Storm Geomatics is a land survey company specialising in measurements related to water. As part of their work they install PGM control stations and supply witness diagrams to the Environment Agency and other clients.
Traditionally they would record the PGM data on-site using pen and paper. Back in the office, somebody would then have to manually enter the information to CAD and witness diagram templates.
This was a labour intensive process and open to human error.
Having the data stored in digital form removes the possibility of duplication errors and allows the creation of PGM witness diagrams with a few clicks.
Jimmy Pewtress sat down with Director Anthony Pritchard to talk about how SurvAid has revolutionised their workflow.
So much so, they managed to eliminate three weeks of office work over the last three months!
Watch the video, or read the full transcript underneath.
JP: Today for this video I’m joined by Anthony Pritchard from Storm Geomatics. Hi Anthony and thanks for taking a bit of time to have a chat today.
AP: Hi Jimmy.
JP: To start with could you just give us a bit of background on Storm as a whole as a company and then the area or areas that you use SurvAid in?
AP: Yeah, sure. So we’re a land survey company that operates around the inshore hydrographic market. We do topographic surveys as well as other types of surveys, but most of our work is based around water. We install a lot of control stations as part of our work, which is all over the UK and surrounding islands.
For each project, we always install control. It depends on what the client requires or the specification used, there’s normally a number of control stations to be installed alongside other stuff. So that’s an overview of what we do and how we install control stations.
JP: I just had a look before we did this back through our emails and there’s some in there going back all the way to 2016 so we’ve been working together for a while. If you were able to cast your mind back to way back when before then and remember what would be the process for recording the details of these control stations that you install on site and then producing the deliverables from them?
AP: So way back then, so we’d have a template card on-site. We’d always be working in pairs or twos or threes on-site. So we’d be on site and we would have a card template with several boxes to fill out and an area to draw. So we’d manually draw up the control station, make observations etc and then we would draw up, paper and pencil essentially, and take the measurements.
So we draw in completing the drawing, the plan view, the drawing it onto, sketching it onto the sheet, trying to make it look so it’s got enough information there to be recognisable. Obviously there’s a photo that accompanies that. It takes probably 10 minutes to draw up control station on site, so that’s how we used to do it. When you then bring that back into the office, you would be transferring all of that data to a Word template.
So it’s that transfer of data which would take a lot of time in the office. Probably up to 30 minutes I would say. 20 – 30 minutes in the office because you’re drawing up the actual sketch in CAD. That would take a few minutes. Then there’s the transfer of all the data so you’re typing everything in again and obviously you’re open to more mistakes and errors there.
Sometimes somebody else may be using your drawing and your information so there’s a possibility of that information being lost in the translation.
JP: Ok, so is that the surveyors themselves go back into the office and type this stuff up or do you have separate office based staff to do that?
AP: No. All our surveyors process their own work, but assistants also assist with that process. So it would be a surveyor of a varying role e.g. senior surveyor, surveyor, junior surveyor or an assistant could be processing those documents.
JP: OK. I’m sure it varies, but did you have an idea of roughly how many of these control stations you’ll install a month?
AP: So normally we are installing between 20, 30 I think it is on average, although over the last three months we’ve installed 90 for each month. For the last three months we’ve had a couple of large, particular projects where we’ve been visiting gauging stations and installing control at small sites multiple times. So on a normal month working on 20 control stations, just to tally it up, we’re saving of 2.6 hours in site time.
So there’s two people on-site always, sometimes three so you can see the costs there and then 12 hours processing time. If we looked at 90 control stations per month we’d be looking just over 8 hours of site time taken up drawing those control stations working based on 10 minutes and then we’d be looking at a week’s worth of processing for somebody. Yeah last three months we’ve essentially saved three weeks of office work.
JP: That’s amazing! So how does the process look now compared to writing out on paper and then manually typing it all in?
AP: So obviously you’ve got your app on the phone. You installing your control station, you are taking a series of photos, or couple of photos I think it is (I haven’t used it myself in a long time!) and then as you take the measurements, you are using arrows and little text boxes on the app to fill in the data.
So it obviously automates the position. You can add in different positions, different notes and address details and location information whilst you’re there, whilst you’re actually doing it. So it all goes in once, you’ve got your photos, you’ve got your measurements, you can drag the arrows out onto the screen so it’s very intuitive, very simple to use. And it’s saved. So obviously if it’s pouring rain it doesn’t really matter. You haven’t got soggy paper everywhere and it’s tricky to write. If you’re using a survey book, which obviously works in the rain but obviously still isn’t brilliant. So yeah it’s really quick and simple and you can put as much or as little information at that time.
