T2 Utility Engineers absolutely dominates an interesting North American subsurface utility engineering niche. T2 is “a multi-disciplinary company that focuses on above and below ground utility aspects of any project, from small development jobs to large-scale, billion dollar infrastructure projects.” This devotion to excellence in a construction specialty that many firms consider more of an irritating necessity than a profit center has been highly successful for T2—since establishment in the 1990s, the firm has grown continuously and rapidly and now operates out of 30+ offices in the United States and Canada, and has provided utility engineering services on “more than 12,000 infrastructure projects for provincial Ministries of Transportation and state Departments of Transportation; regional transit authorities; regional, state and municipal governments, as well as private corporations.”
Because utility engineering is a highly specialized field, automated design and engineering solutions were relatively late to arrive and, like many civil and subsurface utility engineering firms , T2 ended up actually creating many of their own proprietary tools and workflows for specific to utility engineering tasks.
That system worked well for a long time. But as T2 grew into a 30+office multi-national firm, the sheer scale of work being done called out for more automation, more secure data management, and more operational consistency from office to office. “Basically, going digital with our data was the way to go, and that had been obvious for a few years,” says Operations Manager Jamie Bradburn. “The biggest change we’re seeing is a far more fluid and dynamic movement of data from field to office, and back again.”
The pace of work was also an issue; with smartphones and connected tablets emerging as tools that are now as ubiquitous on construction sites as hammers and backhoes, T2 executives understood that connecting field and office staff in realtime had become an expected part of daily business practices. What they needed was a single digital platform that seamlessly automated the collection of geolocated data by field crews while updating office staff in realtime… and if that platform was easier to use and more cost-effective than a full blown GIS commitment, so much the better.
Builterra was built by two longtime infrastructure professionals who first saw the need for a truly Civil Engineering-optimized “Construction Contract Administration” platform, and then set about coding and developing the right solution. Founding partner Jeff Lyons has degrees in geophysics and mining engineering technology with 30 years experience in surveying, land development CAD design and recently, BIM-based utility coordination. The other founding partner of Builterra, Chris Stebbing , P. Eng., got into software design and development after 12 years of experience as a civil engineering consultant in regional and municipal stormwater remediation. In 2014, their shared frustration with available construction contract administration tools led to a partnership that Lyons says was aimed at creation of a “BIM-inspired platform to bridge the gap in data flow from conceptual design to as-constructed datasets ready for GIS Asset Management through an integrated web portal and mobile app.”
Given their industry experience and connections, Builterra quickly found adopters in Canadian infrastructure firms and agencies. Lyons says,
“GHD Canada, one of the world's leading professional services companies operating in the global market sectors of water, energy and resources, environment, property and buildings, and transportation adopted Builterra in Ontario for municipal infrastructure—one project of note is the $110 million York Durham Sanitary Trunk Sewer project.
Builterra since 2015 has helped civil engineers across Canada deliver over $1.6 billion in construction payment approvals.
Leveraging Builterra Technology in the Subsurface Utility Engineering World
Engineers and managers in T2’s Canadian offices were very familiar with Lyons and Stebbing and the construction-focused contract administration platform they were developing, and this familiarity and physical proximity were big factors in the 2019 decision to adopt Builterra on both sides of the border. “The biggest factor for us was Builterra’s willingness to listen to us and customize our implementation. It definitely wasn’t a cookie cutter solution—we felt like it was made for us,” says Bradburn.
Initial commitment, in 2019, was to implement the platform for 200 users in several U.S. offices, representing a major overhaul of existing paper form and spreadsheet-based management practice. This turn to geolocated, automated, realtime, enterprise project management was a significant course adjustment for an already large and successful company, and T2 supported it by expanding IT staff, notably with the hiring of Susan Port, PMP, as digital implementation manager—Susan has 17 years of experience in IT, GIS, and product development management, and is a part-time professor at Ontario’s Durham College School of Business, IT & Management (BITM) teaching students Project Management.
From her point of view, what was it like to manage such a major conversion of business practices at a successful infrastructure services firm?
Implementing Big Change
Naturally, the first order of business for Port, when it came to implementation, was digital recreation of forms for completion on smartphones or tablets, rather than paper or fieldbooks. This was a relatively easy first step, quickly completed, with several major benefits.
it’s instantly stored digitally on devices, and near-instantly backed up to secure cloud storage.
“Everything collected can be used in multiple reports without reentry, and used automatically in the calculations, spreadsheets, and formulas we need in office workflows,” says Port. “We’ve eliminated the creation of several pieces of paper, beyond the field forms, automated necessary calculations, and eliminated interpretation and transposal errors that would creep in during reentry.” Importantly, the elimination of errors during data reentry means that the gains from digital forms do more than speed up work—it also improves quality of deliverables. “It’s a big downstream benefit,” says Port.
“Our implementation is designed to update office files automatically, whenever there’s connectivity,” Port explains. “So our office staff is updated in near realtime as subsurface work is completed in the field.” And while it’s common for work sites to have wireless or cellular connectivity, it’s not absolutely essential data collected on an unconnected site will be stored and uploaded whenever the crew moves on from the site and enters an area with cell service. “Most of our crews, most of the time—especially in urban areas—are connected and are essentially working ‘live’,” Port says. “But we do have projects in remote locations and even there we’re usually updated at least daily.”
“We’re updating CAD files, models, and some GIS with geolocated field data on a daily basis now,” says Bradburn. “It’s a significant boost to operations.”
Overall, this adaptation of existing forms took just a couple of weeks, and it didn’t take much longer for crews to get used to the new system.
Written by Angus Stocking who is a former licensed land surveyor who has been writing about infrastructure since 2002.