When Jamie Nobiling launched Precision Underground Utilities in Cambridge, IA, in 2006 for installing underground utilities, the word “precision” conveyed the idea of quality work—installing at the right depths, setting handholes to match grade. Today, with the use of cutting-edge, high-accuracy GNSS technology and advanced data collection software, the company’s name has taken on an entirely new meaning.
“We’re one of the only service providers in our state that provide a full turnkey utility service, from design, material procurement and installation to final as-builting,” he says. “And it’s all fully digital with centimeter accuracy. Clients can look at our maps and see exactly where their utilities are located with no guesswork.”
From Installation to Design and As-Builting
Precision Underground Utilities’ journey into near-real-time, accurate GIS began in 2015, when a couple of telecom clients asked the company to handle the design and permitting work in addition to installation. Building plan sets off Google Earth images and annotated PDFs was cumbersome and imprecise. Determined to do better, Nobiling reached out to A&D Technical Supply and invested in a Leica Zeno 20, a rugged, handheld, survey-grade asset-collection tool, with Zeno Mobile software.
The ability to perform high-speed, high-accuracy digital data collection with seamless integration to the Esri ArcGIS Online mapping software used by many telecoms and other utilities instantly catapulted Precision Underground Utilities into a new level of service. Nobiling was able to quickly, easily and accurately locate points, edit on the fly and export to a shapefile or standard CAD format for quick and easy mapping. Once he had expanded into digital design work, it was a logical segue to begin offering post-installation as-builts.
“All of a sudden we were running live summary maps that our clients could log into every morning to see what the crews were able to accomplish the previous day. They could see where we’re at and how things were progressing, and no phone calls or meetings were needed. It’s extremely powerful.”
– Jamie Nobiling
Within a few years, the business was growing so rapidly that Nobiling could no longer keep up with the design and as-builting work on his own. In 2020, he hired GIS specialist Zak Keninger to manage the company’s GIS and GNSS services. He also made a giant leap in technological capability by putting a next-generation smart antenna, the Leica GG04 plus, in the hands of all of the company’s field crews. Nobiling initially ordered 12 instruments and has since added two more.
“All of a sudden we were running live summary maps that our clients could log into every morning to see what the crews were able to accomplish the previous day,” Nobiling says. “They could see where we’re at and how things were progressing, and no phone calls or meetings were needed. It’s extremely powerful.”
Immediate Answers to Any Asset Question
For clients, the seamless integration between Zeno Mobile and Esri ArcGIS Online provides a “Holy Grail” map that is familiar, accurate, highly visual and continuously updated with new data as it’s collected. Instead of guesswork based on outdated and inaccurate CAD drawings, clients can log into their dashboard and drill down to see specific handholes and the exact location and type of fiber in their network. Emergency maintenance can be done quickly and accurately, and decisions about upgrades and new installations can be made with confidence.
For field crews, the reliability of the GG04 plus smart antennas and intuitive interface of Zeno Mobile software makes data collection fast, easy and accurate. Using Samsung tablets for data collection, they can easily edit features and attributes, import and export data to the cloud, and set up new data collection projects on the fly. Redlining can also be done easily for map corrections and as-built edits.
“Everyone always knows the status of every project, and any questions can be answered immediately.”
– Zak Keninger
The instant access to always-accurate data keeps the business highly efficient and fully informed. “If the boss Jamie wants to know how much conduit Crew 3 installed last week, or yesterday, he can answer that question in two dropdowns,” says Keninger. “Everyone always knows the status of every project, and any questions can be answered immediately.”
As the company continues to grow, Nobiling plans to bring in additional technology for utility detection and 3D mapping to continue driving accuracy and efficiency. He envisions expanding into augmented reality and being able to virtually explore underground utilities onsite.
But all that is just a bonus, as far as Nobiling is concerned. Precision Underground Utilities’ investment in GNSS and GIS technology has already made the company a technology leader and industry trailblazer.
“It’s drummed up business, and it’s made us a lot more efficient on the backside,” Nobiling says. “We get out there in the field, and the mapping is just done. It’s accurate, accessible, and visual. That’s what everyone needs right now, and there isn’t anyone else in our area that even comes close.”
About the Author
Jason Hooten has nearly 20 years of experience in the GIS/mapping and surveying industries. As GIS sales and support manager for Leica Geosystems in the U.S. and Canada, Jason guides companies in identifying and implementing solutions that simplify GIS field data collection and optimize asset intelligence.
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