Sunny Outlook for Surveying in the Cloud
Thanks to huge strides in GNSS-enabled equipment, jobsite efficiencies continue to soar on both the survey and construction fronts. But until recently, the flow of real-time information and job-critical data between the office and personnel in the field have simply not kept pace with those onsite advances. But companies such as Sisemore Weisz & Associates (SW&A), which recently marked the one-year anniversary employing Topcon’s MAGNET Enterprise suite, are changing that—in a big way. The Tulsa, Okla.-based survey/engineering firm feels it has only started tapping MAGNET’s breadth of features, yet it is reporting a dramatic uptick in across the board efficiencies, reductions in operating costs, and an ability to be far more competitive in their bids.
In one iteration or another, Sisemore Weisz has been serving the Tulsa area’s engineering and land surveying needs for about 40 years. With engineering specialties in site design and land planning, and survey strengths doing ALTA/ACSM work, high-end civil construction and structural layout along with large survey control networks, the firm has made a name for itself as the go-to source for most any project up for bid. It also has established a solid reputation for providing a quick response to its customers’ needs.
“We do a good deal of construction layout work for some very high-end companies who—for reasons that are as varied as the jobs themselves—frequently find themselves in a bind,” says Shawn Collins, PLS, CFedS and SW&A’s chief of parties. “For example, they’ll call us up and say: ‘Last night at the end of the shift, we had a dozer operator knock out all of the survey stakes that you guys had set, and now we have 15 guys waiting for us to form and pour a run of curb. Can you get over here right now and re-set the stakes?’ We bring a number of strengths to the table that make us better suited than most to answer a call like that.”
Those strengths, says Collins, include a higher volume of crews than most area firms, crews that are highly cross-trained to handle virtually any facet of any job, and now, with the addition of MAGNET, Topcon’s cloud-based suite of productivity tools, an ability to have immediate access to the necessary plans, data and site information to respond to and complete the job.
“MAGNET has made a huge difference for us since adding it last year,” he says. “That ability to more quickly respond to customers’ needs is just one. In our business, we are only being profitable when we have people at a site, at work. Crews waiting around the office—or worse yet, coming back to the office—are not helping the cause, so to speak. So providing an ability for any crew to immediately access their data from anywhere via a Tesla field tablet is invaluable. It’s literally changed the way we do business.”
Comprised of three individual software components—Field, Tools and Office—as well as the Enterprise cloud environment itself, the MAGNET suite of products is designed to bring real-time, cloud-based efficiency to any survey or construction operation. According to Jason Hallett, Topcon’s senior product manager for software applications, the range of benefits is geared toward meeting a broad range of needs.
“MAGNET considers everything from data collection, to CAD, to data manipulation and reporting, to data exchange, to cloud-based project management in an enterprise environment,” Hallett says. “Our team has created an easy-to-use, affordable software system that brings productivity improvements to every part of a surveying or construction organization.”
A closer look at MAGNET’s individual components shows a blend of focused benefits and a cross-module, big-picture functionality. They include:
• Field: Connects field users to the cloud and enables real-time communication as well as cloud storage and data exchange. A powerful field software for topo, staking, roads and calculations is also included.
• Tools: Allows the processing and exchange of data between the enterprise cloud and favorite desktop applications, such as Autodesk Civil 3D.
• Office: Exchanges design files, survey jobs and surfaces through the enterprise cloud for simple project revisions and real-time survey data from the field.
All this is brought together in the MAGNET Enterprise environment which makes it easy to track assets, manage projects, exchange data and communicate in real-time from a cloud environment.
In the year since they began using MAGNET, SW&A’s Collins says that the system has become an integral part of the way they do business and makes its benefits known on an almost-daily basis.
“It can be something as simple as getting a crew working faster than we ever could in the past,” he says. “For example, say we are set to begin a large highway project several hours from the office, but we are wrestling with plans or have calculations that still need fine-tuning on one part of the job. In the past, the whole project would have been held up until those issues were resolved. Now, we can send a crew out with what we already have and, when that missing data is completed, upload it to the cloud for them to access when they need it. As a result, production is on track, deadlines are met and the customer is pleased.”
