An Oklahoma Survey Firm Is Increasing Productivity with Cloud-Based Solutions
By Larry Trojak
Until recently, the flow of real-time information and job-critical data between the office and personnel in the field for survey and construction has not kept pace with advances in onsite GNSS equipment. But enterprise software suites are closing the gap, producing across-the-board efficiencies, cost reductions, and an ability to bid more competitively.
Sisemore Weisz & Associates (SW&A) of Tulsa, Oklahoma, is an engineering specialist in site design and land planning, and has survey experience with ALTA/ACSM work, high-end civil construction, structural layout, and large survey control networks. Topcon’s cloud-based software suite Magnet gives SW&A the ability to have immediate access to the plans, data, and site information needed to respond to and complete the job.
“Providing the 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,” said SW&A chief of parties Shawn Collins.
Collins’ ultimate goal was to establish a platform for data collection, sharing, and transfer that best utilized today’s technology, including Internet access and the ability to email and text message crews in real-time.
His first instinct was that a tablet such as an iPad might be the answer, but iPads weren’t suitable for surveying Instead, they chose Topcon’s newly introduced Magnet Enterprise package along with a pair of Tesla controllers. Finding it the right solution, after a few weeks they bought more Teslas. “It was just the solution we needed,” Collins said.
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.
“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 said.
Components of Magnet:
- 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 included.
- Tools. Allows the processing and exchange of data between the enterprise cloud and popular 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.
In the year since they began using Magnet, Collins said that the system has become an integral part of the way SW&A does business. “It can be something as simple as getting a crew working faster than we ever could in the past,” Collins said. “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.”
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, and Magnet has helped. “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 has witnessed dramatic changes in his 30 years of surveying, but sees Magnet as a game-changer for data management and flow, the exchange of information, and bidding on jobs which, thanks to Magnet Enterprise’s cloud-based environment, has become a streamlined, efficient process.
“It is now possible to easily cross-reference jobs to help in the bidding process,” he said. “We can go into our cloud and see if we did a similar job before, and, if so, view the work order, view the billing files, see how much that job actually cost, see what we bid on it, see if we were profitable, see how we did for time management, and so on. In the past that would have been a painstaking, time-consuming process. But with that all data readily at hand, it is easy to put together an informed, competitive bid and get it out to the client in no time.”
One area that Collins hopes to pursue further is deeper client involvement. “We recently added 5 GB 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.”
A visit to a local development called Yorktown finds a single rod man, Dillon Dossey, at work, a typical scenario for SW&A. “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,” Collins said.
With Topcon’s PS-103 robotic total station (SW&A’s latest purchase), his Tesla, and Magnet — which is also built into the total station — Dossey can operate as a one-man crew with confidence, Collins said. “If Dillon 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, and we can send data right back to him.”
Dossey offered 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 said. “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.”