Sevan CAPTURE: Concept to Implementation
When Sevan first began conducting site surveys for clients, the process was very similar to many others’: site asset information was collected, stored and organized manually using a combination of tools such as spreadsheets, digital pictures and PowerPoint presentations. Depending on the size of a site, surveying could take more than 8 hours per site to complete. Compound that over multiple sites and there could be hundreds to thousands of hours dedicated to walking through sites and manually storing information. While on a survey job for a client, Sevan’s Doug Gafney, Director of Technology Services, thought there had to be a better way to collect and organize survey data. This drive to create a better solution for surveys sparked the idea that launched Sevan CAPTURE™.
The genesis of CAPTURE had modest beginnings. CAPTURE was not created overnight; for many years, Sevan utilized different survey data collection technologies before considering a mobile app like CAPTURE. Creating CAPTURE also had its set of challenges and once deployed, the app morphed from a basic tool used exclusively by Sevan to a comprehensive survey solution our clients can use on their own sites. From 2014 to 2015, Sevan utilized two different third-party applications to collect and organize survey data and in 2016, Sevan began developing CAPTURE.
In the early 2010’s, mobile technology was rapidly advancing but lacked the power to store and organize terabytes of data effectively. Sevan’s first foray into integrating more advanced technology into the site survey process came in 2014 with the introduction of a tablet-based application. The app utilized a form fill which was customized to fit the needs of our projects. While it helped store information and move through sites quicker, the physical devices used to collect and store the information were bulky. The camera in the devices did not provide clear, high-resolution images of site assets. Processing power and RAM in the tablets were too slow to organize the terabytes of collected information, resulting in longer lead times to provide clients a full overview of their assets. The app was also not cloud-based, so the Sevan survey team could not review the data in real time together on their personal devices.
Gafney thought the tablet application that was used in 2014 was a step in the right direction but stated, “Sevan needed an app that could organize information better and needed more portable equipment to use at jobsites”. In 2015, Sevan found a more advanced third-party mobile app and utilized it to collect and organize site survey information more effectively. The team still needed portable equipment and so to usher in the future of mobile technology, Gafney did what any executive would do: he stopped off at an electronics store on his way to a jobsite, bought an iPad mini, downloaded the new third-party mobile app and used it for the first time at the jobsite to test the iPad and the app’s survey data collection capabilities. The result was a reduction in the amount of time spent at a site to collect survey information. Even with better performance, there were still limitations to the new third party app that hindered the effectiveness of Sevan surveys. Being a third-party app, Sevan did not own the data collected. This meant that any time a client asked for their site survey information or wanted to edit any data, Sevan would have to work with the third-party app account manager to fulfill the request. The Sevan survey team knew they could do better, and in 2016, the stars aligned to begin the process of creating Sevan CAPTURE.
In the early summer of 2016, Sevan staff attended a technology conference to learn about new technologies that could be utilized across lines of business. While there, they met another attendee with a data collection and organization app that functioned the way the Sevan survey team envisioned their survey app working. A partnership was formed and in August of 2016, and a plan was set in motion to bring Sevan CAPTURE to life. The vision was for the app to be simple enough for any Sevan surveyor to collect and organize thousands of data points for any project. As with development of any app, research was needed to determine what would make CAPTURE better than the previous survey tools Sevan had used. Data organization was paramount for CAPTURE to be more successful than the previous apps, and that helped lay out the plan for what core functions needed to be built.
Field user input and client surveys were utilized to figure out which features needed to be built into the app to make data collection and organization easier. Originally, the field users were only Sevan employees. Understanding how the users preferred to collect and store information would help in designing the app in a way that was easy for them to use. Knowing what information clients wanted was crucial in determining what data organization filters and queries needed to be built into CAPTURE. Internal and external stakeholders determined that the app needed four things:
- Custom form templates
- The ability to write notes and take pictures
- Storage of collected data in a project database
- Visibility for all relevant team members
A repository of custom form templates would make CAPTURE an effective app right out of the gate, so Sevan conducted market analysis to determine the types of assets to survey across multiple industries so that information could be collected right away.
The core functions of CAPTURE were built into a working iteration of the app in October of 2016. Several key stakeholders who had field survey experience tested the app for usability in a variety of conditions. Tests were completed in November of 2016, and the Sevan team approved the app for use. By February of 2017, it was officially live on the Apple App Store.
When CAPTURE launched, most of the issues the survey team faced with previous mobile apps appeared to be solved. The app allowed for fast and effective collection of data that could be organized any way the team wanted to configure it in real time. Since the app was cloud-based, multiple people could access the data from any compatible mobile device. All the information flowed into a secure server, so there was no risk losing data if something happened to a personal device.
As part of Sevan’s best practices when we develop something new, we audited CAPTURE to monitor performance and identify any tweaks to make the app better. The most pressing feedback on CAPTURE was camera performance.
Stock mobile cameras on phones and tablets produces poorly focused images, which were not populating in the desired location within the app. This resulted in an underwhelming experience, so Sevan spent 2017 and most of 2018 developing camera alternatives. The tweaks the camera went through included autofocus capabilities, high-resolution image capturing and solving the population issues. The updates went live in August 2019, only 18 months after CAPTURE was originally released.
From 2014-2018, all the updates eventually incorporated into CAPTURE were solely for the benefit of Sevan. The original idea was to create an app that helped Sevan conduct better surveys for our clients. As more clients were exposed to CAPTURE, they became enamored by what it could do. Soon, we received requests to add in custom features to meet the specific needs of our clients. The demand for CAPTURE led Sevan to expand CAPTURE to be used as a licensable app for clients who had survey teams but did not have a survey data aggregation tool to collect and organize information. This expansion led to many of today’s CAPTURE features, including bar code scanning for asset tagging, GPS mapping and linkable data integration to build virtual site tours.
Today, CAPTURE has more than 2,000 active users who can accurately collect site-specific asset data at almost all project locations. Sevan offers many types of surveys, almost all of which use CAPTURE to collect and organize the different data points to create the final deliverable for a project. To date, Sevan has surveyed over 28,000 sites and 700+ million square feet of space! including:
- Conditions assessments
- Virtual tours
- As-built drawings
- BIM modeling
- Canopy evaluation
The original vision of survey technology and CAPTURE was meant to be solely an internal resource. Sevan kept receiving client requests to customize CAPTURE, so we seized the opportunity to expand the app into a technology offering for our clients to use the way they saw fit. Up until 2017, Sevan was not a technology solutions provider. Mitch Garner, Sevan’s Senior Software Engineer, summed up CAPTURE as “the technological tool that helped establish our credibility as a tech solutions provider. The work we did with CAPTURE resulted in our clients coming to us for bigger and more complex tech solutions.”
The success of CAPTURE and the rest of our suite of technology solutions is based on our “yes, and?” culture and our entrepreneurial mindset. Whether we are working with a client or building our business, we always ask ourselves “yes, and?” to question why we do things the way we do them and challenge ourselves to find better, more efficient solutions. The development of CAPTURE was one of our responses to the “yes, and?” question. Today, the app offers users a customizable form structure providing complete freedom to design the way data is collected and organized. Users can consistently survey every location with the app to set more accurate timelines for project completion. The app connects to Sevan’s secure database to provide clients with unparalleled data access. Site asset information is organized into a master database for users to evaluate any combination of site characteristics or attributes to draw concise conclusions and make recommendations as needed.
Sevan has proudly expanded the reach of Sevan CAPTURE through multiple sectors and lines of business to accommodate the various assets assessments of clients’ needs across North America and the U.K.