Complementing BIM, mobile geospatial services such as IDS’s eviFile will help infrastructure providers securely track their assets and associated processes.
Over the past 2-3 years, I have had a number of conversations with Ed Williams, now client services director at the Leeds, UK-based IDS Group. When we first met, Ed was working on the concept of a mobile reporting tool that used familiar (and therefore user-friendly) Google geolocation technologies such as Google Maps and Street View to help built environment clients and their supply chains capture data about, report on and manage projects across dispersed locations.
Highway engineering case study
The concept was tested with UK contractor Balfour Beatty (eventually leading to a project case study published by COMIT: Construction Opportunities for Mobile IT in July 2015). BIM manager for highways and infrastructure Harry Parnell had wanted a solution to link photographic evidence of motorway project progress issues to designs authored using building information modelling (BIM). Previously, coordinating site photographs with their exact locations in 3D models was slow and laborious, requiring manual cutting and pasting of data, and importing and exporting between multiple applications. Parnell said:
“We wanted a more seamless way to quickly and accurately capture up to 40 different metadata attributes relating to a photo, so that, as section engineers identified issues, the data could immediately then be reused for checking, approval and electronic, rather than in-person, sign-off processes.”
During 2013, Parnell and his Balfour Beatty colleagues began reviewing different mobile photo mapping and geolocation tools, eventually testing what is today the IDS solution on a motorway improvement project: the £208m M25 Section 5, J23-J27 scheme, northeast of London.
From marker posts and signs to gantry elements (pile, pile cap, leg, boom), over-bridges and culverts, around 1000 assets were each assigned a unique reference number, which was also captured in the 3D model. As work proceeded, issues – structural defects, missing signs, poor paint finishes – were photographed and their locations could be fine-tuned using Google’s Street View technology, incorporated in the browser-based system. Being written in HTML5, it also worked across multiple mobile operating systems and devices.
“GPS accuracy was +/- 5m, so associating photographs gave a clear visual confirmation of each asset’s exact location,” says Parnell. “Using the application saved hours every week. New issues were raised at evening coordination meetings, allocated to the relevant section staff, and once rectified could be checked and closed-out.”
In five months, over 50 engineers and inspectors managed over 900 quality tasks raised on-site using the system. Real-time reporting closed the gap and accelerated collaboration between site and office-based project staff. From a survey of users, Parnell calculated an average saving of three hours a week per person, saving approximately £250,000 against comparable projects.
The M25 Section 5 team delivered the project 26 weeks ahead of schedule and under budget, while using the application to work more efficiently and capture data once. Certainty regarding defect closure was vital. “Rectifying a problem after traffic management had been lifted would cost over £10,000, versus the average £690 if traffic management was still in place,” says Parnell.
Deploying a single data capture and reporting system across multiple projects means a contractor like Balfour Beatty can ensure high levels of data consistency and quality, and standardise cross-project reporting for group quality, health and safety and environmental purposes. Clients also get richer, more accurate, real-time data about their new assets. Importantly, the technology can also be used to manage existing assets. Williams adds:
“Being managed in a secure, cloud-based environment, the system is highly scalable. And by using unique IDs for numerous assets, it provides a convenient way for field workers to collect and share high quality, location-specific data in real-time with their colleagues.”
The product’s secure, time-, date-, location-stamped and tamper-proof format, now branded eviFile (reflecting its evidence-based approach), also provided reassurance to compliance teams, concerned about any potential dispute or claim.
eviFile – field data collection and reporting
In the two years since that Balfour Beatty case study, the product has been developed further. IDS is now marketing eviFile as an enterprise-level application that can be used to record and manage field assets, track inspection routes and provide tamper-proof evidence of events happening in the field. The system is accessible on smartphones, tablets and desktop devices, with all data securely managed by hosting partner AQL, and is designed as a ‘drop-in’ solution that can be easily integrated with an ‘ecosystem’ of existing applications and processes.
Complementing the eviFile data capture technology, the platform also provides ‘eviTrack’: functionality that provides “a visual snail-trail of event activity and routes”. This can show, for example, the sequence of locations visited by an inspector, with the data captured at each location automatically time and date-stamped. The eviFile digital signing process guarantees that reports were collected at a particular time and in a particular place, with digital signatures captured using standardised UK cryptographic algorithms.
As well as the highways sector, Williams says the eviFile system is attracting interest from other highly regulated infrastructure providers, notably the rail sector – drawn by eviFile’s ability to provide what he describes as “progressive assurance“. Delivering new rail assets, or updating existing ones, can involve a sequence of ten or more activities, each of which is subject to a quality inspection and must be signed-off prior to the next one starting. Contractors can quickly accumulate large volumes of paperwork documenting these processes – Williams recalls a recent project generating some 26,000 pieces of paper, “and the number grows further once you add in the snagging loop on top of the progress monitoring.”
EviFile is licensed to Regular Users, who can then share an eviFile with partners, clients or contractors (‘collaborators’) to capture their comments but without enabling them to make any additional changes to the captured data. Data is stored in a Vault – which is available with two grades of security: enterprise and military strength. For 25 enterprise users, I understand pricing starts from around £30,000 per annum, though the cost per user obviously drops if customers need bigger implementations – a 250-user requirement would cost around £150,000, for example.
The new geospatial battleground
Geospatial data is becoming increasingly important. Implementation of BIM to support infrastructure projects was hampered until the industry started to develop classification systems, such as Uniclass 2015, that more adequately covered ‘linear’ civil engineering projects in the road, rail, power and water sectors, for instance.
As infrastructure providers seek to manage multi-project programmes of work or widely dispersed existing assets, often a map showing locations is the most obvious, and user-friendly, way to navigate to particular sites or places within sites. Steve Crompton, CTO of SaaS collaboration and CDE vendor GroupBC (Business Collaborator, proponents of ‘Semantic BIM‘ or connected data; post), powerfully demonstrated this at a BeginBIM17 event which I chaired at Turner and Townsend’s London office on 18 May (the company will also be exhibiting its “GeoConnect+” service at this week’s GeoBusiness event, on stand M15, in London, 23-24 May with a workshop about the service at 2.45pm on 24 May – Update [26 May 2017]: read this PCSG blog post about GeoConnect+).
Aconex CEO Leigh Jasper had geolocation services on his product roadmap when I interviewed him recently (post); last week I also wrote about the US’s Unearth (post) which is merging aerial imagery with project data, and recalled Finland’s Infrakit (April 2016 post) – also seemingly focused on geolocated civil engineering data and workflows.
[Disclosures: I provided consultancy work relating to the prototype technology and to compilation of the original Balfour Beatty case study. I am also a dissemination partner of COMIT, and have provided marketing consultancy services to GroupBC.]