Utility GIS/GPS

Editing Related Records in Collector for ArcGIS

Editing Related Records in Collector for ArcGIS

Good relationships are important in Business, Sports, Personal Life...in anything, really. Good relationships are important with GIS data as well. Let's take a look at how relationship classes and related data can aid in the GIS data collection process.

A client from a Water Reclamation Department uses the Collector for ArcGIS app to edit Sanitary Sewer Network data. They requested additional attributes for a Lift Stations layer, as well as the ability to add multiple Pumps to each Lift Station. The solution to this request is a related table in a feature service that allows for editing via the Collector app. This is an overview of the process.

Rochelle Municipal Utilities: Zero to Hero

Let me lead off by stating the obvious, This project is not complete!!! We've invested a lot of time and energy into RMU and when we were asked to write a summary of where GIS has brought them in the past year, I jumped at the chance and wanted to post it here as well. The Following article has been circulated around their various committees and councils and so we present it here. 


In June of 2013, Rochelle Municipal Utilities Electric Department moved forward in several significant ways to become more efficient in the use of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) They invested in a three-year Enterprise License Agreement (ELA) from Esri Inc. of Redlands, CA for their GIS software package.  This license agreement allows RMU to utilize any and all of the industry-leading Esri software site-wide, as-needed. In conjunction with this agreement RMU purchased a high-end server environment for implementing this software. As well, they 

“Putting our Electrical Depa-rtment records into a GIS has allowed us to communicate more efficiently with office and field staff.”

— Al Corl, Electric Dept. CAD Supervisor

entered into a contractual agreement with Cloudpoint Geographics Inc. of Roanoke, Illinois for set-up and geospatial consultation services. 

Previously all of the Department’s spatial data was stored in AutoDesk CAD format. While accurate and exceptionally maintained, the CAD data was housed on local workstation hard drives. Disseminating the data was complex and not easily achieved. 

Seinor staff understood the benefits of utilizing a central GIS available to the entire staff. As well, they had the insight to select a database structure that was open and standardized rather than closed source or proprietary. RMU’s chosen geospatial consultant, Cloudpoint, had experience with both the Multi-Speak and Local Government information models.  

After several planning meetings and explanation of system-specific terms, the CAD vector data geometry was able to be imported into the Multi-Speak model using the same Esri software that RMU had purchased. In order to insure completeness and accuracy, electric department staff had open and frequent updates and conversation with Cloudpoint. Every attempt was made to keep the data as intuitive and close to the previously used CAD naming conventions as possible while still adhering to standards of an open information model. 

During the same time as this CAD to GIS data conversion, Esri server software (ArcGIS Server) was installed on a dedicated web server for internal use. In the course of this first phase of deployment the intension of staff was to keep the digital infrastructure private to a select group of RMU personnel familiar with the data. However, the software technology was installed and configured with the ultimate goal of deploying the map services as the final product out in the field in a connected tablet environment. 

Even though the Electric Department’s data was an obvious priority, some attention and time was paid to development of other basemap layers. RMU had participated for years in the Ogle County GIS consortium without realizing the full potential and usefulness of that group’s data offerings. Inserting these datasets into the local government model allowed RMU to grasp a fuller picture of their complete GIS eco-system.  

Along with their meticulous CAD drawing, electric department staff had collected over 22,000 photos of their 7,286 electric poles. These data, while extremely useful, was only available on one PC within the electric department offices. Again, with the intension of eventually pushing this information out to field personnel, Cloudpoint moved these photos into the cloud. Because of the foresight of RMU staff and the naming of these 22,000+ photos, a linkage could be drawn from the poles feature class to the images themselves while on a protected and redundant  webserver within Amazon Web Services S3 storage. This link is currently being used on the desktop as well as in the field. 

Internally to the RMU network, there are currently only a few editors of the electrical GIS layers.  While this seems inefficient it actually is an industry-wide ‘Best practice’. Using Esri server-side software (ArcSDE) riding on-top of Microsoft Sequel Server the electric data is currently a protected enterprise dataset. This means that though many have access to see the authoritative data, only a select and qualified few have access to change it. These different versions of the data are synchronized after the author approves the edits. This reconcile and post process can be done on the GIS server by qualified staff. 

During the continued database development stage, sharing was done via ArcMap and a set of shared folders and File Geodatabases. This full-featured software program from Esri has a high learning curve. In order to completely “see” the same layers, users needed to be proficient enough to create layer files, change symbology and then save pathnames as relative or UNC path types. This potential road bump was avoided by utilizing maps created by ArcGIS Online  and disseminating the information via secured webmaps. 

