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Mobile Data Collection in Environmental Consulting and AEC: Choosing the Right Platform

Mobile devices are an indispensable fixture of daily life for most people. We manage appointments, communicate, order goods and services, and perform many of life’s daily activities through a screen in our hand. We do so because it is usually faster, more efficient, and more secure than other methods. Yet, many critical data collection and site inspection tasks in the environmental and AEC industries still happen with a pen and paper. 

By now, many of us should be aware of the advantages of collecting data digitally, including:

  • Standardized data recording.
  • Time savings, both during the collection process and by eliminating data transcription.
  • Integration of photos and videos with data.
  • Consistent reporting and deliverables.
  • Location-aware data collection.
  • One central data repository with secure storage and easy sharing.
  • Ensuring critical observations are addressed through automated notifications

Site investigations and inspections in the AEC and Environmental fields can be complex and involve many data attributes. In a legacy paper-based scenario, observations and attributes are recorded on paper, then transcribed into a report for submittal to clients or regulators. Photos taken with a camera or smartphone need to be downloaded, organized, and added to the report. In addition to being time consuming, these processes introduce the possibility of transcription errors.

When information is collected digitally, these administrative steps are eliminated. Observations, notes, and pictures can be exported directly into a deliverable report. In most cases, these observations and photos can also be interactively viewed on a map by staff back in the office in real time.

Unlike paper forms, digital forms can be optimized reduce human error. Even the most diligent field staff can accidentally overlook questions on a form or forget to notify the right people of a critical issue. Enabling features such as selectable answers and required fields not only reduces errors but can save time, too. Automated notifications can be triggered when situations related to safety or compliance are observed, ensuring that they can be addressed and remedied.

With so many potential benefits, one might assume that paper forms would be a thing of the past. There are many reasons why this is not the case. The first challenge is simply to select the right data collection platform. An overwhelming number of platforms exist on the market, each with their own advantages and disadvantages. Many questions must be answered: 

  • How easy is the platform to use?
  • Will it integrate with existing business systems?
  • How is the data managed and transformed into a usable, easily readable format?
  • How long does it take to set up the digital forms?
  • Is it best to choose a highly specialized platform or one that is highly customizable?
  • Is it compatible with existing mobile devices?

Many companies go through a long trial and error process to select the right data collection platform for their use. This wastes time and the attention span of end users. Once someone learns how to use a platform, the last thing they want to do is relearn a new one. Switching platforms can lead to fatigue and reluctance to move away from paper forms. That’s why selecting the right platform before making investments of time and attention span is so critical.

Partnering with a consultant who has already undergone the long process of evaluating data collection platforms specific to the environmental consulting and AEC industries is the best way to ensure an easy transition away from paper forms. A consultant familiar with the data collection needs of the AEC and environmental industries will be able to select the right platform based upon your specific needs and help design digital forms that are intuitive to use. If reports must be submitted to regulators, this consultant should also have the expertise to design reports that fit the regulator’s requirements. 

Braun Intertec employs digital data collection on many of our projects. Environmental site assessments, stormwater inspections, asset management, safety inspections, environmental compliance audits, and construction monitoring are all made more efficient and accurate using digital forms. We have the industry-specific knowledge needed to take AEC and environmental data collection into the digital future.

To learn more on this topic, please join us for our live webinar, Digitizing Earth: Geospatial Tools from GPS to Drones in AEC and Environmental Applications. The webinar will the recent advancements in data collection and GPS technologies, unmannered aerial systems (UAS), and how to seamlessly integrate these technologies into your existing company systems

Jamie Maxwell Geographic Information Systems (GIS) Manager

P: 512-298-1819