Our trainers have spent a lot of time in the field. And when I say a lot, I mean it. They are out of the office training so much that we might as well giveRead More
When I look at the open ocean, I notice that the waves seem to roll effortlessly over the surface of the water, never stopping. They move around and through anything in their path without aRead More
Telephone, Email, Morse Code, or Smoke Signal
Here at IKE, we provide value through IKE Analyze, but everything we do revolves around data coming from the field. Often overlooked, field data collection has the power to make or break a project. It is about more than just venturing out to a pole to have a look. A good fielder knows that collecting data is an art. It is far too easy to compromise efficiency or accuracy with a lack of focus. Still, there are people we come across every day who demonstrate just how impressive field data collection can be.
We are proud to introduce Field Stories, our new series detailing the best stories from the field. Trust us, there’s more here than just animal encounters and extreme weather. Our first story dives into the efforts of Ryan Scott, the Fastest Fielder in the West. Learn how running pole to pole and using IKE to save time allowed him to collect more poles in 2 weeks than we have ever seen from one person.
If you like what you see, keep an eye out for even more Field Stories. The next one is available here. You can learn more about IKE Field Tools by contacting us today. If the contact form above isn’t for you, we also welcome any of these methods (except #4, it’s a bit much).
Narrator: This is the story of Ryan Scott, who collected over 2000 poles in 2 weeks and redefined what’s possible using an IKE.
Ryan Scott: There was a municipal broadband project out in Southern California and there was a need to audit the entire aerial system in the city as soon as possible. So, we ended up thinking through the methods of capturing this data, trying to look for the most efficient way possible to collect data in narrow alleyways dealing with quite a bit of growth. IKE was a clear choice for data collection in that particular application.
I don’t know what happened but out of boredom or necessity, I begin jogging between pole the pole just to save time and finish the day early.
Coming from a background of being outside, working out, training, and enjoying being outdoors, I decided to make it more of a challenge rather than just thinking of this as a job. So, that was an easy way to mentally break it down make sure that the target was met.
Whether it was the beach that was calling each day or simply wanting to be as efficient as possible that’s what it ended up being.
Narrator: 2000 poles in 2 weeks redefined what we thought was possible for field data collection, but even at that speed, it would take years to make a dent in the 200 million poles that dot the American landscape.
That’s why we hired Ryan to bring his passion for productivity to the masses by improving field productivity and streamlining back-office processes for each and every IKE customer as they create hundreds of thousands of photo verifiable IKE records each week.
So, reach out. Meet the analysts. Meet the team who worked to process those poles. Besides connecting with them, you might learn a little bit about the new norms, the new standard in field data collection. Until we hear from you, just keep on collecting.
Our trainers have spent a lot of time in the field. And when I say a lot, I mean it. They are out of the office training so much that we might as well give their desks away. That’s a good thing. All that time in the field means they are the best around at collecting data with an IKE. So, we asked them about the five most important habits a fielder can have. This is what they agreed on.
Understand your workflow and fill the whole form.
One sure way to ensure a revisit to a pole is by missing critical data. Every project is has a different workflow that requires different data. As a fielder keen understanding of your workflow will allow you to create data collection forms and processes that capture all of the data needed to create an IKE record tailored to any given project.
Every field is critical. A single missing data point can be the difference between a pole passing or failing pole loading or permit approval. The only time you should skip a form field is when the data it is asking for is not present on the pole. For example, no need to capture conductor sizes if there are no conductors.
Move efficiently around the pole.
There is an art to moving around the pole, use it to your advantage. The repetition involved in collecting high volumes of data means that little efficiency gains can mean big time savings over miles of poles. We have developed a way of moving around the pole that maximizes efficiency to limit time in the field. We call it Field Flow. From high above, it looks like a sine wave with the fielder flowing around and through the line of poles like a slalom skier. You can learn it from the map in the image below or find out more in our field flow guide here.
Quality of data matters more than quantity of poles.
We work in a funny industry. Often, the costs associated with pole data collection are incurred on a pole by pole basis. Contractors are charging communication companies per pole. Fielders are paid per pole. So, it makes sense that the quantity of poles a fielder collects is important. The more the better! Well, not necessarily…
Sure, it would be great for a fielder to collect poles as fast as their feet could carry them, but rushing through poles can mean that the quality of data is compromised. It is much more important to collect data correctly. Quality data eliminates all chance of revisits, makes the back office work easier, and ensures smooth pole loading. All of the steps on this list help ensure quality data is collected every time. After a few days of collecting quality data, the speed will come.