This large step forward allowed the electrical department field crews to use hand-held tablets to see map images & data, aerial imagery, address locations, pole photos, as well as PDF manuals of their departmental standards. RMU purchased four - Apple iPads equipped with 4G LTE and enrolled them in a Cisco Mobile Device Management software solution for protection and accountability.  While this is not an Automatic Vehicle Location (AVL) solution, it speeds up response time and efficiency of truck crews by being able to know what they need to replace before ever ever arriving on site. 

The ease of access this allowed garnered a welcomed reception from the field crews and sparked a desire to have more complete and faster updates. This step required the involvement of RMU IT staff to push the previously mentioned map service as provided by ArcGIS Server out to a secured location on the web. In order to effectively and safely open a port in a network’s firewall, many precautions needed to be adhered to. This implementation is no different. Cloudpoint worked with RMU staff as the translator between GIS terminology and their network to achieve both security and speed requirements. This effort was reinforced by RMU with the forward thinking purchasing of quality hardware and an ELA from Esri nearly a year prior. 

Currently, GIS in Rochelle Municipal Utilities Electric Department is in full swing. Edits to the system are changed internally and pushed out to the field crews almost instantaneously. Field personnel have a customized mapping interface that was created with several iterations and face-to-face meetings. As well, field crews can close the feedback loop by highlighting areas that are incorrect (including attaching pictures) or changing attributes of specific features within the map on their tablets. These edits are again propagated back to the office and, if approved, incorporated into the default database version. 

The GIS is not, and will never be, completely done. RMU senior staff understands that in creating these efficiencies, there will be  perpetual training and maintenance of the system. Software updates will be needed, new layers created, deployments to be made, etc… It is a dynamic infrastructure just like the electrical system that it represents. They also understand the significance of how far they have come in one short year.

So what's my accuracy??? Mobile Device GPS with iPad, iPhone, & Android

If you have ever been involved with a GIS project that requires data collection using a handheld device there is no doubt that you at some point ask yourself "Is this spatially accurate enough?".  Well here is some evidence that proves those little tiny GPS chips within those smart phones are actually pretty good.

We wanted to get some numbers for this idea so we took five different mobile devices (listed below) and tested their GPS accuracy against a known control point (NGS Point ID: DF4314).  Our chosen devices were:

  1. iPad 4th Gen (16GB WiFi + LTE)
  2. iPhone 4S (3G)
  3. Motorola Droid Razr Maxx
  4. Garmin Colorado 300
  5. Trimble Geo XH 6000

What we discovered was somewhat surprising.  As you can see from the list these devices vary in use from the simple smart phone for  GPS navigation & driving directions, to the professional series Trimble Geo capable of providing survey grade GPS positioning.  Below is a map showing the different precision & accuracy for each device in relation to the benchmark.  We stood over the known control point and collected five GPS points with each device and averaged them and found the following observations as a result:

Click here for map of plotted points

  • When it comes to accuracy, you get what you pay for as it was no surprise that the Trimble unit provided the greatest accuracy when used with real time corrections.
  • Most of the devices, such as the Motorola, had good precision but lacked in accuracy.
  • All devices, except for the Trimble, missed the mark in the northwest direction.
  • The uncorrected data from the Trimble provided very high precision but low accuracy.
  • The iPhone was all over the place on its readings but came within 4 feet of the target when the points were averaged (that's outstanding!)
  • In general, the iOS devices outperforms all of the competition when averaged except for the professional grade systems

So what does all of this show us?  It proves that you still have to pay big dollars (+$10k) to get a "high accuracy" GPS device but you can make an awfully strong case for a $600 iPad with the right data collection app.  Who knows, maybe the day of "survey grade" accuracy in a smartphone is in the very near future.  

A pile of GPS mobile devices sitting atop our known control point.

So Where are Your Underground Utilities?

How do you find your underground utilities?  Does your method of relocating them consist of your veteran public works director and the third-generation local excavator estimating them based upon a combined 70 years of memory?  We find this all to common in today's communities where their baby-boom staff will soon retire and take with them an incredible amount of "tribal knowledge".  Although they may have an incredible ability to tell where those 50 year old lines are at, someday these folks will not be available.  That's why mapping these utilities with GPS equipment is so critical!  Don't loose all of that valuable information, you just can't take that risk.  It doesn't have to be expensive equipment that costs thousands of dollars.  Even a simple $200 Garmin eTrex will get you headed in the right direction.  Today's GPS equipment can provide accuracies that vary from five feet to five millimeters.In addition if you are a local government agency that has a permitting process for underground utilities, why not start requiring the permittee to provide you as-builts with GPS coordinates.  You can do this with a simple ordinance update and even specify the accuracy requirements, and they don't have to be overly tight.  This is not an unreasonable request and will not place an "undue" hardship on them when the cost of GPS equipment is so insignificant these days.  The point is once you have the data it can be used in so many different capacities.  So why not set your agency on the right course today and make things better for the next generation!