You can then retrospectively get back into it and add further information in so you might want to just take, if it’s pouring with rain, you can just take photos and measurements, go back into the car, sit there and add in additional data. Then you obviously save it and you can upload it. And obviously once it’s uploaded to your portal, you can still edit it there. So that’s what we normally do.
So we upload it when we’re out on-site, we look it over, upload it to the portal.
Once we’re back in the office, we process that control station to get our final coordinates and go back into the portal, go to that control station, edit the data, add in everything how we want it exactly and then export. And obviously you’ve got your own templates in there, so there’s Environment Agency templates for E one, two, three, four, five and six. Then you’ve got an NRW template in there as well and we’ve got our own template in there, just for general control stations but it’s also good for other things.
Sometimes we can use it for just taking a picture of a level staff on a gauge board and drawing up that gauge board in the same manner so it gets a lot of use and there’s a few different things you can do with it.
JP: Right, so you’ve even adopted it for some other purposes, as well.
AP: Yeah, yeah that’s it. So yes, it’s simple and effective. That obviously saves us a lot of time.
JP: Excellent. I remember when we started to work together, I think there was certain surveyors that trialed it out and get to grips with it initially, and then once you field tested it and stuff like that and decided that were going to use it going forward, it then got rolled out across the wider team.
So I was just wondering what was the reception of the other surveyors when being presented with this new way of doing things as opposed to the paper that everybody’s been using for ages? How did everybody find it and get on with it?
AP: It’s like anything – nobody likes change really. At the time, you were new, the app was quite new, we’d only just met you. So yeah, we I think we rolled out to a couple of guys and said look, use it, test it, and we gave you that feedback. There was a few minor things that needed changing and adjusting.
And then obviously once we were, we were happy with it we rolled it out and the uptake was instantaneous. There was no pushback at all because it was very obvious and clear the savings that could be made, the ease of its use. Obviously, you’re much further down the line now with it. I mean, you know I was if I was receiving it now, having the history behind it, I would look at it, have a go myself with it, go “well that’s a no-brainer” and just push it out straightaway to everybody. So, it’s not even an issue.
I mean, that comes with new people joining the company and as part of their induction I go onto the portal, go to “Team Members”, invite a new team member so they just get a link straight to their phone, and they’re up and running straight away.
So again, I’ve not heard of anybody coming back going “oh, I don’t like this, I don’t like that, that doesn’t work very well” you know?. New users are picking it up all the time and using it and running with it. So yeah it’s really simple and straightforward to pick up and learn. It’s like lots of things, a bit like our own software, if you know where you’re going with it, you know you’re trying to get from A to B, it’s very intuitive to go through that process to get from start to finish.
JP: From my end, I don’t often hear much from you guys asking for any support or anything like that. So usually in software, no news, is good news. If nobody’s getting in touch with you, everything’s working as it should and everybody’s happy. So. that’s good to hear.
AP: Of course we get the odd user error but that allowed!
JP: Yeah, that’s inevitable!. And so how has that affected your workflows and processes with this increased productivity then? If you don’t have as much back office processing to do because it’s all just uploaded to the portal, and then you can create the witness diagrams there, does that free you up to do more work per surveyor?
AP: Yeah, until you look at it like I’ve looked at it to have this chat with you, you know you’re saving time and money at the outset because that’s why you’re doing it. But when you actually pull it apart and look at some figures it’s like “oh, we are actually saving quite a bit of here”, but it’s not just the time you’re saving.
It’s, you know, there’s a week. So what we got in there for those last three months? It’s a week per month for someone in the office. Now that’s not just the time they’ve saved, in that time they’ve saved they’re working on another project. So the time saving is double time essentially isn’t it? It’s just fantastic to see time savings like that and the added value of it as well.
Obviously, the transfer of data is seamless and you’re not rewriting very much stuff. You’re adding to it and adding final coordinates to the information. So it removes some of the possible errors in that transfer as well. So yeah, fantastic for what we what we need it for.
JP: That’s what we’d like to hear! All right. Well, thanks very much for going through all that. And it’s it’s nice for me to hear how it’s all doing what it’s supposed to do basically, the software. So, I think we’ll leave it at that. Thanks for taking some time. Nice to catch up and I’m sure we’ll speak again soon.
AP: Cheers Jimmy. Thank you. All the best.