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Home arrow Archives   The American Surveyor     

Software Review: Prefiniti from Center Line Services Print E-mail
Written by Joseph H. Bell, LS   
Thursday, 24 April 2008

A 1.074Mb PDF of this article as it appeared in the magazine—complete with images—is available by clicking HERE

Bob Stevenson, a well-known and respected New Mexico surveyor*, once told me that a surveyor could make good money doing lot and block surveys for title companies. I thought he was probably right, but at the time survey inspection reports, or whatever they are called in your area, were equivalent to bad surveying. They do not have to be "fake" surveys, and in fact, they can be "real" surveys. And yes, you can make good money doing them.

It's long been my contention that if you could buy a ready-made system to help with doing these types of surveys, you could pay for it almost immediately. Prefiniti will do that and so much more. The secret is really intelligent organization. Of course, you'll still need good tools (including a shovel).

Here's how it works. When a title company needs a survey (usually yesterday), they log into their Prefiniti account and place the order by giving the address, legal description, due date and any other important information, like "dog in yard, call first." A notification via text message, or e-mail (or both) is then sent to the employee at the survey firm responsible for processing orders that tells them an order was placed and who placed the order. If the order was placed by a new client, pertinent information is collected by Prefiniti and the company is accepted or rejected by the appropriate survey firm employee. If the order is from an existing client, the job is created, the invoice is made and posted (since the fee is the same for all lot and block surveys), the county database and any missing info is entered into the project by the survey firm, crews are scheduled within Prefiniti and they are notified via text messages, the directions to the job and all project info is available within Prefiniti for the crews to access from anywhere. The assigned crew finds and/or sets the monuments and locates the footprint of the improvements and transmits the data to the project via a cell phone Internet connection. A draftsperson is assigned, who may already have a rough footprint from the Assessor's database. The draftsperson puts the draft in the project. The licensed surveyor is alerted via text message or e-mail. He or she inspects the draft in the job file and either requests corrections or seals it, he or she then posts the final map to the project, and the client is notified that the job is finished by e-mail or text message and can download the map right from the e-mail. The project is always available, enabling the client to call up the job to check on progress or retrieve the map.

The surveyor and drafter can pull up a list of tasks and enter the appropriate time on each task (this is more important on jobs that are bid or are hourly). The time sheet remains open until signed, and once signed, cannot be edited except by the supervisor. If the supervisor has a question or finds an error, he or she can open the time sheet and send it back to the employee.

Since the client can find all the current information on a job by browsing on his or her computer, there are fewer phone calls and fewer e-mails. I have seen this in actual practice and it is really smooth.

The scenario above is perhaps the simplest use of Prefiniti and the one that will generate the fastest cash flow. The system is virtually independent of other software you are using or want to use, making it very nonproprietary. Your storage is independent of the program that created the file (AutoCAD, MicroSurvey, SiteComp, Carlson, QuickBooks Pro, etc.).

On the client side of Prefiniti, the system uses social networking to connect clients to their preferred businesses. From their free customer account they can order surveys, upload project-pertinent files for instant access to the surveyor, and receive instant e-mail or text notifications regarding their projects.

On the business side of Prefiniti, you can set up your cell phone to alert you to any activity (for example, a manager might want to know when a new order request comes in). You can inspect the order request at once since it is automatically numbered and all the tasks mentioned above have already completed, right up to assigning a survey crew.

For a request for proposal (RFP) there is a list of tasks, estimated times of completion, and all charges associated with each task. An RFP is generated semi-automatically and sent to the requester. Each survey can be followed moment by moment and compared to the RFP. This allows you to see when something different is requested, and if so, a change order (in essence, another RFP) can be generated. As a word of advice, and based on my experience, I've found that estimating site surveys can be tricky. If all original monuments are undisturbed, the costs for a site survey can usually be estimated fairly accurately. If one or more monuments must be re-established, then you may want to offer an hourly rate.

