Innovate, Excavate, Innovate, Repeat
Insight, LLC changes utility locating and servicing game with smart applications, human touch
It was early 2017 when I last wrote about Insight, LLC (trademarked insight™), a 45-person-strong, Fairfax County-based utility service company that utilizes state-of-the-art techniques and equipment to perform day-to-day work.
Three years later, a lot has changed with the company. It’s become the technological whiz-kid, using specially designed mobile applications to shake up the status quo of the utility locating and designating services, vacuum excavation and surveying industry.
“We have been very busy since that article,” says Susan Arnold, Principal Partner at Insight, LLC. “We have designed mobile applications capturing site data that can be shared with our clients in real time. This has enhanced our clients’ experience by practically bringing the site to them with our photographic documentation of utilities. It’s been a game changer.”
Before we go further, here’s what you need to know about Insight, LLC: The company is owned and led by Susan and her husband, Dennis “Denny” Showalter. Operating out of Chantilly, Virginia, the Insight, LLC team brings decades of utility experience and a wealth of knowledge to federal, state and local governmental agencies and private sector clients in the Washington, D.C. area.
Denny’s name may sound familiar. He is a leading expert in the industry, with over 30 years of professional experience in the field of utility locating. His notable achievements include serving as the President of the Washington D.C. Chapter of the National Utility Contractors Association, as a former board member for the National Utility Locating Contractors Association (NULCA), and as an industry representative for many committees and organizations, including the Best Practices Committee of the Common Ground Alliance and a former board member of the Heavy Construction Contractors Association (HCCA).
Three years later, however, the story isn’t about Denny, or utility locating or vacuum excavation or even surveying. No, the story is about how Susan’s applications may be transforming the utility-locating industry via smart technology, highly trained team members and excellent communication.
Susan has the same vibrant, focused energy she had when we first spoke. But something had changed. “It’s been a great few years for Insight,” she says. “We’re taking on the industry by doubling down on technology.”
Over the past several years, Susan developed, designed and implemented a series of mobile apps used exclusively by the company to improve performance and streamline on-site communication and reporting to its clients. Susan was reticent to give specifics. “I don’t want to see other apps like ours on the market,” she says, laughing. Still, at the highest level, the four apps she designed do the following: track and manage staff movement while they are on-site, aid in dispatching staff to calls, support staff timekeeping efforts and show clients real-time results of their work.
The last application is the game changer. “I wanted to reduce the time it took for the client to see our reports, whether it was for excavation or utility locating,” Susan says. “So, I created this app that allows our team to relay their results in real time, complete with photos of the utility, GPS data and any additional information a foreman or engineer may need to complete the project on time and budget. Basically, this app solves the problem of time.”
To understand the importance of the application, one must know how utility locating traditionally works. In the “old way,” a utility locating team would be called to a site. The team would use a cable locator and then an air lance to displace the soil for a visual confirmation. Data, including depth from surface, GPS coordinates and notes about the utility would be taken by the field tech. The data would be hand-written onto a reporting document, which would then be brought back to the office where another person, usually an administrative support person, would transcribe it into a report. Clients would have to wait 24 hours to get the draft report and even longer for the final report, adding time to the project.
“The traditional reporting process was so backward,” Susan says. “I just thought: ‘What a waste. We’re in the 21st century, and we could be doing better.’ So, I did.”
Instead, her application (she calls it “paperless data capture”) works as follows: The Insight, LLC team typically begins in the same way—finds the utility and bores a test hole using an air lance to displace the soil around the utility to get visual confirmation of its location and condition. But, then things get interesting. The person in the field inputs the data directly into their phone using the application. Other information, including photos of the borehole and surrounding site and additional notes can also be added to the app. The app then auto-generates a preliminary report that can be sent to the foreman and other project leaders almost instantly. A final report is sent within 24 hours, after the data is checked in the office.
“This app is a game changer because we are able to send the preliminary report to the foreman while we are still on-site,” Susan says. “And, the benefit is that you can send it to more than one person at a time. So, we can have the foreman, designer, architect, engineer— anyone, really—get our results in real time. And, because we are on-site when the report is generated, we are available to take any additional photos or get more information. We can answer questions directly about the utility. There’s no back and forth, waiting days for information. Instead, it’s the field tech, the client and whoever else wants that information talking in real time. It’s almost like a conference call in report form.”
