Changing workflow or processes depends on acceptance by those doing the work. New tools for field users should be easy to operate — preferably easier than accepted methods. The ideal field design solution incorporates all the information and functions needed to complete the job — such as work orders, specifications, GPS data, design tools, and maps — in an intuitive interface.
As you integrate field design with georeferenced data, consider systems that:
1. Let field designers focus on design. Creating system designs in the field — where assets are positioned and can be referenced against the reality of the environment where they will be built — not only contributes to overall data accuracy but also makes for a more accurate design that is easier for construction crews to interpret and build. This clarity leads to better construction, fewer as-built changes, and less time spent during each phase of the work order process.
From a usability standpoint, a designer in the field should find it simple to verify and add pertinent information at the job site. A tablet PC with a pen interface — not a keyboard with typed edit commands — provides the most familiar and easiest way to locate maps and related information, query the system, change views, and handle other design-related functions.
2. Allow users to work directly on maps. The design process benefits when staking engineers can use the full range of GIS features in their design. Working on maps helps orient and inform the designer by visually providing existing information, gives an opportunity to verify the GIS data in the field, and ensures a high degree of positional accuracy in the final design.
Certain features, such as houses and trees, may not be in the GIS, but are very important to the design and to the crews who ultimately build it. Contrast allowing the designer to add these features directly to a map using the automated field staking approach with the traditional approach of designing in the office, relying on field drawings, notes, GIS data, and memory. This often results in overlooking a feature or imprecisely portraying the relationship between the design and the environment in which it is to be built. Field-created designs using automated systems can be made immediately available to other crews and contractors as working documents, then reviewed and edited if necessary before being incorporated into the GIS database.
3. Allow easy integration with other field tools. Field designers can benefit from using GIS-rendered maps, AVL systems, GPS receivers, and portable electronic map readers, but they may be performing other aspects of their work using traditional tools, such as paper staking sheets and work orders. The lack of integration among these tools may actually make it more difficult to perform familiar tasks. Tools such as real-time differential GPS receivers and highly accurate laser range finders dramatically improve the quality of the GIS georeferenced data. The incorporation of these tools in the staking process also significantly speeds up the actual design process itself. To address this problem up front, look for a tool that is built for field design and already incorporates all of these functions. Using a generic tool will only exacerbate this problem.
Overall, implementing GIS with integrated field design should focus first on workflow, then on data capture. In other words, the solution should help the user complete his or her work, then get the data. If the data capture is automated or is a normal product of the work process, this is simply an additional benefit.
The real value of the total solution comes from a strong, well-defined relationship between acquired data and the real world the data represent. Keeping in mind, of course, that the “real world” consists not just of physical elements — but of the work processes associated with stations, transformers, breakers, buildings and land features.
Without integrated field design, a tremendous amount of data gets transcribed a number of times in order to maintain a utility’s GIS database. The vast majority of the data concern proposed, changed, retired, and newly constructed field designs. Imprecise, non-field-checked designs lead to change orders, reconfigurations, re-builds, and ultimately higher costs and weaker ROI.
Increasingly, utilities are implementing a field-based design system that is integrated with other operational resource planning solutions, such as maintenance, asset management, outage management, vegetation management, and work order management. An integrated field design system not only increases productivity in the field — it streamlines how the asset data repository is updated and extends the value of spatial data by sharing it with other business-critical applications.