Raw field data from GNSS, total stations, and scanning can be processed and combined in a single environment using Trimble Business Center.

Geospatial Data United

This entry is part 4 of 9 in the series December 2017

Industry trends are moving toward consolidated environments for data visualization, processing, and management.

From the title you might get the impression this article is about a soccer team. To geospatial professionals, however, the title phrase could describe an ideal situation—the ability to handle all geospatial data in a common software environment.

A soccer team is made up of players with specialized skills in offense, counterattack, and protecting the goal. During a match, coaches can use substitutions to adjust their teams’ capabilities. Similarly, geospatial professionals may select different tools to gather and process data. In many cases, using different field data technologies can require data to be moved between separate software packages to produce final deliverables.

There is an easier way. By using the Geospatial Data United concept, team members can work in a single, integrated software environment. They can handle data from a variety of field systems, including GNSS, total stations, levels, imaging sensors, 3D laser scanners, and more.

Using an integrated software environment reduces the number of software tools needed for data management and analysis. It’s especially helpful given current trends in which multiple sensor types may be employed on one project.


Data from multiple sensors can be handled from initial processing to finished drawings and models.

Geospatial Data—Variety and Challenges

Over the last few decades a common pattern has emerged in the evolution of geospatial technology and office software. Whenever a new sensor technology was introduced, it came with specialized office software for processing the raw field data. In the early GPS days, surveyors needed to transfer results from GPS post-processing software into existing packages that handled data only from total stations. And a third package (often simply an Excel spreadsheet) was potentially needed to handle leveling data.

Fast forward to today when scanning, lidar, imaging, and photogrammetry are added to the mix. The variety and volume of available data can add time and complexity to the work to manage, process, and merge information. Technicians can spend hours on data transformations and various conversions, with the risk of losing information and introducing erroneous elements into the project.

The specialized software was (and still is) needed; the various measurement technologies employ radically different computation methods. Dedicated software packages will continue to provide comprehensive functionality for point cloud management, 3D modeling, and photogrammetry, enabling users to handle even the most challenging datasets.

Many surveyors have experienced difficulties in moving data from one software package to the next. And the need to procure and become proficient with multiple software packages can come with additional cost and potential project delays. Additionally, there may be significant costs incurred in the training and maintenance required just to keep up with the whole array of software packages.

What’s needed is a way to work with the information in a single software environment that can handle the different types of data and apply the appropriate processing techniques. Such a solution must also ensure that results are provided in the appropriate reference frame or coordinate system, providing the ability to bring all the data under the “common denominator.”

James Nicolau, a surveyor and project manager with Psomas in San Diego, California, emphasizes the value of a single software environment. Nicolau said that Psomas uses “pretty much every technology on the market” and deals with more than 40 different data formats to handle field data and deliver results to their clients.

“In many cases, our clients don’t know how complex our work really is,” Nicolau said. “We use multiple field technologies to manage costs and ensure optimal results. What we don’t want is to introduce more software and data conversions.”

Raw field data from GNSS, total stations, and scanning can be processed and combined in a single environment using Trimble Business Center.

Raw field data from GNSS, total stations, and scanning can be processed and combined in a single environment using Trimble Business Center.

Single-platform Solutions

One way of facing these requirements is using a unified platform for geospatial data management and processing such as Trimble Business Center software (TBC). The software is built around multiple data processing engines such as traverse computations and GNSS baseline processing.

Because not everyone uses multiple sensors, TBC (for example) takes a flexible approach to specialized data. Users can choose among optional software modules to incorporate GNSS, imaging, scanning, and photogrammetry data into their work. Software developers work hard to get the best out of a specific sensor while allowing users to operate in a common user interface and reporting environment.

For example, a surveyor can use TBC to process total station data and static GNSS vectors. For a point measured using GNSS, leveling, and a total station, multiple measurements can be combined and adjusted to provide high confidence in the point’s 3D coordinates.

The surveyor can add photographic data coming from those same total stations or from a terrestrial or aerial camera. But this process can be efficient only if the original observations from GNSS, total station, and levels reside in the same environment.

It’s important that the software keep the original field data intact. There are three reasons for this.

  1. It is essential to preserve the integrity of field data in case it is subjected to technical or legal dispute. Data can be re-analyzed to examine the initial results.
  2. Original data formats are optimized to efficiently and accurately capture information produced by a given sensor. Rather than trying to reorganize this perfectly good data to fit into a different structure, it’s advantageous to store and use data in the native formats produced in the field.
  3. The presence of original field data can reduce the need to revisit a site to check or gather additional information. Scanning and imaging are especially helpful in this regard.

When the processing and quality analysis is complete, results can be shared with clients and stakeholders who use a wider variety of software. Common CAD and XML-based formats are used to share information with downstream users. Efficient communication is essential, since not all stakeholders have the access to professional software to handle the geospatial data. This is especially true for scanning and imaging information.

(Cloud-based technology will play an increasingly important role in communications and information exchange. Trimble Clarity, a new cloud-based application within the Trimble Connect collaboration platform, enables geospatial professionals and their clients to view spatial data from remote locations in a web browser environment. Users can perform 3D measurements, annotate objects, and efficiently collaborate with project stakeholders. By having geospatial data readily accessible through a single source, project teams can improve productivity and control costs and delays.

Expecting Change

Geospatial workflows will evolve to add efficiency through streamlined workflows, reduced rework, or by creating new and valuable deliverables for their clients. It will be essential for software to provide the necessary tools to view, analyze, edit, and make decisions using geospatial data in single software environment.

The concept of Geospatial Data United enables geospatial professionals to leverage multiple field solutions to efficiently meet their clients’ needs. By using a single environment to carry data from initial analysis to finished deliverables, organizations can realize significant cost and time savings.
Image at top: Data from multiple sensors can be handled from initial processing to finished drawings and models.

For more surveying business advice from Boris, read this piece from our archives.

To read more from this print issue, click on the cover below.

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