Data must flow rapidly from the point of collection to where it is needed. New approaches ensure speed and accuracy in information delivery.

When we consider the myriad applications for geospatial information, one thing becomes clear:  The places where information is gathered, analyzed and applied may be far apart, both spatially and temporally. This separation introduces the risk of losing time and important data or details. That’s clearly not acceptable. Solving the problem calls for cohesive systems of sensors and software to gather, manage and move information.

Modern geospatial systems are built around three main concepts. First, information must be available when and where needed. Second, there can be no loss of data integrity during transmission and exchange between various software packages and enterprise systems. Third, software for gathering and delivering information must be tightly woven into the point-of-work processes. By satisfying these conditions, a geospatial professional can provide high-value service and deliverables to both internal and external clients. Let’s look at some examples:

Continuous Availability of Information
By leveraging the expanding capabilities for data communications, we can provide cloud-based operations for data exchange and processing. Remote locations such as farm fields, pipelines, railways and power transmission lines can be immediately accessible using cellular or wireless technologies. Incoming data can be quickly validated and processed, and new information and instructions distributed to workers in the field and office.

Systems such as Trimble TerraFlex or the Connected Farm demonstrate the value of this continuous availability. Using Trimble TerraFlex, a mobile application can transmit field data to a server for immediate use across the organization. When workers are out of range of communications, the software stores data and automatically transfers it when communications are restored. The Connected Farm enables information exchange between field and office as well as direct interchange between machines in the field.

Ensuring Data Integrity
The concept is straightforward but difficult to achieve: It should be easy to collect the data you need and then deliver it to where it is needed. Part of this relies on the nuts and bolts of data communications and information technologies, and the news here is good. Over the past few years, improvements in the quality and coverage of cellular service, large-area wireless and last-mile delivery have greatly reduced incomplete or garbled data transmissions.

A second source of risk occurs when moving data from one system to the next. Because data transfers and format changes can introduce loss of information, they should be minimized. Customized geospatial applications enable users to collect complete, accurate data and keep the data in a single system for processing and analysis. Translations and reformatting occur only when needed to deliver information to downstream users. As a result, overall throughput goes up and risk of data loss goes down.

Point of Work Software
Software tailored for specific tasks brings information directly to the place where work gets done. Tailored software can improve even the most complex workflows. For example, consider the work to construct a tunnel. When using the blast and muck method, crews drill holes and place charges in the tunnel face, blast the rock and then clear the debris. It’s important to keep the tunnel following the design alignment and prevent removal of too much (overbreak) or not enough (underbreak) material.

Using the specialized Tunnel module for Trimble Access field software and Trimble total stations, a tunnel crew can scan the tunnel profile following each blast and compare it to the tunnel design stored on their field controller. The software enables crews to quickly locate and address areas of underbreak and the scanned data is stored for use in additional quality control. Finally, the software uses the total station to guide the crews in marking the next set of blast holes. Because it streamlines the entire blast-to-blast cycle, the system introduces significant improvements in time and cost efficiency.

By making field software—and the devices on which it runs—more flexible, it’s possible to reduce errors while increasing the accuracy and cost efficiency in gathering geospatial data. While work in tunnels calls for specialized and rugged equipment, many applications can use more conventional hardware as a platform for highly customized software. In addition to supporting Trimble’s durable field controllers, Trimble has developed the TerraFlex system to operate on off-the-shelf devices such as smartphones running iOS, Windows Mobile or Android. Supervisors can quickly create customized data logging forms for the field crews to streamline routine and more specialized functions for gathering geospatial and related information.

Consider the scenario of an inspector looking for maintenance and repair items along a city’s sidewalks. Using a low-cost smartphone, the inspector can capture location, images and attributes of damaged areas. The information is immediately synched to the cloud for access by maintenance supervisors and hazardous conditions can be identified for quick repair. Organizations can create different sets of forms for crews collecting information on vegetation, streetlights or other features, with all data synched into the central database.

Using multiple, specialized forms makes an organization more flexible and productive. For example, the sidewalk inspector may notice damage to a bus stop. By switching to the appropriate form, the inspector can quickly log the information and then return to his or her original task. Because the field software guides data collection, the information delivered to the database is complete and in the proper form.

Accelerating the Speed of Work
As integration between measurements and analysis tightens, the movement of information will become even faster. Whether it is making an adjustment in the rate of fertilizer application or computing the amount of fill needed to restore a washed out roadway, geospatial information plays an essential role in a decision or process. The continuous movement of information helps to ensure speed and accuracy throughout the work.

Much of the infrastructure for continuous information is already in place. Communications networks, smartphones and tablet computers already support many geospatial applications, and the trend will accelerate. The rapid flow of information will drive faster decisions, which in turn facilitate more rapid actions and response. It’s an upward, positive spiral. As geospatial professionals, we must make sure our colleagues and clients have the skills and tools to move at the ever-increasing pace.

Cloud-based data management provides immediate access to field data. Multiple users can view information simultaneously.