What to look for with your environmental real-time data software

At Vision Environment (VE), we’ve spent more than a decade refining our software. We’ve invested heavily to create customisable dashboards that are purpose-built for water quality and marine monitoring. And we’ve learnt a lot along the way.

Leonie Andersen, director at VE, says choosing the right environmental monitoring software at the start of your project will help you to avoid huge headaches down the track.

So how do you know what to look for? Here are Leonie’s top questions to ask.

Will your data update in real time?

“If you want to manage a dredge in real time, you absolutely must have real time data,” she says.

“I know I say that a lot, but it’s crucial. I’ll give you an example of why.

“A while ago, one client had a dredge in operation and, over a couple of hours, they started to notice an exceedance in turbidity or muddiness, higher than they would have expected, resulting in poorer water quality and going above their internal trigger alert.”

Can the platform send trigger value exceedance alerts by email and text?

“The client’s environmental manager received an instant text message alert. He was able to make the right calls and instigate management procedures to mitigate the impact and prevent the turbidity from going even higher and triggering an external notification alert.

“The issue was resolved and the client was back on track within the day. They avoided any reportable environmental incident and, most importantly, any environmental harm.

“Our Vision Environment team—who receive the alerts too—are also able to mobilise rapidly, getting out in the water within hours to physically assess the situation if that is what is required.”

Can you view data from any time frame from the project, at any time?

You never know when an internal or external stakeholder is going to come up to you, possibly many months after project completion, and ask ‘what was the environmental data for [this] period?’.

Or you may later need to verify what the levels of turbidity were during a certain phase of the project – possibly for comparison or establishing a benchmark for future project proposals.

“Don’t take this as a given,” Leonie suggests. “Check that if you are seeing data displayed in real time, the system is also capturing it all and processing it in a way that enables you to easily go back and search by date ranges.”

“One of our clients is in their fourth year of monitoring and because the data is stored in VECloud they can instantly go back to data collected from that first day of monitoring.”

Can you see your trigger values in an easy display traffic light system?

“As you might guess, the Visual KPI system we have customised to use with our clients has a very visually intuitive interface,” says Leonie.

Clients’ dashboards will normally be set up as a map of their dredge area, with each monitoring station plotted and its target and exceedance levels input.

“The traffic light system allows multiple project stakeholders, as desired, to keep track of top line environmental metrics at a glance.

“The ‘amber’ traffic light programming (internal alert) is particularly useful, as it allows you to manage your project very proactively.”

Can you drill down into plots and data for detailed information?

If you do identify a potential problem or receive a trigger alert, you will want to be able to investigate what’s going on promptly.

“What you don’t want is to waste your time going back and forth, trying to cross reference map points with complicated data tables,” says Leonie.

“A display that allows you to simply click on a monitoring site and see all its detail will save you more time than you might be able to imagine upfront.”

Can you write comments on a plot and share the screen with colleagues?

“I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve seen important and very specific information about data plots get lost in translation between emails,” says Leonie.

Try to eliminate as much room for error as you possibly can when it comes to discussing your data.
Get everyone on the same page by using a system where comments can be made directly onto the dashboard plot and then shared, within your system, with colleagues.

Can you view your data anywhere and on multiple devices?

If you’re managing or involved in a dredge project, chances are you’ll need to be away from your desk (and possibly your office) quite a lot during the process.

You want to be able to access your data, securely, on any computer.

You may also need your data to “travel with you”, as Leonie puts it, on weekends or to remote locations.

“Our platform is browser-based, which means you can log in anywhere using your regular internet browser, like Google Chrome or Internet Explorer,” she says.

“The interface also works well on tablet, so you can take it out into the field with you quite easily.

“And you can set up alerts to go straight to your phone via text message if there are any issues.”

Can you download the data in Excel?

There are all sorts of reasons you might later need to download your data in Excel.

For example, you might have to store the data in organisational record-keeping systems or show it to a regulator at any point.

“Other times, it’s things like creating different charts and graphs for reporting purposes,” Leonie says.

“It’s good to know you have that flexibility.”

Can you have public and private versions of your dashboard?

“Over the years, we’ve seen a big change in how transparent companies wish to be with the data they collect,” Leonie says.

“Many of our clients have worked hard to implement best practice and ensure a high standard of environmental protection.

“They want the public to feel comfortable they are taking care of the areas in which they operate.”

That said, the exact same interface is not usually fit for purpose for internal management and external viewing.

“So, you want to look for software that allows you to run two versions of the same data dashboard – i.e. a lay person view for the public and a detailed interactive dashboard for the environmental managers, but without any manual inputs required on your part once it’s up and running.”