Visit us at www.cloudpointgeo.com

Sign Inventories: Five Lessons Learned!

Cloudpoint Geographics

has performed many

GIS data collection projects

so far and here are some of the valuable lessons learned from completing this work:

Sign Inventory snapshot from Concord Township in Bureau County, IL



Get the data when you're there


  Be thorough when in the field.  All too often we come back to the office and wish we had collected more information or question one of the sign attributes.  If we take the extra minute or two when out in the field it gives us the best end result and complete inventory.  This is one reason that mobile mapping is becoming so popular.  You bring much more data back to the office and can post process so much more... eliminating mistakes and questions including saving time and money from repeated site visits.


More data is not always better.

When it comes to feature attributes for GIS work, people can come up with some craze ones... color of sign post, angle of the leaning post, type of hardware.. and the list goes on.  Let's be realistic about it.  Is this necessary for our inventory and are we really going to maintain all of this information?  Focus on what information will be used in the initial inventory and what will be maintained upon future inspections.


One person, start-to-finish.

It's important for one person to be responsible for collecting data and that same person for assembling the inventory.  Often times a question comes up that only the person doing the field work will remember.  This makes it of critical importance that the same person be responsible for completing the final product.


Begin maintaining your inventory immediately.

Don't let collected data sit on the shelf too long.  For one, it helps with the issues described in #3, and it also allows for maintenance of the sign inventory to begin sooner.  If you complete an inventory and don't begin maintaining it for several months, by the time you get started it is outdated and you have a lot of work to get caught up.


Be creative with data collection.

It is important to be creative with data collection.  You want to work quickly and efficiently when collecting GIS data and this does not always equate to one out-of-the-box solution or software program.  At times it may be best to use a mapping software program to collect feature locations and a spreadsheet program to collect data on those features.  Other things to consider is how to quickly collect data in the field.  Don't rule out ideas such as voice recognition on smart phones or dictation to later be inscribed by other staff back in the office.

There are many things to consider when working on data collection projects, large and small, but most importantly is to remember that proper planning is the key to a successful project.  

Those who fail to plan will plan to fail.  

Written By: Jonathan J. Hodel, P.E.

Visit us at www.cloudpointgeo.com

Cloudpoint selected for fiber contract!

Cass Communications

has contracted with Cloudpoint Geographics to complete utility mapping of its fiber optic network.  The project consist of gps data collection of the utility's fiber optic lines and infrastructure over a 13 county area.  The collected data will be used to implement a GIS system that will help the utility manage it's fiber network more efficiently.

CASSCOMM is comprised of many different companies specializing in the telecommunications industry. Based out of central Illinois and serving thirteen counties with the latest in technology, CASSCOMM operates Cass Communications Management Incorporated, Cass Cable TV, Cass Internet, Cass Telephone, Cass Long Distance, Cass Advertising and Greene County Partners offering services including: cable television, high-speed internet, digital phone, landline telephone service and cable television advertising.

Visit us at www.cloudpointgeo.com

Slow & steady.

Keeping up a blog to let people know what's going on sounds easy to do but I am learning that it can be difficult to stay consistent.  Things are going well at Cloudpoint with projects continuing to surface.  Just completed a sign inventory for Gold Township in Bureau County and have had several calls from other agencies requesting the same.  Having an engineering background in transportation has been a great advantage in this area.  Sign inventories, evaluation of software, Christmas cards going out, and marketing trips have been keeping me busy lately.

Some people have asked what it is that I actually do (Including my father-in-law in his own tactful way).  The best way to describe it is GIS (Geographic Information Systems).  For public works, transportation, and utilities, colleges, parks, etc.  Anyone that has numerous facilities that they need to track and manage within a geographic boundary.  For example right now I am working with a public utility on enhancing their map books and implementing better practices for their GIS system.  I am also in the process of evaluating two kinds of software, ESRI Arc Editor, and Que Coherent LP360.  It might sound link technical mumbo-jumbo but I think its a lot of fun.

I want to wish everyone a Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays and remember that Jesus is the reason for the season!