices we receive from HubTack. These records summarize all of the documents downloaded.

What's more, the OSLS Board of Directors has endorsed HubTack and sponsors the $2.00 per document download fee for all Oklahoma corner records. This gives Oklahoma surveyors a chance to use the service without incurring monthly download fees. One of the goals of our society is to promote and protect the profession of surveying in Oklahoma, and we feel this is a step toward that goal.

Researching for the Future

At Smith Roberts, we feel our research process is much more efficient now from the use of HubTack's online records service-and efficiency means more profit.

I firmly believe that HubTack's commitment to building a national database will help preserve the value of the PLSS legacy for future generations of surveyors. Meanwhile, I am delighted to have quick, easy access to good quality documents. I hope that surveyors throughout the state of Oklahoma and beyond will see the value that HubTack brings to the surveying industry.

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