Louisiana moves levee inspection to the cloud and saves
- By Patrick Marshall
- May 13, 2016
Sometimes apparent setbacks offer opportunities. That, said Doug Taylor, was the case when a custom-built application used by field staff at Louisiana’s Department of Transportation and Development to inspect levees was damaged in an IT upgrade.
According to Taylor, DoTD’s director of levees, dams and reservoirs, when the state moved to consolidate IT resources across departments and agencies, his department’s servers were moved, and, in the process, many IP addresses were changed. As a result, the Trimble Yuma devices used by the field staff could no longer synchronize data with the centralized database on the servers.
“Without paying somebody a bunch of money to come in and figure out where it broke, it wasn’t going to get fixed,” Taylor said. That presented an opportunity to evaluate other solutions.
Taylor chose to go modular, adopting TerraGo’s Edge, a cloud-based subscription mapping and forms service that works with iPads and iPhones as well as Android devices.
“We switched to the TerraGo platform simply because I could get them to host it on their servers,” which cut down on his department’s dependence on IT staff, Taylor said. What’s more, while the change is requiring some adjustments, it has also delivered unexpected benefits.
“The TerraGo product was ... a much cheaper solution than the annual maintenance contract we had, so we actually ended up saving money,” he said. According to Talyor, just the maintenance contract for the old proprietary system was $18,000 per year, and the ruggedized Trimble Yuma handheld tablets cost about $6,000 each.
“So far we’ve invested maybe $2,400 in the TerraGo software,” Taylor said. And users in the field are running the software on Android tablets, which have a bigger screen and cost the department only about $200 each. “Ruggedized is nice, especially if the units cost $6,000, but I can drop a whole lot of these tablets before it adds up to $6,000,” he said. “We’ve been using them almost nine months, and we haven’t dropped one yet.”
Because TerraGo includes customizable forms, the DoTD can design its own interfaces, maps and workflows, changing them whenever needed to improve the speed and quality of inspections and maintenance.
The move from the proprietary system, which the team had been using for four years, did require a few adjustments. The biggest change was that, because the data is hosted in TerraGo’s cloud, it must be exported to DoTD before it can be used. “It’s just a data file when it gets here, so we can just put it on our network drive and deal with it,” Taylor said.
“As we learn more about the data structure the TerraGo provides, we’re tweaking our database to streamline data input,” he added. “It’s all just a fine-tuning process right now.”
Patrick Marshall is a freelance technology writer for GCN.