DUConnect #4: Digital workflows for utility data management

How do digital workflows for utility data management affect our ability to capture, collect, store, and deliver reliable and accurate data? What is the role of road or transportation agencies in the utility mapping ecosystem? Continue reading to find out what we have learned in DUConnect #4.


A recording of the entire session is available on-demand here.


The fourth edition of Digital Underground Connect took place on Thursday 2 April. It was hosted as an all-virtual interactive webinar. We are excited to observe that it was attended by a truly global audience from a variety of fields and take joy from seeing our network grow and expand. We thank all participants for their interest and contributions.



The webinar was kicked off by Rob van Son, Project Lead of the Digital Underground project in Singapore, with a brief recap of past DUConnect events. Rob observed that, four sessions in, the beginnings of a burgeoning knowledge base on digital twins of the underground has started to take shape. Digital Underground Connect welcomes suggestions for future contributions and invites those who are keen to contribute.



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What Lies Beneath: Utility Data Management by the Colorado Department of Transportation


The session featured a talk by Rob Martindale, Professional Land Surveyor and Utilities Engineering Program Manager of the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT). In his presentation, he talked about the impact of new legislation in the State of Colorado and how legislation, permitting, and new technology has positively impacted utility data management for services installed within the State's Right of Ways.



The work of CDOT is motivated by the understanding that the land in the State's Right of Way is extremely valuable and needs to be managed carefully, combined with the knowledge that poor utility records lead to increased cost and risks for civil projects, private developments, and infrastructure installations. This has led to the introduction of a new law (the 811 Law, which mandates that Quality Level B SUE information is to be collected and submitted for each construction project that involves excavation) and new guidelines for recording and exchanging as-built information on utilities.


CDOT collects all relevant utility data (as-built records, SUE CADD files, future planned utilities etc) in a centralised repository. Besides the fact that such a repository was not available before, a key driver for this repository is the growing realisation that - in order to improve the quality of both new and existing data - it had to be stored and managed somewhere.


Rob described how utility permits are leveraged to mandate that as-built records of new utility installations are captured with sufficient or known accuracy. Specifically, he addressed the development, promotion, and mandating by the CDOT of an as-built survey software application called PointMan, developed by ProStar GeoCorp. The PointMan app connects directly with a GIS data repository (Transparent Earth) and serves not only as a means to provide survey data directly to the repository, but also to deliver data from the repository to users in the field, e.g. permit information. It is capable of linking with various positioning and survey equipment. Additionally, the app can be used to collect data of existing utilities prior to construction projects as part of Subsurface Utility Engineering (SUE) surveys, where it is able to connect directly to utility designation devices such as electromagnetic locators. And last, it can be used by construction oversight inspectors to submit field observations.


The software enables quality control and confidence in data by providing metadata called "pedigree" along with the records themselves, including survey observation data (e.g. accuracy), who provided the data, when the survey was conducted, and how the data was acquired.


Rob's presentation is a great example of how an authority has considered everything from legislation to guidelines to tools and technologies in order to establish and mandate data collection workflows that collect all data in a single repository, where it can be consolidated and improved.


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A digital workflow for utility data management - challenges, technology, and capacity.


The session was concluded with a workshop and panel discussion session on the challenges of establishing a digital workflow for utility data management, the use of new technology, and the requirement for new skills.


The role of road agencies

The workshop kicked off with a brief poll on what the audience thought would be the ideal role of road agencies with regards to utility data collection. Most of the attendants indicated that road agencies should not only mandate certain practices, but also provide some degree of assistance and coordination to ensure reliable data is collected.



Rob commented that the background of CDOT's proactive role is in a major incident occurring in 2016, leading to felt need at the federal level to improve legislation and establish an agency and infrastructure for consolidating information - something which previously did not exist.


Challenges towards establishing a digital workflow

Most attendants commented that the key challenges towards establishing a digital workflow are not so much of technical nature, but have to do with ensuring that people comply or participate in such a system - from actually realising the benefits to submitting data according to a common standard. Another issue that was raised was that of liability, in particular when the data is handed over by a developer to the data management agency who then proceeds to deliver the data to third parties.


In response, Rob Martindale commented that it is not easy to get everyone to adopt the new technology and workflows. Hence, for Colorado it was extremely important to establish a clear and simple workflow that works without too much of a slowdown for those involved, or would in fact improve efficiency. This led to CDOT's decision to mandate the development of an easy-to-use field app that both provides to and gathers data from a centralised GIS data repository. Another key point mentioned was the concept of reciprocity. By providing a clear justification (CDOT's land is extremely valuable and already congested) combined with free-to-use, good technology that provides direct benefits to its users, it is suggested that contractors would be more understanding and open to commit to proposed and mandated changes.


Technology for a digital workflow

When asked how technology should be leveraged to establish a reliable map and digital workflow, attendants commented that technology should be seen as a means to lower barriers for other parties to comply and implement new workflows, and that the integration of surveying and GIS is a very powerful concept that can serve as a blueprint for other authorities all over the world.


When asked about how the Colorado Department of Transportation decides what technology to leverage, develop, and provide to other parties, Rob Martindale indicated that these decisions were often based on a trade-off between low cost and high accuracy. Very high accuracy solutions that are very expensive are therefore not considered, as it would be difficult for other parties to adopt them.


Skills required for a digital workflow

Lowering barriers for participation is a theme that runs throughout CDOT's story. In line with its decision to commission and provide technology, Rob indicated that CDOT had invested efforts in educating professionals to be able to conduct basic data collection works at the level of a "survey technician". Although this may not be enough to provide the highest quality or accuracy data, it would ensure that a sufficient capacity exists that can do the work using the provided application and provide data at a reasonable and verifiable level of quality.


We thank Rob Martindale and the attendants for their valuable contributions. Are you keen to join the next DUConnect event? Subscribe to our mailing list to stay informed!