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Who Moved My Data?
Walter Pochron, Vice-President/Hydrogeologist, GHD
I started my career in the late 1980s—a time when data such as a laboratory reports were printed and mailed or couriered to my office by the laboratory. To summarize this analytical data for my clients in a report, I would hand-write a data summary table on graph paper and give it to our administrative staff who would generate a table on an Apple IIe computer. If we wanted to show this data on a figure, our drafting personnel would need to generate a site figure and then manually write the analytical compound names and the associated laboratory results on the figure in data boxes. As you can imagine, this was a slow and tedious process that required multiple quality control checks to identify input errors.
By the mid-1990s, the process of collecting, evaluating, and presenting data took a significant step forward as computers became more affordable and widely adopted. Suddenly, software for spreadsheets and databases became commercially available. Computer-Aided Design (CAD) software allowed data to be easily added to figures and changed the design process. Increased internet accessibility popularized an entirely new way to quickly share information. These advancements made it faster and more efficient to analyze and summarize data to present to clients.
Innovation is a necessity that can and should be embraced. The massive shift in use of technology over the course of my career has continuously improved the product I provide my clients
Databases made it easier to store historical data, allowing data trends to be evaluated and identified. Still, in spite of all this progress, the collection of field data was still done manually.
Nearly a decade later, a new software tool, Geographic Information Systems (GIS)—a computer system for capturing, storing, checking, and displaying data related to positions on Earth’s surface—promised to change this. In the early days of adopting GIS, mobile data collection and storage started with a few types of handheld units. Initially difficult to read and use in the field, the processing of field data did not expand until more advanced tablets became available.
With further advancements in technology, aerial photography, and spatial data GIS began to be adopted more widely by industry. GIS is capable of showing many kinds of data on one map, such as streets, buildings, and industrial operational areas. It enables people to see, analyze, and understand patterns and relationships associated with data more easily. In my own applications, I use it to tie location coordinates to the analytical data from the sample. The data can then easily be shown on a figure and used to generate iso-concentration contour maps to show chemical concentration distributions.
In the past decade, the world of data storage and evaluation has expanded exponentially as GIS-related technology advanced. GIS technology has changed the way we live and work—the way we drive to work, the way businesses ship and track their products, and the way infrastructure is designed. We can now use 3-dimensional visualizations to illustrate contamination distribution or other types of data. Large amounts of data are now being stored on cloud-based services. Data analytics is changing the way all types of data are being evaluated to help businesses identify trends and optimize performance. Business Intelligence (BI) provides standard business users a simplified platform to view historical, current, and predictive information to allow decisions to be made. As computer tablet use has become commonplace, the use of electronic field data collection has expanded, allowing data to be directly uploaded to the database.
Innovation is a necessity that can and should be embraced. The massive shift in use of technology over the course of my career has continuously improved the product I provide my clients. I’ve learned that abiding by three key principles for change can help to ease growing pains and ensure better services:
• Anticipate change and seek out new ways of doing things.
• Monitor change to ensure you are moving in the right direction at the right time and ensure that your clients are ready for these changes as well.
• Adapt and embrace changes quickly and surround yourself with like souls.
And remember, change is constant—there’s always new cheese to be found.