Often faced with difficult terrain in remote locations, the oil and gas industry has become a frequent user of land surveying in the cloud. Cloud-based surveying technology enables oil and gas companies to conduct surveys and to tap into geographical information systems (GIS) as needed — without the burden of having to transport computer hardware and software into hard-to-reach locations where environmental factors like heat, dust and humidity are tough on the technology. A cloud-based support team also reduces the need for computer technicians on field crews.
The ability to access surveying tools and maps by simply tapping into it from a mobile device or a laptop gives surveyors on-the-ground, real time information when they need it, and also gives them a place to store new survey data without having to worry about transporting their data to a physical facility. The survey information they gather can then be further integrated into other data or applications in the cloud, or ultimately integrated with survey data that is stored at the home office. The ability to store survey data coming in from multiple locations at a central location that can be accessed by anyone, anywhere also facilitates collaborative project participation and management.
Of course, you don’t need to be in a remote location to take advantage of cloud computing for land surveys. Over the past 20 years, many city, county, state and country governments have moved their GIS and other survey-related data to private clouds that surveyors and the general public can access through an open portal. As a result, surveyors are seeing the immediate and longer term benefits of storing both their data and their survey applications in a cloud environment.
For small and mid-sized surveying companies, cloud computing is also an inexpensive means of gaining access to computing hardware and applications. Formerly, both had to be purchased at a cost that got into tens of thousands of dollars. These expenditures were then capitalized over a period of three to five years, with the company depreciating their value. On top of this, there were maintenance costs to keep these computing assets running, and even the need to hire an internal IT person. With cloud computing, if a firm opts to outsource all of its computing and IT to the cloud, it pays a monthly subscription that is usually based on the number of users, and it has no assets that it needs to carry on its books. The move also frees up surveyors to do surveying, with no worries of getting diverted to solve system problems.
But perhaps the best feature for people in the field is the potential of the cloud — and the mobile devices attached to it — to automate workflows and make work simpler.
“I’ve been working in the industry for 15 years and have pretty much used everything that’s out there,” says Bob Lawson, a field surveyor. “A cloud-based system makes it a lot easier to find old control points. I can just take a look at the map and walk straight to the area. Previously, we had to carry paper and tape measure off of reference points. Now, when I find a control point, I just flag it and take a picture with the Tesla [field controller]. We save that image right to the job file.”
For smaller offices, cloud computing can also be more reliable than their internal resources, because professional IT’ers are employed by cloud service providers to keep computers running.
Companies planning to make a move to cloud computing for their land surveying should consider the following best practices:
- Determine upfront what your costs will be if you were to migrate your existing survey documents to the cloud. If these documents are paper-based, the cost of converting them to electronic media could cost a fortune. For this reason, many companies opt to use digitized cloud-based survey resources on a “go-forward” basis, maintaining their old records on paper.
- Look for a cloud provider that has onboard expertise in surveying if you want IT and field support. If you opt only to store your survey data on a public cloud and you’re not looking for more, you could be missing out on what a software-as-a-service (SaaS) vendor in your field could provide in the way of both IT and surveying expertise.
- Make sure that the cloud cost savings proposition pencils out. Initially, cloud always appears to be the superior cost option, but over time cloud expenses can increase to the point to where it is actually more cost-effective to maintain your own in-house system and data. Plan to extrapolate the costs of cloud computing, versus owning your own system, for at least a five-year period, so you can really see if you’re going to save with cloud the way that you thought you were.
- Review the cloud provider’s security provisions. Are you comfortable that your information will be securely stored and accessible only to those whom you choose to make it available to? How secure is the cloud provider’s actual data facility, and does the provider have a system failover plan in place in the event of a disaster?