This article outlines what you should know about utilizing the web for GPS data collection and updates. It was written by Eric Edmonds, the Director of Marketing for GEO-Jobe GIS and is intended for Utilities and Public Works Departments. Mapping your infrastructure is essential to the future management of your assets. GPS and GIS technology is moving quickly toward a wireless environment through web-based editors, viewers and hosted data solutions. (I shouldn’t even be referring to GPS when most data collection devices are GNSS capable.) GIS is utilizing the internet to better manage, share, and communicate the daily undertakings of your organization. As quickly as technology changes, it is important to understand the differences and benefits of web-based GIS solutions and how they impact your utility or public works department. You should also know the GPS (or GNSS) data collection answers for your spotty cell coverage areas.
Data collection and asset management applications such as Spatial Links are utilizing the internet to verify, edit, and navigate to infrastructure. They have been doing so for years. However, many utilities and public works departments are still not utilizing the internet to manage, view, and process their GIS data. Data is being uploaded to GPS devices in the office, where it is connected via USB to a computer running mapping software. GPS devices are not connected to the internet and field crews are utilizing less accurate solutions to find infrastructure while in the field. In addition, field crews are usually postprocessing this data. This means they are taking their new or updated GPS data that was collected for that day, week, or month and postprocess the data back at the office. Postprocessing is still a fundamental step when collecting vast amounts of infrastructure data or when internet access is not available in the field. However, once your infrastructure is collected and you are editing or verifying data in the field, there are more efficient solutions.
How much will a data plan cost for our handheld devices?
Here is what I found out about one of our own projects: I used Verizon’s data usage calculator to estimate how much it would cost if we maximized our field crews data usage (123.06 GB/month) which is way more than they need out in the field (usually half). The estimated cost was $73.24 per month, not even equivalent to a full tank of gas for one of our trucks. Our ROI for not having to travel back to the office each afternoon to load our data in a connected environment was about 400 minutes of travel time per month. Time that was spent collecting valuable data and completing projects more quickly. This also meant that we saved approximately $96 in gas per month (conservatively).
How will we view and make changes to our data when we have spotty cell phone service in some areas?
By using an application such as ArcMobile with Trimble Positions Extension (GeoCollector), you can become disconnected from the Internet and still view, collect, manage, update, etc. your infrastructure without disruption. The solution is a hybrid approach that facilitates poor service coverage. When your device regains data coverage (connected environment), the solution will automatically sync any changes / updates you made while you did not have service. You can also purchase antennas for field computers and tablets to increase coverage availability. In addition to solution such as ArcMobile, web mapping applications built to manage your infrastructure in both the field and office give you the ability to view data across your organization without relying on desktop software and licensing restrictions. They are inexpensive and can be used as a single platform for multiple applications such as AVL, GIS, and work order applications.
I believe that it is important for Utilities and Public Works departments who have collected their infrastructure to invest in solutions that give field crews the ability to connect to the internet even if they don’t have a full coverage area. Web-based GIS applications offer a more efficient way to view, edit, share, sync and manage existing GIS data. Leave a comment telling me what kind of experience you have had in spotty coverage areas with real-time connections.