New technologies have radically changed the way the industry has been exchanging documents.
About 30 years ago, before the fax started to become widely used, document transmission used to take days. Today, email is the de facto standard of business communication and delivers documents within minutes anywhere in the world. The number of transmissions has escalated as the collaboration between parties becomes closer and virtually instantaneous. Drafts and partial documents are commonly exchanged.
For small projects, each team member’s email inbox becomes a repository of information. Even if the organisations concerned have good procedures for storing data on their respective file servers, it is very easy to overlook information. This can lead to files getting out of sync at the different parties’ locations.
For larger projects, this issue has been partially mitigated by the use of FTP servers, which are file servers accessible through the internet. Nevertheless, the need for specialist software and the lack of accountability and feedback on changes reduce their effectiveness. While file and FTP servers have properties, such as subject, author or comments to index files, they are hidden, complicated to access and, therefore, hardly used.
The AGS data format, which has evolved over the past 15 years, provides a good mechanism to transfer purely technical data between contractors and consultants. This is done with their status information intact. For long-running projects, procedures are usually put in place to provide regular updates between parties, however, the information, on top of being limited in scope, is only as recent as the last update.
To resolve those issues, Fugro Engineering Services (FES) has developed in-house, FugroOnLine: An Advanced Extranet System. It is a website, requiring authentication.
A web-based content management system is the central repository of all data. As most users are already familiar with web interfaces, the usability of the application is enhanced.
FugroOnLine benefits from custom properties, such as document status (draft, revised, final…), specific borehole identification, and identity of staff that carried out the work. Any document uploaded can be tagged with any number of these properties, increasing with the complexity of the project.
System security requires each user to have their own log-in credentials. It keeps track of all actions and logs them against the authenticated user. The ability to audit changes to this extent encourages users not to share their credentials and be more rigorous when modifying data.
The application keeps multiple versions of the same document, but only the most up to date is readily accessible. For example, the user can view the history of the borehole log that displays three versions: one with a 1.20m trial pit, one with the same trial pit, plus a 15m cable percussion, and a final version that adds rotary drilling to the depth of 85.5m.
The platform has a built-in alert mechanism to email users when certain criteria are met. For example, a geoenvironmental engineer could subscribe to receive an email only when new documents related to chemical tests are uploaded.
A basic geographical information system (GIS) system is used to provide, for example, progress information. It allows users to zoom in on any test location and access relevant information regarding completion status of each investigation. Closeup views of a group of boreholes and a pop-up window provides links to relevant documents in other areas of the website.
Other existing web-based systems can be relatively easily integrated. For example, following an initial soil investigation campaign, geomonitoring data obtained during the construction phase can be incorporated.
FugroOnLine helps service providers improve the way they collaborate with their partners. The application, by making relevant data readily accessible, saves time, and ultimately, money for the client.
It also encourages timely progress reporting. Subsequent versions of the system will slightly enhance its efficiency.
However, the next major improvement for the industry will probably only come when computer systems can interact directly. For this to happen, significant standardisation work still needs to be carried out.