Increasing data volumes are making the efficient collection of field data an integral part of any environmental project. Regulated industrials, consultants, and government agencies are currently digitizing their workflows to reap the benefits of the digital transformation. Consider the following benefits if you are still collecting field data manually with paper forms.
Instant Data Availability
For many environmental projects, large data sets must be collected and turned into information as quickly possible. This mix of complexity and time sensitivity is posing challenges to companies who must find ways to transform the collected data into the required outputs efficiently.
Traditionally, field data has been collected on paper forms which were then transcribed into some digital form in the office. Turning this manual data into digital data for reporting outputs included various steps that often began with deciphering the field forms and typing them into tables. Once the data was available in a digital form, it was loaded into various applications for data analysis and reporting.
Electronic data collection tools allow field crews to deliver data electronically to a central database, where the new dataset is instantly available for analysis. The project team gets immediate feedback and can start to draw conclusions instead of waiting for a new dataset, possibly for weeks.
Implementing a system with a digital field data workflow leads to more benefits that are directly connected to the automated data transfers. When new datasets are automatically loaded into a central system, data analysts can also automate their reports, which lets them focus on the decision-making process without worrying about the technical parts of data visualization and reporting.
As soon as the new results enter the database, pre-configured reports, maps, diagrams and charts can be accessed and exported. The following example demonstrates an EQuIS EnviroInsite document with water level contours and field results that automatically updates as soon as the new dataset is uploaded to the database:
See above the image: New field data is instantly turned into information. Notice change in water level contours caused by new field data.
Electronic data collection forms provide real-time verification tools for the field crews to verify that the data entered meets pre-defined quality standards. Here are some examples for common data checks that can help the data collectors in the field:
• Completeness Checks: Are all required fields populated? Did you miss something?
• Range Checks: Are all the results within a logical range? For example, a pH value of 75 would not be accepted but a value of 7.5 would be accepted.
• Reference Values: Do all reference values follow the conventions in the database? Smart forms will include drop-down lists that only allow the selection of valid reference values.
Another tool to increase data quality in the field is the display of historical data ranges in the field. A common example is the comparison of new water level measurements against the historical trend. Outliers that are significant can be identified immediately, allowing the team to verify the measurement while still on location.
A digital system provides tools to link every field form to the users who are collecting the datasets. Forms can be finalized with a digital signature and attachments, such as photos or voice memos, can be included. These file attachments will automatically be linked to the sampled or location record when the datasets are uploaded to the database. Georeferenced files are then instantly available in the office.
See image above: New data are instantly compared to historical data. All errors are instantly seen and not accepted.
Supporting Tools for Field Crews
In addition to the above data quality tools, tablets or laptops with electronic data collection forms provide a range of supporting tools for the field technicians allowing for more efficient and accurate data acquisition.
Mapping and GPS
Running a digital field data application on a mobile device like a laptop or tablet allows field staff to utilize the built-in GPS device or an external device for orientation. New locations can be entered digitally while capturing the coordinates (even in various coordinate systems). Other features include tools to help field technicians find the way to the next sampling location by showing the direction on maps.
See image above: Georeferenced field data collection
Instrument (Internet of Things- IoT) Interfaces
Migrating to a digital field data workflows allows the field teams to import data from measurement devices directly into the database, where it is immediately available for reporting. Typical devices include weather stations, piezometers, multimeters, drones, and other sensors. By directly connecting the device to the database, common sources or error are removed from the workflow.
Integration of Barcode Devices
Connecting a barcode reader further improves data quality by reducing transcription errors while letting the field teams focus on more important tasks than typing in sample names, location names or numbers. Barcodes can be associated to different record types, which are defined by the data manager.
- Data is instantly available after electronic submittal from the field
- Secure and efficient data transfers with digital user certificates
- Automated data verification and loading
- Automated reporting and visualization following pre-configured templates
- More accurate data through initial data validation in the field
- Powerful field tools including GPS, barcode scanners, and sensor interfaces
- Tracking of field team or subcontractor performance
EQuIS™ is the world’s most widely used environmental data management workflow and efficiently manages the environmental sample data for thousands of organizations. Learn more about our newest field data application, EQuIS Collect, here. EQuIS Collect allows staff to collect any data easily in the field on phones, tablets, or PCs with a simple, user-friendly application that works on and offline.