Capture the entire pole in the IKE Photo.
We use photography to capture the important things. On a family vacation, it’s the family. On a day of pole data collection, its the pole. You wouldn’t take a family photo with everyone’s dads face cut off halfway. Don’t take a photo of a pole with the top 3 feet of it missing.
In order to scale things correctly and ensure a complete pole record, IKE Photo’s need to include the whole pole from base to tip. No need to get crazy far away either, the wide angle lens on the IKE means you can stand fairly close to the pole while still capturing every inch of it in the IKE Photo.
Pay attention to your laser distance indicator.
That distance marker below the crosshairs isn’t just for show. It allows you to verify you are actually hitting your target. This may seem pretty straightforward, but we actually see it come up fairly often. A stray branch or leaf interferes with the laser and all of a sudden, your measurements are way off. Avoiding this is simple. Just look for the numbers below the target acquisition crosshairs when taking an IKE photo, then double check that your crosshairs sit squarely on the pole. That simple check will keep you on target and has saved our fielders working in densely forested areas hours in revisits or recollects.
When I look at the open ocean, I notice that the waves seem to roll effortlessly over the surface of the water, never stopping. They move around and through anything in their path without a hint of stress. Field data collection can be that easy using Field Flow for IKE. Using a sine wave pattern to move from pole to pole, unnecessary movement is eliminated to create a seamless flow between poles. The efficiency of movement allows you to collect faster than ever.
You’re probably wondering how it’s possible. I get it. How can the path you walk affect how well you do your job? The answer lies in the repetition. Over 1,000 poles, 30 extra seconds spent walking at each pole becomes over 8 hours. A full workday can be wasted walking.
I could start with a list of bullet points on how to do this, but the importance of it would be lost. Instead, with a map and a story, learning how to move in the field is simple. Study the map. Read the story. Repeat in the field. It becomes effortless, like a wave.
Marcus is a fielder. At least he is today. Some days he gets to be an engineer. Some days he gets to be a barista at the office coffee machine too. Today though, he is a fielder. His coffee came from 7-Eleven. His boots came from Murdochs. Both feel especially good this morning.
He gets to the line of poles he is collecting data on. Did he leave off at 11987 or 11986? He fires up the IKE and gets into position on the wireline side to start collecting. A quick check tells him it was 11986. He chooses the job and he is off.
From his first position, 45 degrees away from the wire and 40 feet from the pole, he captures the first IKE Photo. The target ring turns green. The laser is center mass on the pole. Like all his IKE photos, it’s a nice rectangular shot that includes the pole, in all its glory, from base to tip. Then he moves on to backspan. New day, new job, and he has to capture backspan to connect today’s work to yesterday’s. And last week’s.
Backspan done, he walks directly to the pole for position two. There he quickly moves through the custom form, navigating picklists like an accountant navigates spreadsheets. The data he needs to collect at this pole changes job to job. For this job, he needs pole tag, class, all of the equipment, wire specifications, lights, and location. Everything he needs to have IKE Analyze give him a completed pole in SpidaCalc. He used to dread having to collect that data, then move it all into the pole loading analysis software himself. It took forever. Now, it’s easy.
Walking directly away from position 1, he heads to position 3. He is looking directly back at the pole, with position 1 hiding behind it. A second IKE photo captures the other side of the pole. A forespan measurement connects him to the next pole. Nice to know they can copy it over. He never liked how they used to have to collect both forespan and backspan for every pole.
He walks back to the wireline side to a spot roughly 90 degrees away from both position 1 and position 3. One more IKE photo for good measure and pole 1 is done! No effort wasted. On to pole 2.
He walks a few feet towards pole 2, gets in position 1 and repeats the process. Before he knows it, 20 poles are done and it’s time for lunch!
Lunch hour comes and is gone faster than the turkey sandwich his wife made him. He doesn’t mind. The winding path between poles helps the day go fast. He wonders what it looks like from above. Like a ski racer making perfect turns between the gates in slow motion. After 10 more poles, he is headed back to the office for afternoon meetings and some data review.
Sometimes field data collection isn’t glamorous, but it is an excuse to get outside and enjoy a nice day. It feels good knowing that he is able to collect poles at twice the speed he used to. All because he started using IKE Analyze and Field Flow.
Want to learn more?
