Digital Surveying: Off the Shelf v Customised Solution

Mike Johnson
The development of digital solutions in surveying has generally kept pace with the fast-moving world of technology; harnessing the real-time freedom provided by portable devices and mobile applications whilst achieving greater accessibility through online web portals and desktop software. There are two dominant methods to consider: standardised (off-the-shelf) and customised.

Off-the-shelf software is readily available and caters to a host of different survey types. These solutions offer an over the counter ‘one size fits’ all solution by providing survey templates for a wealth of survey types. Such software can often be extended to provide asset and estate management solutions.

A customised approach will design both input form and workflow process so that the solution is configured to meet a client’s specific surveying requirement. These bespoke solutions are often then linked to dashboard reporting and analytic tools such as Power BI, allowing interrogation and presentation of large data sets in a rich and interactive fashion. App creation tools are becoming more intuitive, effective and more accessible allowing businesses to deploy unique programmes for their clients.

So, given a brief introduction to solutions, which one do I choose? Personally, I think the answer to the above question is ‘Either, depending on the client’s requirements'.

An off the shelf approach is better suited to survey programmes that are repetitious, have a great degree of standardisation, capture high level detail and require broad deployment across multiple users. Economies of scale can illustrate a real cost advantage against a customised approach where large surveyor numbers are leveraged. Surveys such as Fire Risk Assessments and Health and Safety Audits are excellent examples of programmes that require standardisation across the question set and the ability to capture high levels of data quickly.

The Cardiff building surveying team, working in conjunction with colleagues nationally, is currently using an off-the-shelf solution to undertake the largest school condition survey programme in the country, benefitting from a consistent surveying approach across 22,500 sites. This app was employed as it offers greater efficiencies in survey speed, providing a faster workflow of data and reducing the overall cost. The raw data collected in this manner will enable the client to conduct an excellent in-depth analysis of England’s school estate.

Standard package products offer a limited choice of templates and as a result this needs to be carefully considered: the questions and prompts may not always capture the required level of detail and it is possible that questions being asked are not applicable to the survey. Consequently, value for money could be challenged because only 10% of a product is being effectively utilised. This circumstance may arise where you have smaller survey programmes with limited remit.

As the output of surveys becomes more focused, greater care is required to select the approach which offers best value, quality and efficiency overall. Could the customised approach be a suitable alternative in such circumstances?

Tailored survey applications can focus directly on the important questions and significantly reduce survey time, whilst providing a depth of detail that the client has specified. This requires thorough client consultation and a clear, comprehensive specification before proceeding. The benefit is the creation of a survey app that has directly applicable questions, client specific validation and bespoke report outputs that are tailored to our client’s needs.

Faithful+Gould’s Cardiff building surveying teams in-house capability to build customised surveying apps has delivered demonstrable value for clients who require customised survey data collection and reporting. We provide highly cost-effective solutions that are extremely effective for certain survey types, including the condition survey / decent homes assessments for military accommodation  and social housing assessments measured against the Welsh Housing Quality Standard. Both programmes required a question set and unique functionality not found in an off the shelf alternative.

Whilst custom applications offer benefits and flexibility largely unseen in standard products, it’s not possible to state that one approach is preferable in all circumstances. Customised solutions require time to build, a thorough understanding of the client’s needs, funding for application development, custom training programmes for each app created and potentially remote server costs. Off the shelf products are offered ready to go having considered these factors and have been tested in multiple environments against inaccuracy and failure.

Re-inventing the wheel is not always necessary: re-designing the wheel may provide your client with a more beneficial solution and your team with a more efficient and accurate working methodology.

Faithful+Gould is a market leader in large condition surveying programmes and are extremely well positioned to help clients make informed decisions on digital data solutions.


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