Good as-built surveys have the potential to be incredibly valuable to the owners and operators of infrastructure facilities and to all stakeholders in large infrastructure projects. When as-built surveys are obtained soon after project completion, or are actually updated during construction, and when they are completed to high standards of accuracy, they have multiple uses during the operations phase of large facilities. For example, as-built surveys can:
- Document the location of underground utilities and other “hidden” assets like piping and conduits that run underneath floors or behind walls. If the information is accurate and published effectively, a great deal of time and money will be saved when maintaining, repairing, and/or upgrading the facility.
- Serve as the basis of a GIS. This can be part of a system used onsite for functions like work order issuance or inventory management, or transferred to government agencies for use in their systems. The combination of good digital maps and databases has proven over and over to create value for owners.
- By serving as base maps and providing a place to capture knowledge gained during facility operation, as-built surveys help owners plan and design their next project or the next phase of the current facility.
- Serve as an assurance to owners and designers that design fidelity has been achieved, and that the completed project meets owner goals. In a sense, the completed as-built survey works together with contracts to increase clarity and utility for all project stakeholders.
These are just a few of many conceivable uses of good as-built surveys. Put simply, accurate and well-organized facility information will always be valuable to progressive facility owners and operators.
However, attaining quality as-built surveys isn’t always easy under the current system, where contractors often do the survey work themselves to fulfill contract obligations. The reason is simple: obvious conflicts of interest.
How to Avoid the Conflicts
Contractors should not be the ones performing or subcontracting as-built surveys for a number of reasons. For one thing, since as-builts are always one of the last “punch list” items, they tend to be done in a hurry by people who have mentally moved on to the next project. And also, of course, one primary purpose of as-builts is to check on the work of the contractor and verify contract compliance; since as-builts are a form of inspection, they shouldn’t be performed by the party whose work is being checked.
Instead, the subject of as-builts should be carefully addressed in contracts. They should be completed by a third-party specialist, usually a surveying firm, and ideally they should incorporate interim surveys that locate and verify features like underground piping that are usually covered during construction. Owners should work directly with as-built surveyors to avoid conflicts with contractors and subcontractors.
It’s an exciting time for the infrastructure industry; as amazing new technologies like laser scanning, building information modeling (BIM), and mobile computing become standard, all phases of the infrastructure lifecycle are being affected.
As-builts have the potential to be a key part of this infrastructure revolution. Consider the implications of just one new technology: laser scanning. If laser scanning is performed before, during and after construction, and published as 3D digital as-builts, multiple stakeholders will have powerful new insights into project impacts and optimization. Contractors will generate extremely precise earthwork quantities and projections, heavy equipment will be easily guided by machine control methods, underground assets will be located precisely and made part of clash detection routines, owners will virtually fit and rearrange large machines before installation, designers will conduct more sophisticated analysis of factors like sunlight and wind shear… and the list goes on.
The point is that many desirable results of new technology are applied, organized, and made available by as-built surveys.
All of the above advantages rely on effective, accurate survey work performed by survey professionals who know what they’re doing. So once again, by embracing their role as expert measurers, surveyors have another opportunity to act as generators, aggregators, and brokers of critical infrastructure project information.
In today’s infrastructure world, information is the most valuable commodity of all. Probably this has always been true, but in a digital reality, information—fast, accurate, organized information—is the very lifeblood of complex projects, and the rewards for information experts are significant.