Saving Time, Saving Money, Saving the Land
Gisborne. 2010 – Within thick North Island bush, searching out possums and other invasive species, the Trimble Nomad 800L has become an all-in-one data logger solution for Nga Whenua Rahui‘s field team.
Responsible for pest control impact monitoring, the team has seen onsite project completion times improve 40% since updating their collection method to the Nomad.
By pairing TerraSync field technology with the latest post-processing software Pathfinder Office, office hours have also been reduced to a minimum with data now uploaded directly from the field devices into the Geographic Information System (GIS) increasing efficiency even further.
The elimination of both the delay and cost of data-entry from project expenses is an important factor to Nga Whenua Rahui. The team, contracted by the Nga Whenua Rahui committee who operate as a branch of the Department of Conservation, are conscious that expenses are paid by tax dollars.
“We could see the savings immediately,” explained Roland Pomana, the Field Team Leader. “We are always looking to reduce costs, especially when we can maintain quality – and the handhelds allowed us to even make improvements!”
With the new electronic data collection and entry method there is minimal time between when the team gets back to the office and when the day’s collection results are plotted into a visual form.
“This reduces costs but it also allows the ‘big picture’ of what our work means to be understood throughout the organisation - a huge motivational factor for people spending weeks at a time out in the bush.”
Data is collected from the field sites under the guise of six nationally recognized protocols and require field team members to have advanced knowledge of forestry and biology. With a top caliber team, their time is a valuable commodity.
“Our field teams are highly skilled people whose knowledge of local species has often been developed over a number of years,” Pomana pointed out. “By providing them with professional grade tools their time is put to better use, focusing on the surroundings, rather than on completing a pile of paperwork in the middle of a dense forest track.”
Due to the crossover of data needed to fulfill requirements for each protocol, using the Nomad dramatically reduces time spent in the field. The field teams quickly discovered that a single unit has multiple capabilities, combining what previously used three tools.
The primary difference was the creation of a customized electronic form, known as a Data Dictionary, for each protocol. These could then be accessed easily and interchangeably during a single field site visit. With electronic data collection the field teams then only needed to note the data once instead of completing multiple paper forms.
“We were surprised by just how simple it was when it came time to set up the electronic version of the printed forms we’d used before. And, despite many of our team members having a low knowledge level of this type of technology, the software-hardware combination proved to be very intuitive and easy to use across the board,” Pomana recalled.
Field collection trips for a standard block of land previously meant approximately 600 working hours in the bush, but have now been condensed down to only 360 hours on average.
In addition to data entry features the Nomad handheld PDA also includes a GPS for geo-location positioning and navigation. With the long lengths of time in the bush, it is important for field teams to know exactly where they are on the block of land they are assessing.
Instantaneous geo-referenced tags are also created for each point at which data is collected and aided in speeding up collection. Comparatively, the previous method was for each data collection point to be given an estimated location determined by using a topographic paper map and compass.
“When we initially reviewed our processes we wanted to focus on working smarter not harder. To decrease contamination of the data we knew we had to minimise the amount of data handling which would then reduce the likelihood of incorrect entries,” said Pomana.
“It came down to providing a higher quality of data and more thorough coverage, while cutting overhead costs – and GeoSystems found a great solution for us.”
Previously the method was for the multiple paper forms to be been taken out into the bush only to be brought back to the office and for another person to transcribe them into the central database.
By transferring the data that was collected electronically directly into the GIS, over forty-eight hours of data re-entry is saved on each job, as well as reducing the potential levels human error.
The geo-tags are not only valuable for data integrity, but also assist Human Resource departments. Through tracking this data they are able verify both the hours and locations that each employee works. Furthermore, it accurately records the combined labour hours expended on each block of land.
While Data Dictionaries help maintain coherence and some conformity among the answers provided for each question, they also can provide a level of flexibility while acting as an audit system.
“It is highly doubtful that the pest control industry will ever get to a point where all data possibilities are known and able to be listed in a drop-down,“ Pomona advised.
Though he included questions with the freeform data entry space, Pomana was still able to ensure data consistency by setting parameter requirements. Through this feature, quantities or properties could be required to be noted even where specifics were unknown before going out onto the site.
Additionally, it allows specific questions from the protocols to require a certain type of answer from the field collector, such as inside a specific numerical range, ensuring figures of similar measurement units. Thus, the hazard of the ‘wildcard’ factor of freeform data entry is diminished and figures are compatible for comparison over time.
Once back in the office, the data is funneled directly into the system and processed using Pathfinder Office. The system has been set to automatically Batch Process; running an analysis using the established indexes which then numerous comparison graphs, charts and diagrams of the various pest factors can be produced by the manager in minimal time.
Using these assessments to determine which issues are present and the current threat level, Pomana and his team form the primary body of their presentations to the committee. Assessment factors include current data showing likely pests, threat levels and proposed solutions for how to protect the biodiversity of the land.
“Through the use of the TerraSync’s Data Dictionaries we’ve added integrity to the data in the field by the professionals, not in the middle or just at the end,” stated Pomana. It is this data integrity that is a key factor in improving their service to the Nga Whenua Rahui committee.
Pomana’s team now can present top quality graphs and charts which are easy to read as well as compare land blocks and changes over time. The increase in accuracy of results have provided a higher internal validity giving a greater level of confidence to both the team presenting the information, and the committee handing down the funding decisions, to make quicker decisions on what appropriate management measures are needed.
At the end of the day, Pomana and his field teams are part of a business that has a responsibility to their customers to provide the best service possible in the quickest time which in turn allows them to provide their service to the community.
“We have decreased both field collection time and office preparation time, plus we’re now providing the committee with more presentations based on higher quality data so they are better able to distribute the funds and protect the biodiversity of Maori land from pests,” summed up Pomana.
Nga Whenua Rahui – Nga Whenua Rahui is a contestable Ministerial fund established in 1991 to provide funding for the protection of indigenous ecosystems on Maori land. Its scope covers the full range of natural diversity originally present in the landscape.
The Fund, administered by the Nga Whenua Rahui Committee and serviced by the Department of Conservation, receives an annual allocation of funds from Government. The Committee advises the Minister of Conservation on funding applications from iwi, the placing of kawenata (covenant) and negotiates conditions.
The criteria and mechanisms of Nga Whenua Rahui, are geared towards the owners retaining tino rangatiratanga (ownership and control). The principal mechanisms used are: Nga Whenua Rahui kawenata pursuant to section 77A Reserves Act 1977 and an Agreement for the Management of Land pursuant to section 29 Conservation Act.