Five Reasons Why Utility Locators Should Embrace GIS

By Michael London and Charlie Rudkin

Is now the time for utility locators to integrate Geographic Information System (GIS) into their best practices?

With the price of GIS falling significantly and ease-of-use improving dramatically, there’s a strong case to be made that utility locators should incorporate GIS into their work every day.

The reasons for doing so? Highly appreciative clients, potentially big cost and time savings, a better work product from your team, more business and revenue, and an enhanced reputation as an innovative, tech-enabled firm.

No. 1. Highly appreciative clients. Utility locators perform a very valuable service at the front end of the process, but their work could be even more valuable if the information from their site surveys benefited decision-makers throughout the lifecycle of an asset. By incorporating site data into a GIS, utility locators can assist the different teams working on any project. Information generated by utility locators can inform the decisions of master planners and budget planners; architects, engineers and other contractors; and operations and maintenance personnel. In our work, we’ve seen owners and operators be highly appreciative of utility locators who understand the bigger picture and routinely feed their work product into GIS or CAD systems.

No. 2. Potentially big cost and time-savings. In most states, utility owners are obligated to mark the location of their known active facilities on the ground surface just before construction. In fact, this is often too late for design purposes or contractor bidding. The result is predictable: Costly delays because unseen or unidentified assets are damaged during construction. Getting intelligence from utility locators early on is a sure-fire way to avoid these problems. In fact, more than 20% of infrastructure assets documented by field verification teams never appear on any as-built drawings or blueprints or. Another 10% of assets shown on as-built plan sets could not be field verified as having been built at all. In other words, almost one-third of assets are at risk at any given time.

No. 3. Better work product. Technology continues to propel the industry forward, but it is still hampered by inefficient, legacy methods. An illustrative example: Spray-painted marks on the ground remain a key work product of any utility locator. As many know from firsthand experience, these identifying marks can weather away quickly by the time construction beings. Most locators will cross-reference their findings on as-built drawing or maps, but what if none exist or are outdated? Incorporating site survey information into a centralized, online repository, such as a streamlined GIS, can result in better decision-making throughout the lifecycle of project.

No. 4. More business and revenue. Like AECs and others who routinely use a GIS, utility locators often become the preferred partners from their clients and from other third parties. That’s because their work is perceived as more valuable – and rightfully so. The upshot is more business for those that use a GIS. In addition to direct revenue and sales commissions, third parties using GIS often enjoy a meaningful increase in indirect revenue from enhanced relationships. One small civil engineering firm we’ve worked with averaged $182,000 a year of incremental revenue per year per client.

No. 5. Add a new dimension to your business. Over the next five years, the business of managing utility infrastructure is likely to become even more technologically sophisticated. In addition to laser and radar, drones, Augmented Reality and other innovation will fundamentally change the game. The industry is in the early stages of a tech-inspired revolution. GIS is a central part of the advancing tech ecosystem. As the industry changes, the challenge is to integrate technology – or be surpassed by more innovative competitors. To lure new talent to the industry in today’s full-employment economy, firms will need every advantage to recruit the best and the brightest. Having a reputation as a tech-enabled firm will be a competitive hiring advantage as a generation of industry professionals gets set to retire.

 Michael London is co-founder and CEO of BetterGIS, and Charlie Rudkin is co-founder and Chief Operating Officer of the firm.

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