More advice: your RFP for construction staking may need to include checking out or setting the control for the job. In my experience, I have found you need to add a task for checking the plans for accuracy. In developing a price for staking a municipal library, for example, I found more than 100 drafting errors.

Figure 1 is a portion of a typical survey inspection report which was clearly labeled a boundary survey but did not show monuments on all four corners. This means that the measurements on the front and on the east side are fictitious. Note the following:
• the measurement of the front of the lot is the same as the back of the lot
• the east side is record
• there is no bearing tie on the survey
• there are no dimensions on the house foot print.

I felt that the plat was below standard so I requested a proposal from Center Line Services, the surveying firm that designed Prefiniti, to re-survey the property (Figure 2). I had them do it over mostly to see how smoothly Prefiniti really runs and to see if they would set the missing corner. I especially wanted to know whether the surveyor would set a monument at the record distance from the found corner per the subdivision plat, whether he would set a monument at the same distance that there was between the back lot nails, or whether he would search for the closest existent monument and proportion in the monument properly. He searched and found the nearest original monument and proportioned the missing monument properly. He used differential GPS and set the missing corner in about 40 minutes.

Figure 2 shows the properly set corner. It took less than four hours from acceptance of the proposal to the delivery of the map. Note also that it contains the dimensions of the improvements and the apparent encroachments over the building setback lines.

With the smoothness of the operation, not only was it done correctly but the fixed price was only 25% more than the contract price with the title company. This means that not only was the job done in two days from order to finished map but also that it was done properly in about two-thirds of the field time. Drafting, especially with differential GPS and a TDS data collector, is almost completely finished in the field so that matching it to a company boiler plate is fast and can be uploaded to the project in a very short time. If you can finish 125% to 150% more field work with no call backs for errors and omissions, the financial results are obvious.

Figure 3 shows the upper half of the Prefiniti order form on which the client fills in the necessary information. Prefiniti generates a proposal based on this request and quotes a fee that is sent to the client. If the client replies and accepts the terms, then the job is assigned to a field crew. The remaining figures show various Prefiniti screens and illustrate the kinds of information available to system users.

Center Line Services uses one-man crews with either a robotic total station or differential GPS (and a shovel). I keep mentioning the shovel because of this story I once heard: A modern highway department crew set a property corner along an interstate highway. An old surveyor approached just before they drove off and told them that he disagreed with them by four feet. The highway department party chief was offended. He told the old surveyor that they had used the latest total station working within a GPS control net and that every party chief in the department was a licensed surveyor. He looked at the old surveyor with scorn and asked, "What did you use?" The old surveyor replied without hesitation, "A shovel."

Prefiniti shows you how to profitably manage your clients, your accounts, your crews, in short, your business. Once it is managing the title company surveys smoothly, you will find time for other projects that involve more work­like large construction projects, large tract surveys, or maybe even control surveys for a county GIS. A smooth-running, steady income gives you freedom to pursue your interests.

Because I used Prefiniti to re-do the survey inspection report above, I can vouch for its effectiveness. All of the important information--including progress, due date, costs (and even problems)--is current and available to the workers in the survey company and the client (in this case me). There are a lot more capabilities in this management program, and they're worth checking out at www.prefiniti.com.

* I first met Bob Stevenson in 1982 when I was publishing my Survey Calculations Journal. He had written survey software for inexpensive calculators, solved survey problems in calculations, and ended up authoring articles in the Journal. He was a role model for surveyors and was even the New Mexico Surveyor of the Year a few years back. When I was privileged to survey next to and over his work in Albuquerque, I never found a flaw or a mistake. He was careful, he was smart and he was a good friend to other surveyors.

Joe Bell is licensed in California and New Mexico. He has been reviewing software for surveyors since 1982.

A 1.074Mb PDF of this article as it appeared in the magazine—complete with images—is available by clicking HERE

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