Mobile data collection saves fieldworkers one day a week

Winner of this year’s Your GIS is Mobile category, in the Esri UK Customer Success Awards, Fera Science is a shining example of how mobile GIS can inject new levels of efficiency and accuracy into field data collection, as David Tait, Esri UK Customer Success Manager, explains.

With over 7,500 global customers and a scientific heritage spanning more than 100 years, Fera Science are experts in all types of scientific field data analysis. Formerly the government’s Food and Environment Research Agency, the company offers a range of scientific and advisory services, mostly related to the food chain, agriculture, environmental management and food safety.

Fera Science’s work involves the analysis of robust scientific evidence, with the collection of field data playing a role in many of the 600 research projects it runs every year. From collecting tree species data for an urban tree inventory, to ground truthing remotely sensed data for land cover and woodland classifications, the scope of its mobile data capture is huge.

Traditionally, data collection was carried out by making notes on paper forms or annotating maps. As with any type of manual data input, this process was inefficient and open to inaccuracy. There was a duplication of effort from first having to capture the data, then subsequently adding it to the database back at the office, while spatial integrity was not very precise due to grid references or marks on a map being made with a pencil.

When scoping out a new mobile data collection system, Fera wanted to accommodate various devices, from survey grade Trimble units to Android tablets and smartphones, due to its wide spectrum of data collection scenarios. The firm also needed the data collected to upload wirelessly to a single, central, spatial database.

Esri UK worked with Fera to create a new mobile data collection platform, using ArcGIS, which gave the company complete freedom in terms of how data is collected and consumed. Field workers now view, collect and update data over 3G or 4G connections using Trimble devices, Android tablets and smartphones. Alternatively, they can work offline and sync data when a connection becomes available.

The key to the success of the system lies in how flexible and open the underlying platform is, giving Fera easy access to every necessary data collection method. Data captured on a Trimble unit is compatible with an Android device and vice versa and is also immediately accessible by staff back at base on the desktop, tablet or smartphone. Streamlining the process in this way also saves the fieldworkers around one day a week, previously spent re-entering the data once they had returned to the office. Data quality has also improved as it is captured once electronically, with no re-entry needed.

After the first research project used the new system, fieldworkers were struck by both the efficiency savings and accuracy improvements being achieved. As a result, mobile data collection has become the main method for collecting field data across Fera, saving the company a significant amount of time and reducing costs.