Digital Field As-Builting with ArcGIS: It's About Productivity

08-02-2021 08:48 AM
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Part 4 of 4

By Tom DeWitte and Tom Coolidge

Talking to someone about Tracking and Traceability is typically a discussion centered on a checklist of functional capabilities. Although this is a very important discussion to have, too often the discussion ends when the checklist of desired functionality ends. What is missing is the discussion of how much productivity can the organization gain by replacing legacy processes with a digital process.

The discussion of how much productivity can be gained is the base question that every field user, supervisor, and executive should be asking.  The measurement of productivity will be different for each of these gas organization personas.  The field user for example, measures productivity based on time.  How fast can I capture the required information, so I can move on to the next task?

The manager has a broader view of the workflow. This person realizes that documenting new construction is a multiple-person activity, involving both field and office staff.  From the manager’s perspective, a measure of productivity would be how fast can the information get from the field construction group, through an office-based quality review and approval process, then posted back out to the entire organization.

The executive understands both productivity measurements and adds in the financial cost to the organization. The executive wants to make sure the overall workflow does not include redundant data entry, and has a low IT cost of ownership, as these require the involvement of additional employees.

Automating the Field Task

The field user responsible for documenting the new pipe construction is always in a hurry to move on to the next task.  Therefore, spending time entering information into the mobile application is not on their top ten list of things they enjoy doing.  This is where ArcGIS, with its attribute rule ability to automate data entry for users of the ArcGIS Field Maps mobile application, can significantly reduce manual data entry.

In previous blogs we have presented examples of how attributes rules can decode scanned barcodes and automatically populate the derived data fields. This automation has been extended to handle situations where there are no barcodes. This situation occurs with steel pipe/components and plastic pipe/components where the barcode is unreadable. In this situation, attribute rules are used to auto-populate many data fields by asking the field user to select a value from a picklist on a single data field. The attribute rule then reads a lookup table to retrieve the selected component information and auto-populate the derived data fields.

The use of attribute rules for automation can also be used to automatically populate information without the field user entering any information.  A good example is the automatic population of construction project information.

Construction projects tend to have a name and a uniqueID.  These construction UniqueIDs and names are the digital glue which link all the field collected data together. With an ArcGIS-based solution, this tagging of assets, pressure tests, exposed pipe inspections, and the many other construction documents is automatic. A configuration of relationship classes and attribute rules is used to free the field user from having to enter this information.

Reducing Time to Post

State regulators are increasingly pushing gas organizations to reduce the time it takes an organization to post construction changes to field users such as locators.  The simple reason for this push is to improve safety for the field workers and the community to which they provide service.

The legacy paper based as-builting workflow is a process that commonly measures itself in weeks, and sometimes months.  A lot of excavation can occur in this lengthy duration between when the construction is completed and when updated documentation is available to field staff to be aware of this new construction.

Companies that have migrated to a digital field as-builting workflow are seeing their overall construction to posting times reduced from months/weeks to days.  For example, Spire Energy out of St Louis, MO, has been using ArcGIS mobile apps for capturing their construction changes for many years. Over that time their time to post has decreased from weeks to less than 8 days. And it is still decreasing!

Eliminating Redundancy

How did companies like Spire Energy reduce their construction to posting time down to less than 8 days?  The answer is that they eliminated a fundamental redundancy in the workflow.  Paper based as-builting has a built-in very expensive duplication.  That duplication is the redline documentation in the field of the construction changes, and then having an office person read, interpret, and recreate the documentation in the final as-built documentation system.

Part 4 paper workflow.png

With a digital field as-built workflow, this redundancy is eliminated. The field worker can configure ArcGIS Field Maps to integrate with other field devices, such as GNSS receivers, laser range finders, and the mobile device’s native camera for barcode scanning. These integrations allow the field user to digitally capture the new construction data and have this data sent directly to the ArcGIS data repository upon submittal.

Part 4 digital workflow.png

The office worker is no longer recreating the field collected construction data.  Instead, they verify the completeness and quality of the data, then post it for access by the entire organization’s users. 

Low IT Cost of Ownership

Often hidden in the as-builting workflow is the time required to get the documentation from the field to the office and after posting, back to the field. In the legacy paper-based redline as-built workflow, the hidden cost is the time for the construction packet to get to the office.

In the digital as-built workflow, there is another hidden cost.  That is the IT environment required to get the data from the field to the office. Some digital as-builting solutions require that the data must pass through multiple data environments. Those multiple data environment solutions often add another hidden cost. This undesirable hidden cost is the need for IT to create and maintain extraction, translation, and load (ETL) processes to get the data through these multiple data environments and into the hands of the office staff.

Part 4 digital multi-DB flow.png

The ArcGIS platform eliminates this inefficient hidden IT cost of ownership. With the ArcGIS mobile application, ArcGIS Field Maps, the field collected data is transmitted directly to the ArcGIS data store. There are no duplicate data stores, no expensive ETL process.

Part 4 - ArcGIS digital data flow.png

As you can see, the choices a gas organization makes in determining how to digitally document new construction can result in a significant difference in time and cost. Selecting a solution which is functionally complete, and automates much of the data entry, results in field staff completing documentation faster. Selecting a solution which is functionally complete, and eliminates duplicate data entry, results in significantly faster workflows, such as documented by the existing ArcGIS implementation at Spire Energy. Selecting a solution which is functionally complete, and eliminates hidden IT administration, results in a lower cost to IT administration.  

The ArcGIS platform with its ArcGIS Field Maps mobile application is the unique solution configurable to provide the functionality and productivity field users, managers, and executives are looking for.

If you are interested in deploying this configuration of ArcGIS Field Maps, we have posted all the scripts, data model templates and instructions for this digital field as-builting solution. You can download this configuration from the Esri Community site for free. Here is the link.

This blog article is the fourth in a series of four blogs articles explaining how to deploy ArcGIS Field Maps for Digital Field As-builting.  If you missed our previous blog articles on digital field as-builting, here are the links to those articles.

Part 1: Digital Field As-Builting with ArcGIS

Part 2: Digital Field as-Builting with ArcGIS: No barcode No Problem

Part 3: Digital Field As Builting with ArcGIS: Pressure Tests

PLEASE NOTE: The postings on this site are our own and don’t necessarily represent Esri’s position, strategies, or opinions.

About the Author
Technical Lead for Natural Gas Industry at Esri