Malcolm Hughes are one of the largest independent survey companies in the UK. A 12 strong team carry out utility surveys, and clients often request a manhole card report for each chamber recorded.
Like many surveyors, their data collection on-site was done using traditional methods.
The amount of metadata requested by the client is rising, and Malcolm Hughes is also undertaking more CCTV surveys which all require manhole card production. As a result, processing all the information back in the office was a labour intensive process.
After adding in the survey coordinates and checking things over, deliverables can be generated in seconds using their own bespoke manhole card templates.
Jimmy Pewtress sat down with Utility Survey Manager Chris Rooney to discuss how using SurvAid has improved their workflow.
They managed to reduced their processing time from around half an hour per manhole card to 5-10 minutes, and large jobs that would have taken weeks were reduced to a couple of days!
Watch the video, or read the full transcript below.
JP: Today. I’m talking to Chris Rooney from Malcolm Hughes surveyors. So first off, thanks very much, Chris, for taking time out to chat today.
CR: No problem. Good to finally meet you.
JP: Yeah. Yeah, it’s good, good to catch up. So to start off with, could you just give a bit of background on Malcolm Hughes in general and the area of the company that you work in and the work that you use SurvAid for?
CR: Yeah, certainly. So, I’m Chris Rooney, Utility Survey Manager for Malcolm Hughes Land Surveyors who are one of the largest independent survey companies in the UK and we specialize on a wide range of measured survey services ranging from topographical measured building and utility mapping surveys. And predominantly what we use the SurvAid app for is undertaking our manhole inspections and our duct inspection surveys that supplement all of our PAS128 surveys as well.
CR: We also have some experience in using the PGM app to aid when we’ve done control establishment surveys for large clients in the engineering sector.
JP: Ah so you use both, most companies tend to use one of the other but that’s good. So yeah, before the call I was looking back through all our emails and stuff and we’ve been going back since about 2018. But if you’re able to cast your mind back before then and describe what was that process like where you would capture the information about these manholes or PGMs out on site and then produce the deliverables that you needed to from them?
CR: Yeah, so going way back before we went digital, everything was done on paper. It was either done on pre-printed out templates of A4 paper which were annotated by the surveyor on-site, or they were handwritten into a yellow survey book, and then all of that information was taken back to the office and then hand inputted again into the final format that the client received.
It was a very time consuming, labour intensive process and it was just an absolute pain to do. So, when we heard of this opportunity to digitise the whole system we just had to jump on board and see what it was about.
JP: Is it the surveyors themselves when they got back to the office would input all this information or do you have separate back office staff to do it?
CR: In different parts of the organization, we do have a production office who would deal with larger projects, but on some of the smaller projects the surveyors themselves would spend lots of hours cataloging this information and making sure everything was right before passing everything over for QA. So not only was that eating into potential survey time, it was also not productive to have multiple people looking at information and especially, as you know, the great British weather tells us if you’re on site and bits of paper are getting wet or bits of paper get lost in the van if it’s maybe been two or three weeks between undertaking manhole one and coming back to the office, it can often be unclear as to what was what was going on at three o’ clock in the morning on a night shift if their handwriting’s deteriorated to point where no one else can interpret it.
So these are all the issues we were facing on a daily basis going back in time, and using this app now we just don’t have any of these issues because everything is cataloged on the Android device that all the surveyors have and it’s uploaded to a cloud portal where someone else can access that data immediately and start working on it.
JP: OK. And do you have a rough idea of, I’m sure it fluctuates, but roughly how many manholes and PGMs and stuff you tend to do per month? Or is it peaks and troughs?
CR: Yeah. Certainly everything is going up because of the amount surveys we’re doing and clients as a whole are actually asking for more and more metadata as part of their surveys. So on average, I would say we’re doing anything between 100 and 150 manholes per month using the app, and that’s spread between a team of around 12 users just now.
So although it doesn’t seem quite a lot just now, in a lot of the surveys what clients are asking, some of them are still quite low key, but certainly when it comes to the larger utility mapping projects, manhole cards are always done as standard and certainly we’ve seen quite a rise in number of CCTV inquiries that we’ve had to supplement GPR survey information and these are always certainly going to have some sort of manhole card to supplement that data so in the past few months there has been a sharp increase in the number of exports we’re getting from the system.
JP: And do you have any idea of how long it would take you to do all the processing back in the day when it was all paper based?
