Modern environmental organizations have several needs from information technology. First, firms require web and information systems to store and manage data. Further, firms need data collection and integration devices to ensure that data can be collected and submitted with high accuracy.

Until recently, these systems were typically separate; data was recorded either via paper notes and/or data downloaded from instruments, returned with the researcher to their office, and inputted into a cataloguing system where it could then be analyzed with historical data. This multi-step system of data collection risks loss of data due to human error or other factors, as well as decreasing operational efficiencies due to multiple transfers of data. Software platforms now bring all of these elements together under one roof, allowing multiple steps to be completed within a single, portable system accessible even in the field.

Lightship Collect is designed with such field research in mind. A mobile-based application, available on both iOS (iPhones and iPads) and Android devices (i.e. Samsung, LG phones), Collect allows users to create, complete, and share customizable forms. Data is displayed on a map, showing the location (either as a point, line, or polygon) that a form was completed for, along with the date and time.

In essence, Lightship Collect makes data collection simple by enabling workers in the office or in the field to collect any kind of data, including text fields, files, and photos in their original format. The simplicity of managing the software and its data allows for faster deployability, along with easy changes to forms through the app, and to data sources through the Collect website. This allows researchers to take more ownership over their GIS data and coordinate their data sharing requirements internally. Visualization and reporting of data is also done in real time, within the Lightship platform. Furthermore, by using cloud syncing when service becomes available, high-value data that has been captured offline can be automatically backed up, avoiding the expensive risk of data loss.

With this technology-focused evolution for field data collection, researchers can now also select durable and reliable hardware devices built specifically for field operations and conditions that would damage conventional consumer electronics. Kyocera’s DuraForce Pro smartphone is dustproof, drop-proof, and waterproof, securing data from damage due to the elements. Ruggedized phone cases also provide protection from drops and dust, and include waterproofing to prepare personal smartphones for field conditions. In sum, there are now a variety of affordable device options for field researchers, which dramatically improve upon existing paper and notebook methods while ensuring data security through field condition-proof casings.

Lightship recently presented a paper on implementing an electronic field data collection system at this year’s National Association of Environmental Professionals Conference in Durham, North Carolina. With some of the barriers to implementing electronic data collection systems being the expense of special equipment and associated steep learning curves, using smartphones becomes an attractive solution because they cost less and are already familiar to most workers. The paper argues that the cloud-based system creates data faster than traditional methods, automatically including location data and other important elements. With easy-to-complete forms, data collection can also be done with high quality by relatively inexperienced team members.

As an example of an environmental organization adopting electronic field data systems, Lower Nicola Indian Band uses Lightship Collect for their data collection activities. As part of their environmental duties, Lower Nicola Indian Band collects and monitors inventories on wildlife and vegetation while also keeping reports on equipment in the field. Lightship’s flexible and scaleable data collection and mapping solutions help the Lower Nicola Indian Band receive data faster, reduce risk of data loss, and easily communicate that data internally and externally with the communities that they are accountable to. Lightship is proud to assist Lower Nicola Indian Band in its environmental activities, and to work widely with a variety of First Nations communities and other organizations at the local, provincial and federal levels in Canada to assist them with their data collection and management needs.

Learn more about Lightship’s data solutions for Environmental Services.

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