Before diving into this article, check out this cool 46-second video below, which is of a dual phase extraction system in use at a typical gas station cleanup project 

Do your field techs still record soil and groundwater treatment system O&M data on paper forms?

If your environmental consulting firm is like most of the ones in existence today, chances are very high that your field techs populate a paper form with a bunch of analog instrument and maintenance information pertaining to operation and maintenance (O&M) of soil and groundwater treatment systems.  Things like blower runtime hours, totalizer readings, pump pressure, total vacuum in inches of mercury, high level switches condition, rotary claw pump temperature, and more.

While paper forms work no matter what, never run out of battery power, or have technical glitches, there’s some intrinsic challenges with using paper forms as data collection tools for O&M treatment system data.  Issues include:

  • Legibility
  • Transcription errors…if transferring the info to Excel or other tool
  • Search and sort…the data gets unwieldy and hard to find for systems that run for long periods of time
  • Difficult to analyze the data

Imagine when you have 50+ of these forms, each its own PDF file, with an inconsistent file naming convention and probably scattered throughout multiple folders denoted for different treatment system periods of performance.

Here’s an example paper form below, which is for a dual-phase extraction system.

And what about the system’s operational data?

That’s also usually recorded on a paper-based form, and later typically transposed to Excel.  Something like this:

What about entering data directly into an Excel sheet or fillable PDF with a field laptop?  Is that considered going “digital”?

Yea, some folks do that.  Even very very large firms. I suspect that a big reason they do that is to tout how advanced and ultra modern they are. They’ll tell you they’ve gone digital because they are entering things directly into Excel while in the field using a ruggedized laptop.  But is that really a digital system?  Or more of a disguise to boast to their clients and prospects how modern and “innovative” they are?

Populating an Excel sheet or a fillable PDF in the field with treatment system O&M data is not a digital data collection system at all. It’s merely a small improvement over paper that can avoid double-entry of data and possible transcription errors.

And even though filling out an Excel sheet in the field removes double-entry of the same data (from paper to Excel), you still end up with a bunch of files, and the field folks have to either email these back to the Project Manager, sync to the Cloud or save them to the Project folder, wherever that is.

You also can’t attach photos to them, nor can you sign the forms.  Not to mention that once you have saved a bunch of these, retrieving specific data from them is not exactly easy, because the data in them is not easily searchable or sortable, especially if you have a ton of these little files saved all over the place, with little consistency in filenames.

Here’s an example Excel sheet designed to enter O&M data for a particular treatment system.

A better solution

Why not try using XForms for recording your treatment system O&M data?  Form templates that are unique to a particular treatment system are easy to set up, you can separate out your O&M forms from your regular environmental field forms easily, and you can build an O&M field form for any kind of treatment system….literally.

XForms uses a NoSQL database engine, which isn’t nearly as restrictive as relational databases, so you can create any kind of form without running into schema complexity issues.  Schema complexity is one of the reasons that you don’t see too many O&M treatment system data collection software tools out there…each treatment system is generally different from others, meaning that the form for one particular treatment system will differ from the input form for another treatment system.  You can’t simply build a generic Air Sparge/Soil Vapor Extraction (AS/SVE) O&M form…each AS/SVE system is unique.  It’s this “uniqueness” that causes headaches for your typical relational database when it comes to addressing O&M data collection use cases.

Bottom line: the above issues are non-existent in XForms because of its underlying datastore engine and architecture.

How can XForms improve environmental treatment system O&M data collection?

From the data reporting side of things, you can access your O&M form data with a single click, view high level KPIs for each system, can drill down to view specific data for each treatment system regardless of the type of system, can print to PDF, and can export all of the collected info to Excel if you wish.

Here’s a screenshot (sensitive data pixelated) of the top-level dashboard showing how to toggle from your standard environmental field forms to your treatment system O&M field forms.  One single click on the “App” listbox is all you need to do to access your O&M data.

When you click on a block in the dashboard, it will take you to view key performance indicators that you can customize for each O&M treatment system.  Here’s a screenshot of an AS/SVE treatment system that displays SVE blower hours and air compressor total hours.  But these can be totally configurable for each treatment system.

If you click on the pie chart of the KPI blocks, you will be taken to a table grid that displays your treatment system data.  You can customize the table grid for each different treatment system.  This means you can display blower hours for one system and something completely different for a different system.

Here’s a screenshot showing info for a dual-phase extraction treatment system in operation in Conover, North Carolina.

From the screen above, you can sort by column (just click on a column), search by date range, toggle between different treatment systems, print to PDF, export to Excel, and view the form history of each submitted form (sort of like an audit trail).  All of this is simple to do, with no need for a complicated user interface or even a user manual.  It’s super intuitive.  Just click a few things to get to the data you need.

What’s it look like for the field folks collecting the data?

Super simple.  They fill out their forms just like any XForms form template.  Forms in the field for O&M data collection function exactly the same as other XForms form templates.  So there’s nothing new to learn.  Just pull up the O&M form template for the particular treatment system and fill it out!

Here’s a couple of screenshots of what that looks like on an iPhone.


The beauty of moving to a digital system like XForms is that it can integrate with most anything else, things like:

  • Automatically emailing a PDF of the submitted O&M form to your Project Manager
  • Automatically uploading the PDF to the project folder in OneDrive, Box, or Dropbox
  • Automatically writing a comment in a Slack or MS Teams channel
  • Automatically emailing a completed PDF to your own client, giving them near real-time insight into their O&M system
  • Automatically insert photos taken with XForms into a “photos” folder within each respective project folder

So why not give it a look?

The world is moving to digital on a faster and faster clip.  Your own clients are starting to expect this sort of thing.  With that in mind, why not give it a try?  I promise you that it’s better than a paper process.