CR: Yeah so way back in the day, the time it’s taken to actually complete a manhole card on-site hasn’t changed, but what has changed is the efficiencies that we’re saving by the time that card gets to the office. So way back when it used to take a surveyor or CAD technician around about half an hour per manhole card to type it up and get it to a standard that would be presentable to a client, but now using the SurvAid system, if the manhole card is done correctly in the field, it requires about five, ten minutes of CAD time just to finalise it and get it packaged up ready for the client. The site time remains consistent at around ten to fifteen minutes per card.
JP: That’s good. So what does the process look like now then as opposed to get back to the office, get the notebook out, then start going through and trying to match up pictures of manholes etc?
CR: That process is very streamlined because as a surveyor’s completed on site, the data’s already on the cloud waiting for someone to look at. So all they need to do is log in to the system, type in the job number that it relates to, and everything comes up from coordinate data to photographs, sketches, everything is in that portal ready to be looked at and it just needs correlating to the survey information on the CAD drawing.
JP: Brilliant. Loads Quicker! Are there any particular large jobs or anything where you’ve been able to evaluate the time savings in the process using SurvAid as compared it to how long it would have taken back in the day?
CR: Certainly some of the jobs that you think to that we’ve done in recent times where it’s like large city center environments and hospitals where there’s an excess of 300 covers that we’ve done across the job to having that turned around in the space of a couple of days to getting the final deliverables out.
If this was done years ago we would’ve had someone sitting for weeks on end doing nothing but manhole and asset cards. It would almost have been a full time job for someone because of the amount of data they would have to have input, and as the specifications have grown over time, so has the amount of data that’s actually been requested.
And what we found as well is it’s been very easy to get something built into the app that was required for specific job or if we need things in a specific format. The support we’ve often received from the has been top class.
JP: Yeah because thinking about your particular app actually, I remember you had a big job that we built a form into the app just specifically for that one job because it was worth doing, so good. Glad to hear that it’s working well. And when we when we were developing that custom app for you, I think there was yourself and maybe a couple of others that worked on it and field tested it and iterated it to the point where it was ready to roll out to the rest of the team. How did the wider team find it when it was introduced to them and adapt to it?
CR: Certainly. It was it was quite a gradual uptake because a lot of the staff, they had worked that way for years and sometimes they didn’t see the need for change. That was the system they were used to, but actually once we took the time and got company training organised we showed them the possibilities of what they could do with this and how much time it would save, it actually became apparent that more people were wanting to try this and see it for themselves because they didn’t quite believe that it would be so quick and efficient and it would cut down the amount of questions that someone would be asked by a data processing technician to interpret handwriting or “where’s the photos for that manhole in relation to this”?
So, after we showed people how the app works it was a really good uptake and it’s now part of a standard process. When a new member of staff comes on board and they’re going to be doing manhole inspection surveys, they’re actually set up a new account with the user manual and we get them to work, do a couple of tests, make sure it’s all good on their systems that they’re set to work.
It’s such an easy system to use that as long as the data’s captured on-site, it can be put out in any format that we want. We’ve got a number of formats that we use depending on what level of information that the client has specified so as long as all the fields are populated, the data is always going to be there.
And even if the client comes back and says “actually, can we get this level of information?”, the information’s there without having to revisit the site.
JP: And so now that SurvAid’s in place and rolled out across everybody, how has that affected your team? Have you got more free capacity to do more survey work with the same number of surveyors because they’re not spending all day typing all this information up?
CR: Yeah definitely. So even even just across the whole company. Years ago, it would have be a full time job for a data processing technician or survey assistant to collate all that information together. That member of staff is now free to focus on other things. Likewise in the field, where it would have been possibly a survey assistant’s job or surveyor’s job to collect the manhole information, because the scope of the survey is growing so much, there’s other things such as GPR data collection to be undertaken, there’s topographic pickup to be done there’s just general tracing elements.
Because in ten to 15 minutes and we’ve got a manhole card that’s 98% complete done in the field, that frees up so much time within the company and we’ve reaped the benefits of that over the years.
JP: Excellent! Well I’m really glad to hear that SurvAid has been an effective tool for you over there at Malcolm Hughes. Thank you very much for sharing some of the feedback and nice to catch up as always. I’m sure we will keep in touch as time goes on and keep evolving the system and hopefully make it even better for you.
CR: Definitely. We’re always looking forward to working with you Jimmy and there’s certainly going to be opportunities to improve the app in future as the industry moves forward and clients want ever more data. So we look forward to working with you in the future.
JP: Great. OK, thank you very much.
CR: Thank you very much. Cheers.