We have reached a critical turning point in how utility pole field data is collected. Companies and decision-makers are coming to the realization that there are more comprehensive, robust and accelerated ways to collect this data that defy long-standing practices quickly moving towards obsolescence. There is a substantial need to collect pole data efficiently for one-touch make ready, joint-use, pole load analysis, and pole attachment projects. It is easy enough to imagine a drone flying down a line of poles taking photos, or a car driving with mobile LIDAR scanning everything in sight. While intriguing, these new technologies are currently capable of doing only a portion of the job and are not a suitable solution for complete field data collection. In-person field data collection is needed to capture pole tags, pole ID’s, birthmark information among other pieces of data that are usually required with utility pole audits.
Overall, field data collection methods can be categorized into three groups; manual collection, semi-integrated solutions, and fully integrated solutions. When we talk about integrated solutions, we are referring to the sub-systems of a given process and how these individual elements streamline into one comprehensive solution. Manual collection implies that there are multiple physical methods being used to capture data by hand These elements are generally unconnected and constitute a non-integrated solution. Semi-integrated solutions have two or three manual methods combined with the inclusion of digital processing. A fully integrated solution represents the newest form of data collection which augments fielding capabilities and allows data to flow seamlessly from one system in the field through back office processing. ikeGPS’ industry-standard solution leads with the most widely adopted fully integrated system available today.
Here at IKE we strongly advocate for the fully integrated solution, not only because we know the profound capabilities that can be unlocked, but also because of our professional field experience with every collection method imaginable. We understand the perks and problems of each better than anyone. Here we will look at the process for each category of field data collection as well as how it stacks up in terms of accuracy, efficiency, and cost.
Manual field data collection has long been viewed as the reliable go-to method and is largely viewed as the most accurate method, even if it lacked efficiency. It involves recording measurements by hand from a fiberglass hot-stick. Since the first pole measurement was recorded more than a century ago, this has served as the standard for collecting utility pole measurements. For a long time, this method simply was the best available option. Yet, times are changing. Even today, it is used widely in combination with a GPS receiver and measurement wheel. In recent years, we have seen standalone laser rangefinders emerge as a popular replacement for the hot sticks in the manual collection process by offering expedited data capture and increased safety by limiting the contact fielders have with high voltage lines.
One of the critical problems with the accuracy of manual collection is the subjectivity of the measurements. The quality of data is entirely dependent on the person collecting that data and can easily differ from one fielder to another based on approach. In this case, the explicit accuracy relies on the exact positioning of the fielder and discretion in reading the measurements. Not only that, but it forces companies to rely on experienced fielders that are well-trained and knowledgeable in their domain. This is a rare and difficult employee to find in any job market potentially creating bottlenecks for a project that must stay on time.
Manual collection takes home the win for inefficiency and proves that time-consuming field data collection, although tolerable has no place in a modern workflow. The real headache is in the time spent processing the data in the back office, where employees spend 45 minutes or more per pole transcribing data and completing pole loading analysis. The slow speed of manual field data collection increases costs per pole and create work backlogs for utilities and contractors alike.
Often there is an illusion that manual collection is most cost-effective. At face value, a hot stick is more inexpensive when compared to an all-in-one solution. However, it is essential to take into account the cost of labor created by the slower field data collection speeds. This loss in productivity can cost companies not only money but valuable time that could be leveraged on new projects. People have trusted the manual method for decades because it represented a low-cost way to collect data. Now, there is an increasing need to deploy fiber for broadband service to millions, ensure aging network infrastructure resilience and ensure safety through utility storm-hardening. Industry-wide companies have realized that manual collection is inadequate for present-day demands which require more modern and efficient methods.
Now I know you are asking, what is a semi-integrated solution? Semi-integrated refers to the pieces of the manual collection process which are combined and digitized. In most cases, that means the hot stick is replaced by a calibration stick and a digital camera. Instead of recording individual height of attachment measurements in the field for conductors and equipment, the photo is calibrated based on a calibration stick with control points and then annotated in the back office. An external GPS receiver is used in tandem to determine the pole location and respective span lengths. In certain circumstances, the locations and spans will use satellite imagery instead of a GPS Reciever. Back office work is minimized by the digitization of some data as well as the partial software integration with numerous pole load analysis, make-ready engineering, and joint-use asset management software applications.
Semi-integrated solutions are the first step in removing subjectivity from traditional measurement methods which results in an accurate record that can be externally verified based on a photograph. While the issue of subjectivity is somewhat remedied, the accuracy can be affected by differences in equipment and there is no standardization to the camera calibration. Varying measurements for heights of attachment on the pole can cause issues upon scaling the photo. A phenomenon observed by Cologne University called “camera radial distortion” will cause measurements to vary significantly across an image if not corrected. Reliance cannot be placed on untrustworthy data when matters of safety are involved.
