How Surveyors are Using Up-to-Date Data to Improve Jobsite Operations

In light of recent rapid technological changes in the industry, we at Propeller put together a report on construction industry trends and predictions for 2019 reflecting on the factors shaping today’s industry and some forecasting on where it’s headed.

land surveying on a construction site

That said, for many companies, the future of data is already here. They’re using new tools in the field and in the office to combat the $1.6T productivity gap and a growing industry. The only question is, how?

For many companies, the future of data is already here

The work a surveyor does underpins much of a site’s progress reporting. They are the ones collecting site data. They deal with the hardware on site in addition to uploading it into data platforms for others’ use.

From Surveyor to Home Office eBook

More efficient data collection can happen today

Survey data can be collected in many ways. Surveyors pick the best tool to do the job. One of these tools is the drone, but most are even more familiar, like a rover.

Many teams use multiple tools, picking the one that’s best for the job. One great example comes when surveying very large sites. “For larger jobs—300, 400, 500 acres—it becomes impractical to walk the sites,” explained Richard Tyndall of Petillo Inc., a New Jersey-based construction company. For sites that size to be surveyed by hand, it could days if not weeks. “Some of the stockpiles get so big and so uneven that it’s not practical to shoot those by hand either. That’s when we’ll fly them.”

Enabling better remote work

On the software side of things, current, accessible data helps surveyors work remotely.

Many have to drive all over to reach different sites. “So it’s nice to have the aerials on-hand where I can zoom in actually be able to see a feature quickly without going out in the field,”  Fiore & Sons Survey Manager Justin Russell explained. “Or I can go find a manhole that got covered by looking at past surveys on the Timeline, get a northing and easting, and then find it on site.”

Without this kind of mappable visual record, he might have had to search on foot, losing more time than necessary.

Drone surveying and software advice from the pros

how to renew part 107 license for drone surveying

We also asked all our interviewees to share advice for new users of Propeller and drone surveying.

For Mike Brown at Bettis Asphalt, setting up the right coordinate system is key.

  • “I’d make sure everything is set up in state plane. I’ve done a couple quarries with just a local coordinate system can be difficult to integrate with other programs. I’d also advise everyone to buy AeroPoints—they’re the greatest things in the world.”


For Richard Tyndall at Petillo, a little prep work makes a huge difference for getting a smooth flight.

  • “You should understand any known hardware bugs before you start. Use the customer success team as a resource. Make sure you have enough batteries for your drone and controller. You don’t want to get everything set up only to find out you can’t get you through your whole flight.”


For Justin Russell at Fiore & Sons, getting comfortable in the Platform really helps you move faster and get the data you need efficiently.

  • “The Platform is pretty straightforward. Experiment with the filters. They are handy. See what they’re doing to your equipment and buildings pictured on site. Use your timeline and see all the different orthos and how the site has changed.”


Software implementation and training doesn’t have to be hard

More often than not a survey team is also in spearheading the company onboarding for a new tool like the Propeller Platform. By default, this also means they get stuck with what would normally be an unwanted task: training everyone else to use it.

We found, however, for those using Propeller in their own organizations training was not a big issue. While different people had different methods, they all pointed out how easy it was to use.

Rear view of supervisors walking at construction site

The key is getting people wanting to use it. Because once people want what a program can do, they’re invested in its success.

Previously, Mike Cutfield’s team at Fletcher Construction distributed updated point clouds for others to use on their desktops. Once his team started using Propeller in their work, getting others onboard was simple. Training happened both ad hoc and in groups. “As the engineers would come, one by one, to a surveyor to ask for their cross-sections, we’d show them how to use Propeller,” said Cutfield.

“I also did a session for the whole team to quickly show what it could do, where someone asked, ‘Are you going to offer training on it?’ Someone else piped up to say, ‘This is the training!’ And it’s true. You don’t need much training to start using it yourself.”


The future of surveying—looking ahead five years

When thinking about technology advancement and how it impacts a surveyor’s job, there are a few themes that surveyors were seeing in their workplaces.

More advanced data capture is top-of-mind. Shrinking data turnaround and closing the gap between collecting data and actually using it was a close second. The third was how new tools would be absorbed into a surveyor’s existing toolbox. And lastly, there was an overall impression that, with all of the above, the standard of spatial data literacy would increase.

Worker in Pit Construction dozer

Everyone has a unique view of the industry from their own companies and work. Here are few:

Mike Brown at Bettis Asphalt sees a future of complete technological integration and more machine control.

  • “There’ll be GPS on all machines. Being able to upload machine control data into Propeller is going to be a thing,” he forecasts. “A yearly drone flight will be enough. I see machines taking care of everything on jobsites, from inventory to daily progress.”


Justin Russell at Fiore & Sons sees virtual reality and machine control as the standard for improving worker precision and productivity.

  • “VR and automation is the general trend I’m seeing the industry. Machine control is huge. Any company who’s anybody is using it. You can turn a mediocre operator into a great operator,” he said. “Real-time data, another thing coming, would allow them to know they’re done. Showing it on their screens lets them do other things on site without much downtime.”


Mike Cutfield at Fletcher Construction sees an expanding toolbox for surveyors everywhere.

  • “A lot of people say my job as a surveyor is going to disappear. But I feel we’ll use new technology in addition to what’s always been in place,” he noted. “We still use the Total Station. I don’t see any way that’s going to be obsolete. GPS, machine control, Propeller—that’s all adding to it.


Richard Tyndall at Petillo sees easier ways to get comprehensive as-builts with fewer tools.

  • “I see as-builts being easier to get,” he said. “Right now, it’s a pain. I see us being able to fly a job have an as-built surface done with little other input.”


Survey Coordinator Toby Clewett at Sunshine Coast Council sees more tools and a higher bar for education about spatial information.

  • “I think there’s certainly an increase in new tools. There’s going to be a higher requirement for education on the structure of spatial information. You know, asset models, asset systems—that digital twin—and how those files are put together.”


Want to learn more about how survey data is used at every level of a construction site? Download our new ebook From Surveyor to Home Office: How Up-to-Date Construction Data is Improving Worksite Operations


You might also like:

How Does Better Data Capture Make the Role of the Surveyor on Site More Important Than Ever?

Using Drones in Construction: The Beginner’s Guide

Suez Uses Propeller to Improve Performance at Hallam Road Landfill

Get blog updates directly into your inbox

Be the first to know about Propeller's news and features