The nature of their work dictates that change is inevitable, so the ability to provide a constant two-way flow of information between Collins and his men has proven one of MAGNET’s key benefits. Re-routing crews—a time-consuming effort in the past—is now a simple process.
“If a crew wraps up a project and needs to be re-routed from their original follow-up job, they now can simply check email or chats on their Tesla and see what’s changed. All of their pertinent information is going to be in the chat and in the cloud—all the directives are there, all the paperwork, everything they need to make a fast, seamless transition to the next job without having to come back to the office. Just minimizing those trips back here has shown us a nice 14 percent reduction in fuel costs since going forward with MAGNET. And taking that 14 percent off of a bid allows us to be that much more competitive.”
As chief of parties, one of Collins’ primary roles is quality control on projects as they progress or wrap up. While he has always viewed this facet of his job differently than most, he said that MAGNET has helped make his vision for the position a reality.
“Usually, a chief of parties is shown with a suit and tie, sitting at a desk and running things from there,” he says. “While I have a desk and office, I prefer to be on the move running things from my truck, and now, by accessing MAGNET with my Tesla, that’s a breeze. I can show up to a site to see how a crew is doing, have them upload data to the cloud and confirm their progress. As a result, managing the parties, managing the control, managing the job flow is so much better. And, contrary to what one might think, the fact that the crews know they are being checked has not had any downside at all. They know we are all on the same team and appreciate that this technology is helping make us more competitive—which ultimately benefits everyone.”
Collins says he’s witnessed some dramatic changes in his almost 30 years of surveying, but sees MAGNET as a real game-changer from a perspective of data management and flow, the interchange of information, the ability to see where they’ve been, where they are going, bidding jobs and more.
“Having that all together and available is just outstanding; using it, you can’t help but be a more productive company,” he says. “With this capability at our fingertips, if a field person is facing a real tough decision, a difficult boundary survey, for example, he is no longer alone. He can get that info to us via the cloud and have two or three PLSs—with decades of collective experience—looking at it in real-time and coming to a mutual agreement on what the best course of action is to take. Or we can ask the field crew to gather some additional info to help with the determination. The crew can take a short break or move on to another part of the project while we analyze it or have the project manager look at it, or have our PLS do a boundary analysis while they’re on the job. The upshot is that the job is done with the highest quality possible, we are on the property just once and the client sees us as a more efficient and productive firm—which we are.”
The combination of MAGNET’s capabilities, coupled with SW&A’s push to continually upgrade its hardware, has allowed the firm to maximize the efficiency of each crew. A visit to a local development called Yorktown finds a single person, Dillon Dossey, at work, a typical scenario, according to Collins.
“This is a 120-lot development and Dillon has been the sole SW&A person on this job since the outset, surveying and staking to rough in roads for the developer, and he will be here until our portion wraps up,” he says. “The PS-103, his Tesla, and MAGNET—which is also built into the total station— allow us to operate a one-man crew with confidence. If he gets into a situation where he suspects something is wrong or he needs help deciding something, he doesn’t have to break down his equipment and drive all the way back to town; he has everything he needs right there with him. He has the data, he can chat with me, with the office, we can send data right back to him.”
As mentioned, Collins feels they have only begun to scratch the surface. One area of particular interest that he hopes to pursue is the idea of much deeper client involvement.
“I know that MAGNET was designed to encourage getting the client involved in the approval process and we haven’t gotten to that point yet,” he says. “We recently added 5GB of capacity to our cloud storage, and that should help us move forward with that push. Making it possible for the client to look at the project as it exists in real-time, to be able to review and red-line items or discuss issues, and do so without a trip to our office will be a real plus, since their time, like ours is valuable. In turn, it will help make them more a part of the project which is always a good thing.”
Back at that Yorktown subdivision, Dossey offers his take on MAGNET’s impact on his role at SW&A.
“We are working toward eventually eliminating the need for us to go back to the office at all,” he says. “If we have to, we can come in to get gear in the morning, but that’s about it. However, right now, if I am halfway through a job and Shawn contacts me to head to another one, he just sends me all the info I need and I’m on my way. It is very cool. The amount of data that we can exchange back and forth through the cloud is just startling.”