The primary benefit semi-integrated solutions offer beyond the manual collection method is that they streamline a portion of the back office work by partially digitizing the data captured. The enhanced digital collection process allows companies to more easily move data to other parts of a workflow and integrate with pole loading analysis software. While they are an upgrade from the manual collection method, the main efficiency pitfalls of semi-integrated solutions are the process slowdowns that can result from an incomplete workflow. A primary example of this concept is whenever a two-person team in the field is required to collect data at any given pole. One person positions the calibration stick flush to the pole while the other person captures photos and records notes. Requiring two people to perform an in-field workflow that can easily be accomplished with one person is cost prohibitive and can be inefficient.
The cost of semi-integrated solutions is reduced by the fact that the only specialized hardware needed is a calibration stick, however, there is still necessary hardware required. This expensive hardware needed as a fielder includes a decent DSLR camera and a GPS receiver that can cost over $1500. The cost of employing two-man teams for data collection added to these expenses can add up quickly. All-in-all semi-integrated solutions have the potential to produce usable data and manageable workloads for the price, but there are further cost-savings and efficiencies to be discovered when compared to fully integrated solutions.
Fully integrated solutions direct data through a single source and maintain continuity throughout the entire system without requiring involving manual processes between components. As it stands today, the only fully integrated solution widely available is the IKE solution which allows for consistency, accuracy, and reliability. This workflow uses dedicated field hardware and integrated software that combines necessary sensors to ensure there is no variability in measurement data. Once data is collected, it is then uploaded to a cloud asset management platform in which all annotations and further analysis can be completed. Furthermore, these definitive records can be exported to integrated software including SpidaCalc, O-Calc Pro, Pole Foreman, ESRI ArcGIS, Google Earth, AutoCAD and Microsoft Excel. Automating previously manual processes is a tremendous time-saver and the quality of data created by a single source of collection is unmatched.
Recently, to allow customers to further take advantage, ikeGPS introduced IKE Analyze as a core offering for our customers. IKE Analyze is an end-to-end solution for companies that can include field data collection, pole loading analysis and make ready engineering. Thanks to the fact that all data is originating from a single data source, IKE Analyze can reliably perform quality control, complete analysis and ultimately allow customers to scale efficiently. There was a realization that IKE needed to emerge as an industry leader in the pole business to maximize our value to others. So we are shifting from being a device-based business to a technology-focused, solution-oriented company. We leverage industry-expertise, technology and processes to put ourselves in a position of leadership that will allow our customers to be more successful than ever.
ikeGPS’ unique combination of sensors, workflow, and data processing yields the most consistent photo verifiable accuracy while minimizing user or transcription error within the dataset. Additionally, subjectivity is removed in a similar method to semi-integrated solutions because there is nothing that relies on the individual fielder’s discretion. Measurements can be instantly verified and at any time reviewed to ensure field data collection was completed correctly. There is never any reason to introduce doubt into a process.
Fully integrated solutions will always maximize efficiency by allowing data to flow directly from field to final deliverable with minimal transcription or manual manipulation. The ethos of simplification is apparent through ikeGPS’ unwavering commitment to innovation and constant refinement of the software behind the solution. The IKE solution minimizes recollect scenarios by paying close attention to every detail in this process and eliminating wasteful practices.
Cost & Payback
For a long time, upfront investment may have been a prohibitive factor for companies seeking to use the IKE solution. Although the value, accuracy, and efficiency were clear, the upfront cost of hardware and software upfront was sometimes a deterrent to customers. With IKE Analyze this upfront investment has been removed with the introduction of a per-pole pricing model. This provides an immediate return on investment and best matches the way that many customers operate their business being per pole or pole per mile.
While reading this, you may have arrived at the conclusion that there is a hierarchy in these methods, with manual collection at the bottom and Fully-Integrated solutions at the top. At IKE, we prefer to think of it as an evolution. Pole data collection started out as manual collection years ago, then it evolved into semi integrated solutions. Now, it has taken yet another step, and the best method available is the fully integrated IKE solution and its IKE Analyze counterpart. There is no other combination of advanced field data collection and back end efficiency that does the job like IKE. Undoubtedly, the next evolution of mass field data collection will involve drones and LIDAR. When that standard is set, IKE Analyze will be ready to optimize data from both those sources. Until then, we will keep providing and optimizing the IKE device that has already revolutionized field data collection.