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How can digital data collection lead you and your project to success?

October 13, 2020

By Carole Lieu

Using the right technology to properly manage data will save your project time and money. Here’s how.

The COVID-19 pandemic has uncovered a myriad of underlying challenges in our communities. From poor contact tracing methodologies to slow testing technologies, we have learned many lessons in dealing with the deadly coronavirus. One of the most important lessons? The need for timely, accurate, and reliable data.

As the pandemic has shown, we could have been much more effective in our battle to stop the spread if we had the proper data to do so. Opportunities to flatten the curve were lost—partly because we did not have the knowledge and the tools in place to accomplish it.

The need for reliable data is not a new concept—everything functions better when we have the resources to fully comprehend what we are examining. The same is true when it comes to engineering and design: Projects are more likely to run into trouble if we do not have accurate data throughout the project life cycle. Ultimately, this translates into time, money, and effort lost—and our job is to optimize these assets for our clients.

So what can we do? By leveraging technology that allows us to collect and share reliable information in a more timely and interactive manner, we can address the challenge of data collection and management. 

Our experts have a myriad of tools and a variety of technologies at their disposal that promote effective—and efficient—data collection.

What is digital data collection?

Simply put, digital data collection refers to our ability to amass, analyze, and share data via electronic technologies such as tablet computers or smartphones. Before digital data collection, we used pen and paper to record information gathered in the field. While this method got us through generations of project work, it led to many mistakes.

In fact, studies show that approximately 50% of all project errors originate in the field. If we can resolve this, we can offer our clients a unique value proposition that will help them to complete their projects more effectively. Plus, we can directly contribute to improving the health and well-being of our field practitioners by providing them with tools to perform work more safely!

Through our environmental project framework, we use digital data collection to help execute many types of projects. From soil remediation, to spill response on oil and gas pipelines, to hydrogeological studies, our Digital Practice team has the opportunity to work with many disciplines—and digital data collection can help them all. But how?

Our experts have a variety of tools and technologies at their disposal that promote effective—and efficient—data collection.

There is a tool out there for you

As I outlined above, digital data collection brings several benefits to our clients and our project teams. It provides more accurate information. It saves time and money. And ultimately, it helps us execute projects better. We are always working on ways to improve on how we collect data.

Our experts have a variety of tools and technologies at their disposal that promote effective—and efficient—data collection. From quick and easy electronic forms to interactive analytical technologies, we can find the right tool for you. Here are a few:

  • mTOOLS, a Stantec-developed proprietary tool, configures customizable solutions on a project-by-project basis with minimal labor required and at an affordable cost. It makes repeatable activities, such as site investigations or environmental assessments, easy to perform while improving informational integrity, reporting efficiency, and quality.
  • EQuIS Collect is an application developed by Earthsoft for field data collection. It integrates with other EQuIS applications but also can work independently to capture data and has the flexibility in form design. We use it to perform actions like borehole logging, environmental sample collection, and groundwater monitoring.
  • ArcGIS Collector captures data with the use of web maps and integrates with Esri’s ArcGIS.
  • Flowfinity is a platform with a graphical user interface and interactive dashboards that allows users to design their own data collection forms without any code.

One of the biggest advantages of digital data collection is the ability to share information in real time.

How can I improve my data collection processes?

There are two key steps to implementing digital data collection technology: Using it and knowing how to use it. It’s not just about finding the tools—it’s about finding the right tools and understanding how to use them to meet your project needs. You can have all the tools at your disposal, but if you do not apply them correctly, they are essentially worthless. To make sure you are collecting data properly, you need to ask yourself the following questions:

  • Are you using the right tools and technologies for the job? Do your research before investing in new tools. You want to be confident in your approach for the task at hand.
  • Are you executing the tools and technologies properly? After you have found the right tool, make sure you understand how to correctly apply it to your project. Many proprietary tools offer training and consultations specific to your project needs.
  • Do you understand what data you are collecting? You need to have a comprehensive understanding of your end goal before you start collecting data. This will improve accuracy and reduce redundancies throughout your work.
  • Will your data be centrally available? Hint: It needs to be. One of the biggest advantages of digital data collection is the ability to share information in real time. If you are not making your data central and accessible to the project teams, you will cost time and increase the likelihood of miscommunication.
  • Do you have the right team for the job? Individuals who do not embrace technology—or do not understand it—need to be brought up to speed or left off the team. A key point of digital data collection is to have everyone on the same page.
  • Do you understand how to perform quality control on your data? This is incredibly important. If you are not doing consistent quality assurance on the data you are collecting, you may realize far too late that your data is not accurate. This will lead to a lot of rework and wasted time and effort.

We can directly contribute to improving the health and well-being for field practitioners by giving them the tools to perform work more safely.

Taking your data collection to digital heights

Moving forward, take a step back before you begin your project work to understand the data you will be collecting and the logistics of accomplishing that. Finding the right tools and applying those tools correctly is key to any project’s success.

One of the most important parts of this process is planning to use the right technology for the project—not planning the project for the technology you want to use. This is why understanding your end goal at the very beginning is essential. Similarly, you need to pick the right team for the project, not the right project for the team. Unfortunately, there are still many practitioners that have not embraced new technology, and this only hinders project teams that are trying to implement it. Make sure everyone is on the same page and plan your team accordingly.

It’s important to take the time to reflect upon how you can improve and optimize your methods of data collection. Think about where your project is right now. Where can it go with the right tools? How can you make things more efficient? Digital data collection is no longer the future. It is our present, and it is time to move forward!

  • Carole Lieu

    Working with our team in Waterloo, Ontario, Carole is a senior environmental data manager. There, she focuses on quality and efficiency by establishing company-wide standard processes and practices and is a technical expert in EQuIS.

    Contact Carole
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