Engineering Firm Streamlines Report Generation with Data Collection App
Based in the Pacific Northwest, PBS Engineering and Environmental delivers design and field solutions to a diverse range of clients, from education to agriculture. A large part of PBS's work includes field tasks such as environmental site assessments and stormwater inspections. On these types of projects, inspectors from the firm's environmental services group complete on-site inspections to document conditions.
Historically, PBS staff used paper-based field forms and photos taken with cell phones to generate reports. However, the data collection process for these tasks could be cumbersome and time-consuming. In response, PBS implemented ArcGIS Survey123 for simplifying data collection and analysis, creating custom feature reports, and boosting productivity in the process.
The firm's environmental services group was in search of a solution that would increase the efficiency of field staff by reducing or eliminating the office time required to prepare reports. The previous process entailed a lengthy, multistep workflow: field staff taking notes and capturing images on smartphones, taking the data from their devices and transferring it to a document and formatting it, then generating and distributing a final report. As a result, field personnel were spending as much time in the office as they were in the field.
Feature Reports Save Time
For stormwater inspections (which get submitted to the Department of Ecology), PBS uses ArcGIS Survey123 feature reports. Field staff can now easily take pictures, add captions, generate a reference map, and submit their data to produce these PDF reports, which are formatted and standardized for a professional look .
"Field staff are excited about the convenience that automatic report generation provides. Their supervisors are ecstatic that the report text is legible and photos are geolocated, and our clients have complimented the timeliness and quality of the new feature reports," said Derrick Westoby, of PBS Engineering and Environmental.
The lengthy procedure was also costly. Because many of the field tasks are completed within tight budgets, the impact is substantial when field staff are required to come back to the office and transcribe field notes into a branded and formatted report.
After identifying this problem area in the workflow, the PBS environmental services group began researching digital platforms that would help generate branded reports right from the field.
PBS selected Survey123, a form-centric application for creating and distributing surveys and collecting data via the web or on mobile devices. The firm began its initial product test by using Survey123 to build a form that would assist workers who are logging subsurface geologic formations in the field. The app allowed field crews to collect geotagged photos and add captions, then export the collected data to a formatted report.
According to Derrick Westoby, program lead for PBS's unmanned aerial systems (UAS) group,
Survey123 is useful for any department at PBS that does fieldwork, including landscape and environmental tasks. "ArcGIS Survey123 is an easy way to get people to collect data without having a GIS background," he said.
At PBS, field data collection has become quicker with the use of simple forms to enter data in Survey123. Another significant benefit for the firm has been the boost in efficiency of its reporting workflows. Because field staff no longer have to digitize paper forms and transfer the data, time spent generating reports has been significantly reduced.
The team has also used Survey123 to enhance the quality of its final reports.
Field staff can now easily take pictures, add captions, generate a reference map, and submit their data to produce PDF reports.
"The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive," says Westoby. "Field staff are excited about the convenience that automatic report generation provides. Their supervisors are ecstatic that the report text is legible and photos are geolocated, and our clients have complimented the timeliness and quality of the new feature reports."
Another key improvement involves the production of Certified Erosion and Sediment Control Lead (CESCL) reports for stormwater inspections, which get submitted to the Department of Ecology. With Survey123, CESCL reports are now formatted and standardized for a more professional look.
"At the most basic level, PBS is a data company. We collect, interpret, and deliver data to our clients," Westoby explains. "The automated feature reports from Survey123 help us to better present that professionalism to our clients by normalizing the appearance and layout of our deliverables. The reports are our deliverable, and the presentation matters."
In addition, the firm's environmental services team can show all field activity for each project and make the information widely available, allowing PBS staff across the company to view and track progress. This means efforts are not duplicated among staff, thereby improving day-to-day operations. Project assets are viewable in Survey123, so data can be used for future assignments.
This success has motivated the firm to research additional possibilities for the product. Because Survey123 enables surveyors to easily learn proper field data collection and reporting procedures, it has even helped with training. Westoby says the app is a great teaching tool that helps him show how a process works and demonstrate what each project request entails, while providing users with an easy-to-read, digital, form-based workflow.
"The response we've received since using ArcGIS Survey123 has been very positive," says Westoby. "Our team and other departments at PBS are excited to learn more about its capabilities, and we plan to continue using it in the future."
"ArcGIS Survey123 really simplifies things. People are able to spend more time in the field and less time in the office."