MicroSurvey Software Inc.
Westbank, British Columbia, Canada
Suggested Listed Price: $99/month

The Field Connect component can be used to retrieve job data while working in the field.
I have been in the surveying and mapping industry for 31 years-the first nine years in the coal mining industry in West Virginia, and since then in Central Florida doing mostly topographical, boundary and hydrographic surveys. I've been licensed for 17 years and a company owner for 12 years. One of the things that amazes me the most about the time I've been in the industry is the change in technology. We have come a long way from a mine transit and a 300-foot steel tape in the field and a four function calculator with a set of trig tables in the office. Take OfficeSync by MicroSurvey, for example.

I had the pleasure of reviewing the program, a data management and transfer program. Together with a wireless modem, the program gives the office a direct link to its field crews and the crew a link to the office. It uses high-speed digital CDMA 1x cellular networks and the Internet to facilitate file transfers. You don't need a cellular plan or a wireless data plan. All communication software and hardware is included with the OfficeSync program with service plans starting at $99 per month. The program will run with any field device running Windows CE or Pocket PC.

I used OfficeSync in conjunction with a MicroSurvey Tracker data collector running MicroSurvey's FieldGenius data collection software and had no problems at all. I had never used either software product or the hardware unit before, but was up and running in just a few minutes after removing them from the box and following the instructions provided. This tells you something about their ease of use. The technical support I received was awesome, too. I believe with basic computer skills anyone could use these products.

To transfer data, office staff essentially follow the same steps using the Office Manager component as do the field crews using Field Connect.

Transfer Like E-mail

Microsoft's Active Sync is used to transfer data files-no matter what format-from the PC to the data collector when a direct link (hardwire) is used. The first time data is transferred, ActiveSync has to be configured to MicroSurvey FieldGenius; step-by-step instructions are provided to walk users through this procedure. From then on, as soon as the Tracker is connected to the computer the PC recognizes the connection and automatically scans the Tracker for jobs to be downloaded. Once scanning has been completed a screen will display a complete list of jobs located on the Tracker and allows users to choose the ones to download.

Transferring data using OfficeSync is very similar to sending and receiving E-mail. To send data from the field to the office you simply plug the power cord from the OfficeSync Field Kit into a cigarette lighter, then plug the serial cable into your data collector. You then launch the Field Connect component on the data collector, select your user ID, enter your password and click the login button. You then click on the "Get Job Data," option, select the customer and job, then choose a file or files from those displayed. Then click the "Get" button. A message will display when the files are successfully uploaded. If you are sending job data, click on the "Send Job Data" on the Jobs Tab, select the customer and the job, click the "Add Files" button to browse for individual files to send, or select the "Add Folder" option to select a folder and its contents. Then click the "Send" button to begin the transfer. A message will display when the files are successfully sent.

To transfer job data to the office, users select the customer and the job, browse for the desired files or folders, and click "Send."

Transfer with Office Manager

To transfer data from the PC you would launch the Office Manager component and basically follow the same steps as you would for the data collector. But, there is much more to Office Manager than just transferring data. For example, as the name implies, it is a managing program. You can set up your company information including address, phone number and E-mail address, which appear in reports. You can set up the same information for customers. You can also set up different crews if you have more than one service plan, and you can move the field kit from one crew to the next. A feature that I really like is the "Jobs" tab, which opens a window to the Job Monitor. This window allows you to set up a new job, assign a number to it, give it a name, select a customer, give it a priority, a location, a start and stop date along with any special notes and a description. A job wizard helps you set up jobs. You can assign jobs to field crews, send data to the crews or get job data from the crews. You can generate reports using filters to show customers, field crews, priority, date range or time remaining to complete the job.

Even with OfficeSync, most users will still need another form of communication with their crews. As with E-mail you never know if you have mail until you log onto your service and check your inbox. Each of my crew chiefs has a cell phone so communication isn't an issue.

OfficeSync manages data and generates reports of customer information, jobs and crew assignments.

What is Your Work Worth?

Since you can transfer any electronic file regardless of size with OfficeSync, your only limitation will be the device used to view the data. It was a breeze sending coordinate files, and since we collect data on almost every job it was easy to have the crew chief send the job as soon as it was completed. All he needed to do was link the data collector to the modem, log onto the account, pick the file or directory that he wanted to transfer and direct it to send.

Although the majority of my work is within the county that I am based in, I still consider it a $100 loss every time one of my crews has to return to the office for additional information, to pick up another job or to drop off a job that has become critical. This program would certainly eliminate the need for the crew to return to the office before quitting time.

The question I keep asking myself is "How much money are we willing to spend to make our jobs easier, more efficient and provide a better quality product for our clients while remaining competitive?" Surveying companies who want to facilitate efficient communication between their office staff and field crews may want to look into OfficeSync.