Susan continues, “In our industry, communication is everything, and we are able to get the data to the appropriate people at the right time. Often, the project’s superintendent will be with our team on-site, waiting for our preliminary report, and he will direct us to send it to whoever else needs the information.”
“This allows us to respond to clients’ needs faster,” she says, noting that sometimes a project shifts. “There have been times where a utility-locating project turns into an inspection. When that happens, our on-site team can put in a change order request into the application in real time, so there’s no delay while we wait for contract changes.”
She notes that the application and mobile communication—which come free of charge—have added value for the client. “The value add is the time that we have to wait,” Susan says. “We feel that our digital reports are a better deliverable that paints a fuller picture of the site and allows our clients to make decisions faster. Using our technology, the unknown becomes known so fast.”
She continues, “Our clients have expressed appreciation for our paperless, data-capture reporting and have let us know how much it has contributed to their meeting the demands of their projects. We gather site data and share a preliminary report with our clients immediately. Clients can begin using the site and utility information immediately. We then provide a completed deliverable shortly after our visit, eliminating our clients’ wait time.”
But technology isn’t the only change that Insight, LLC has made in the intervening three years. “Our goal is to be the most comprehensive utility-locating company on the Eastern Seaboard, so we added trenchless in-line point repair to our service offerings,” Susan says.
She explains that, in some cases, Insight, LLC crews have found previously unknown issues while inspecting wet utilities. “This service line, combined with our mobile applications, allows us to truly become the one-stop shop for our clients. Using the trenchless point repair, Insight, LLC’s crews inspect pipelines without costly shutdowns and dewatering, pinpoint pipeline cracks, breaks, sags and obstructions, and meet Virginia Department of Transportation Virginia Test Method 123 (VDOT VTM 123) requirements.”
The trenchless point repair technology is available to clients because of the company’s highly trained staff. “We have an advanced robotic crew to operate robotic cameras while they are in the pipe,” Susan says. “Because they are highly trained, there’s a uniformity to how we measure and get the information from the robotic cameras. Then, when we have the necessary data, we use trenchless in-line point repair to make any repairs.” Insight, LLC is a member of the National Association of Sewer Service Companies (NASSCO) and their operators are certified in NASSCO’s Pipeline Assessment Certification Program (PACP). which provides a standardized inspection method.
The process is fairly swift: Because of the high-quality data, the point repair technicians know exactly which sections to repair. Then, Insight, LLC’s team uses a series of “plug and play” pipes that lock into place over the broken pipe. While the new pipe is being installed, the company takes additional photos and videos to show the client.
“Performing inspection and repair of dry and wet utilities are large undertakings and, in fact, most of our competitors choose just one and focus on that, since both require large equipment and large capital investments,” Susan says. “We are different in the sense that we have expanded our services to perform both. Our trenchless in-line point repair requires no excavating. The repair is done at certain points as determined through the use of the video, and the repair is done in the pipe itself. This is yet another way we are adding value for our clients.”
While technology is at the forefront, Susan continues to speak about the importance of building lifelong relationships with clients. “Even with all of our technology, we still thrive on the human touch,” she says. “We believe in radical transparency and blending blue-collar and white-collar employees to put a smart workforce out there.We are forward thinking and want to increase the level of engagement we have with our clients.”
The company’s combination of technological prowess and human touch is working. The Insight, LLC team has won many awards, including the Excellence in Infrastructure Award from the Heavy Construction Contractors Association, the William H. Feather Safety Award from the National Utility Contractors Association, and the Community Service Award from the Building of America Network for the new construction and renovation of the Military Advanced Training Center at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.
“We’d love the opportunity to contribute to the projects that are reinventing our area,” Susan says. “Washington, D.C. has been changing dramatically over the years, with improvements to our transportation system. These include the expansion of the Metro’s Silver Line, the addition of HOT Lanes on interstate highways, and updates at our airports, such as Project Journey at Reagan National Airport, along with several new mixed-use developments. We are so excited to see where our technology can fit in.”