Monday, April 15, 2013

Mobile Technology in Surveying - Could this be the end for paper based surveys?

Guest article from Edwin Bartlett, Chartered Surveyor and Managing Director of Kykloud

‘Far from stifling the role of the surveyor, software should enhance and improve what he/ she can offer.  Feedback from our clients say it does just that; the right technology forces consistency across multiple surveys and surveyors, which in turn dramatically improves the quality of data extracted across building portfolios and estates’

When we were told by the late Steve Jobs of Apple and others in the know that the technology we had in the palms of our hands would quite literally transform our lives, some of us dismissed the bravado, whilst others embraced this new mobile technology and began downloading hundreds of apps….   Let’s face it, for most of us, the world of ‘apps’ consisted of little more than Angry Birds to entertain the kids and fat face booth to make already unflattering photos appear significantly less attractive. Thankfully, fast forward only a few years and we’ve now ventured way beyond this frivolous and seemingly pointless fun and mobile technology has most certainly began to transform our lives – not only on a personal level, but it has slowly but surely crept in to the way in which we do business too. In fact, I recently read an article from Harry McCracken, the editor of Time Magazine who claimed that he could run his entire business on the increasing number of great apps for business (link)
The surveying industry has not escaped the infiltration of mobile technology with an increasing number of us (said to be about 10-15% of surveyors) now turning to our iPads and mobile phones to carry out elements of our jobs, often more quickly and efficiently than we did with traditional methods.  However, the use of such technology, whilst embraced by some, is still met with resistance from others in the industry. Having spent the past two years preaching about the benefits of mobile technology and the capabilities of software such as Kykloud (which allow surveyors to use their iPads to conduct detailed condition assessments), I have also listened with interest to the challenges that some in our profession believe it to pose.

50% time saving
Whilst the cost and time benefits of adopting mobile technology in surveying are increasingly well documented, with our clients alone reporting a 50% time saving, the concerns raised are nonetheless still very valid and worthy of debate. By far, the greatest perceived challenge is that of data security – where does our data go? Who has access to it? How will this impact on things such as compliance and PI insurance if we don’t keep onsite notes or store our data?

Where does the data go?
Data goes ‘in to the Cloud’ - that seemingly mythical place where data is stored or in the case of Kykloud and some other web based software providers, data is backed up to secure storage vaults in UK based 'G-Cloud' and ISO27001 accredited data centres.  It’s the cloud but it’s actually just 'up the road' and sometimes explaining that can immediately put surveyors at ease.

Impact on PI Insurance?
Most RICS approved PI insurance policies will not cover loss of documents 'that are stored on a computer system unless those documents are duplicated on at least a daily basis, with the intention that the duplicate can be used to restore the documents in the event of loss or damage'.  This is definitely an area to watch closely for surveyors as there are a number of technology providers offering mobile technology and reporting solutions that do not back-up the data. For added peace of mind, backup data should be replicated between geographically diverse data centre facilities.

Access to Data?
As for access, imagine these data vaults to be like vaults in a Swiss bank with named key holders only granted access. Only defined users can access the data and all information related to user access to data is encrypted by 'SSL', which guarantees that only authorized people can retrieve the data.
Data will then sit there permanently and will never be deleted unless instructed to do so, which in terms of compliance and Professional Indemnity insurance is better protection than any handwritten document that may have once been produced on site.

Dumming Down the Industry?
Some also argue that the use of mobile technology will stifle the job of a surveyor and will negatively impact on the overall quality of surveys produced. A common gripe is that the technology means that surveyors spend too much time ‘looking down and not up’ but I would say that an iPad is no different to a notebook from that perspective except that with drop-down fields, inbuilt camera and touch screen technology, surveyors spend less time looking down, giving them more time to observe the assets they are surveying.

Building surveyors, for example, are highly skilled, well educated professionals, who have trained over a number of years to be able to assess and manage property portfolios and this knowledge and expertise will never be replaced by a piece of software and an iPad? The use of mobile technology will always require the knowledge and experience of a trained surveyor, but the ability to produce data led reports at the touch of a button allows surveyors and asset managers to make detailed recommendations based on factual data and statistics in a fraction of the time.

Far from stifling the role of the surveyor, software should enhance and improve what he/ she can offer.  Feedback from our clients say it does just that; the right technology forces consistency across multiple surveys and surveyors, which in turn dramatically improves the quality of data extracted across building portfolios and estates. To date, the changes in mobile surveying technology have been device manufacture driven.  However, now this technology is in the hands of more and more surveyors, it will be interesting to see how the industry will drive the technology forward. 

Edwin Bartlett, Chartered Surveyor and Managing Director of Kykloud -

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  1. The paperless environment has been the holy grail of those on the leading edge of computer development since the computer first came into common use in the office setting. Study after study since has shown not the path to a paper free office but a significant increase in paper use.
    The other point one has to seriously look at is the history of electronic storage devices and media. How many of us remember the 5 1/4" floppy, the 3 1/2" floppy. How about magnetic data storage tape? The 3 1/2" floppy disc has not been out of normal use for all that long a time. I challenge anyone to go out a buy a computer with an "A" drive installed.
    This concern for what maybe regarded as antique computer technology may seem arcane, but for those of you who have had to monitor the performance of a building over its life, just how did you store your data in 1982? Quite possibly on one of the leading edge 5 1/4" floppy discs. If you had to look up the historical record, could you do it?
    How much data has been lost or orphaned on out of date storage formats? How about the time the office manager cleared out the store room and toss all those boxes of old discs, just because "We don't have the drives to read these anymore."?
    We are now in the new bright age of cloud computing and off site data storage facilities. The question being, just how long before that shiny new computer cloud is going to be tarnished, pushed aside by the new leading edge, and take its place along side other antique technologies in some computer science museum? Where will your data be then? If you say you'll transfer it to the new technology, I'll bet you a case of 3 1/4" floppies (They contain the plans to many of the houses I've designed over a ten year period.) that it won't happen. Another point to consider. What happens to your data if your off site data storage company declares bankruptcy? Here's hoping you have a good legal department.
    Backing up your data often and in geographically diverse locations is always a good practise. You should also consider backing up your data to protect against the march of technology.

  2. Rain,snow,cold,hot,dusty,precarious,- note taking cannot be done on an an ipad in the varied conditions a surveyor typically encounters. I have tried.Just as it the past I have found site dictation unsuccessful.
    Proforma,pen and weatherwriter pad=Sucess