Building a custom enterprise app for WSP's Environment Group.
WSP is a globally-recognized professional services firm employing approximately 42,000 people. They develop creative, comprehensive and sustainable engineering solutions across the full spectrum of sectors worldwide. We were approached to develop a custom-built app for their Environment Group, designed to aid their teams in surveying, data collection, and reporting.
InField, a custom-built app for WSP's Environment Group.
WSP's Environment Group performs environmental studies, surveys and audits for clients across multiple sectors around the world. Whether a client is seeking to reduce their carbon footprint, increase energy efficiency, or comply with environmental laws and regulations, teams are deployed to perform the environmental assessment. These studies consist of physically surveying a site and accurately locating, mapping, and tagging the relevant data.
Initially, the manual work of collecting and recording data in the field was done with a commercially available app, lacking many of the features required to meet WSP's observational criteria. When performing a study, if a certain level of detail couldn’t be captured, this information was either recorded manually or by using cumbersome workarounds. Data could become scattered across notes, files, and different devices.
From initial setup to reporting, the steps involved in data gathering and presentation were unconnected, requiring manual intervention to bridge the gaps. Project managers had no easy way of defining the observational parameters, of syncing data across multiple users, or of efficiently collecting and reporting a study’s findings.
The Environment Group's leadership recognized that a custom software solution could eliminate these inefficiencies, and commissioned us to develop InField.
A simple, visual user interface.
The main data collection view displays the area being studied, overlaid with all the observations that have already been made. With a simple gesture, users can drag a new marker onto the scene, popping up a dialog where with a few taps they can tag the new observation.
A thoughtful interface for creating observations.
A dock along the bottom displays the most recently added observations, allowing users to quickly add a similar one to the scene with a single swipe, without the hassle of going through the tagging dialog every time.
Users can also copy existing observations to the dock to be pasted back to the scene, and pin often-used ones, making it even easier to quickly survey even large sites.
Making it easier to accurately position and manage observations.
With a few taps, users can copy, move, delete, or renumber existing observations. When many markers need to be placed in a tight spot, users can zoom into the scene and even draw an arrow out from an observation to accurately pinpoint its position.
Creating richer observations with comments and photos.
Users can add their comments to an observation, or use their device's camera to take a picture when words won’t do. Photos can be annotated to provide even more flexibility, with tools to create arrows, shapes, or draw freehand.
The right view for the task.
Three different views give users an overview of the data in the manner best suited to their needs.
InField gives managers end-to-end control over their project and helps them effectively delegate to their team. Managers can define the structure and observational parameters of a survey, embed the blueprints or schematics of the site to be studied, append forms and format their reports, and assign users to their team. After setting up a project, managers can export these settings, ensuring that everyone is working with the exact same configuration — a far cry from the hours of manual work required to achieve the same before.
Defining a project’s scope with tags.
The key factors of a project are the tags used to classify the observations. With InField, project managers can create as many tag classifications and lists as needed. Tags can be assigned shapes and colours, making it easy to differentiate them visually while working in the app and viewing reports. Managers can even create special dynamic tags to account for unexpected or variable factors in the field.
Project-specific classifications and tags.
The different types of data to gather depend on a project’s mandate. For instance, at a certain location we may want to record the material used, and then note its condition. For each of these classifications — material and condition — managers can create a list of tags representing the options for their team to choose from in the field. WSP's old solution allowed for only three such classifications; with InField managers can create as many as needed.
A powerful system for creating branching tag structures.
Sometimes it makes sense to show only the tags that could apply to an observation based on its other classifications. For instance, some materials may only suffer certain kinds of damage and not others. To accommodate for this, we developed a sophisticated system that supports non-linear, branching tag structures. This allows managers to set up projects that reflect an accurate and logical observational model.
Fine-grained control over the data gathered.
We extended the system further, by allowing project managers to pick certain tags that jump selection over to a later classification. For instance, we may want to gather detailed information about the walls and floors of a structure, and capture less information for ceilings. This provides managers with fine-grained control over the scope of data to capture, and users are asked to measure only what’s useful.
Visually tagging observations.
Tags can be assigned colours and shapes, to visually classify observations. This feature can be especially useful when applied to the particular needs of a project. Managers can assign these markers to the tags that represent the greatest areas of concern or interest for a project, as a visual aid for team members, and to highlight them in reports.
To make the system truly flexible, we developed one more thing — dynamic tags. These are blank tags that can be used to input either text, or numeric data. They’re ideal for situations where not all the options are known in advance, such as unexpected materials on a site. They can also be used where there is a need to capture quantities or other numerical measurements, when it would not be practical for a manager to create a tag for every possible option.
Embedded blueprints, schematics, and forms.
With InField managers can attach the blueprints or schematics to be surveyed, and embed editable forms right into their projects. And since it's easy to export a project to the entire team, everyone's always working off the same page.
Blueprints & schematics.
Managers can easily insert the areas to be surveyed into their projects, with inline tools to manipulate their scale, orientation, and more. This lets project managers to determine the disposition and level of detail to be studied, consistently across their whole team.
Live, editable forms.
Forms created in Adobe Acrobat can be embedded into projects, live and editable by users in the field. Managers can thus tailor and gather different kinds of information that don't fit the typical survey model, allowing for open-ended, flexible studies to be performed.
Keeping everything in sync.
Being able to keep a project's data synchronized between team members is crucial for effective collaboration. Internet connections aren't always guaranteed to be available, such as in remote areas, or for security reasons at sensitive locations. A challenge was to ensure that data integrity is always preserved, even between devices that can't always be connected to each other. We developed a robust strategy to handle offline data collection, resolve conflicts, and make sure teams always stay in sync.
InField generates reports on the fly, branded and with many options for controlling format and layout. Reports can include site plans with observations, issue lists, and photo grid layouts. Users can specify page size and orientation, settings for photo pages, and even the language to publish it in. With a few taps, users can create beautiful reports for internal use, or for distribution to clients.