How Surveyors Lose Out … and What They Can Do About It
In the world of infrastructure projects, surveyors have a very interesting and important role. They are often the first infrastructure professionals to spend significant time on the project site identifying project boundaries and establishing controls for all subsequent work. While doing their highly specialized work, surveyors develop the most accurate and useful site information available. And in recent years, assuming they’re working with laser scanners, imaging total stations, ground penetrating radar, GNSS equipment and the like, surveyors are also using some of the most progressive infrastructure technologies available to generate vast quantities of digital data in the form of point clouds (which can include billions of points), photos, videos, underground asset mapping, geotechnical surveys, topographic mapping, etc.
Ironically, this wealth of rich, useful, skillfully gathered information is somewhat inaccessible and invisible to many project stakeholders. Typically, survey data is delivered to and used by the surveyor’s client, which includes individuals from entry level engineers to project managers. The data is seldom directly seen or used by the upper level managers who actually approve the surveyor’s budgets, contracts and invoices. This is a loss for surveyors; the ultimate client doesn’t see what they’re paying for, and the surveyor’s work is underappreciated. And, in a loss for the entire project, surveyor-created deliverables are not as fully utilized as they could be.
A solution to this longtime surveyor's dilemma is to bring the data to the buyer.
The best way to bring survey data to all of the stakeholders is to make it accessible in a central location with a convenient interface—that is, survey data needs to be shared (and shown off) online.
Dynasty Group, a Chicago-based surveying and engineering firm, has done this on several projects. Our custom-designed system was essentially an access-controlled webpage based on aerial views of the worksites; users could click or window on the aerial view, or query in various ways and find all the digital information we produced, including control network coordinates, point clouds, video records of routes, photos, ground-penetrating radar surveys, and other data.
We discovered that public agencies, design consultants and contractors took to the system readily. Not only did they accept it as a convenient method to accept and access deliverables, they were also using it to disseminate the project information for the convenience of all those working on the project. For example, a public agency used Dynasty’s project webpage to support their design reviews and to communicate to potential bidders the existing site conditions; a design consultant used the project webpage from Dynasty to reduce site visits for their project staff; and a contractor used the data shared over the project webpage to estimate material quantities.
We found that our role as site condition experts was greatly enhanced. On these projects, we were recognized as the providers and organizers of essential project data, and everyone involved had a more accurate sense of the value of our deliverables.
Moreover, better use was made of our deliverables, sometimes in surprising—good surprising—ways. Once we made point clouds available with a click, for example, stakeholders were able to use Leica Geosystems’ TruView cloud viewing software to look at and work with the actual point clouds we generated. This proved to be invaluable when assessing the impact of proposed infrastructure improvement, existing or new.
The web is the natural, logical place for the publishing and archiving of all the data generated by infrastructure projects, not just survey data. It’s available everywhere, it’s understood by everybody, and it can even be used in the field on mobile devices.
More than other stakeholders, surveyors are better situated to be the “information brokers,” managing the web-based aggregation and distribution of digital infrastructure data. After all, surveyors are the first stakeholders to actually generate project data. And, that data applies to the entire site and will be used throughout the entire project lifecycle. Even after construction is finished, owners and operators will make use of site surveys and as-built data … if it is readily available, and conveniently and securely distributed. And if surveyors are the ones who make that happen, it will be a big win for the profession.