Technology Report 2022

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Barriers to Adoption of New Technologies

Addressing technology gaps is made more difficult by persistent obstacles. CGA has published multiple reports in recent years that outline key barriers to addressing some of the most pressing damage prevention challenges, many of which include barriers in data integration, data portability and other technology-driven issues.

Inaccurate maps and gaps in GIS-mapping systems were a specific area of focus in both the Locator White Paper and Next Practices Report. The Locator White Paper published in 2021 focused on outdated/inaccurate maps as one of the top challenges to accurate and on-time locating, and updated maps as one of the top leading actions for improvement. Along the same lines, the Next Practices Report to the Industry listed a GIS-based mapping system/database as an opportunity for systemic improvement, stating “a comprehensive national GIS map of buried infrastructure would make the locating process drastically more efficient and accurate, and identify abandoned facilities.”

The Next Practices Status Report identified the following barriers to creating and/or sharing GIS facility maps:

  • Lack of willingness to share information: Whether related to competitive, security or liability concerns, there is not a strong industry focus on sharing highly accurate facility location information across stakeholder groups. In some instances, an organization may begin the structural and technical processes only to have the effort paused when leadership changes.
  • Upfront costs: Initial investments in GIS technology (mapping, software and hardware) and staff (GIS specialists) can be significant, although they are likely to lead to overall financial efficiencies and reduction of costs over the life of a project.
  • Technology development: Seamlessly and automatically sharing GIS facility location data across organizations would require the development of an API to aggregate that information. Additionally, there is a need to develop a data portability standard for facility location data in general, and from locating devices to base maps in particular.
  • Lack of centralized body or stakeholder to own/operate a national GIS database: Without a trusted organization to maintain and manage access to a comprehensive database of sensitive facility location information, the damage prevention industry is unable to responsibly centralize this data in a way that would eliminate inefficiencies.

Conflicting Business Incentives

In taking a closer look, the Technology Committee highlighted “conflicting business models and incentives” as an additional barrier to the adoption of combined locating-mapping technologies. Whether in-house or contracted, the objective for locators is to complete markouts for pending excavation work, subject to timelines in state regulations, and move on to the next worksite. Although combining mapping with locating would have long-term benefits for the facility owner, there could be short-term costs for locators in the form of additional time per locate.

The locating industry already has well-documented challenges in keeping up with demand for on-time locating. This leads to questions of who makes the investment in the technology and who covers the cost of added time in the field. These technologies can make the process of combining locating and mapping faster and cheaper, but at present they seem best suited to niche uses such as complex locating situations, SUE/design projects and privately-owned facilities, rather than day-to-day utility locating.

Other real or perceived barriers to adoption of new technologies include:

  • Resistance to change: This is the way we’ve always done it, and we need to protect our turf.
  • Vested interests: This could lead to our business becoming obsolete.
  • Wait and see: Let others go first and demonstrate success before we try it.
  • Lack of understanding of the technology.
  • Wedded to already-approved programs: Need approvals, budget, contracts and coordination with other departments.
  • Need to prove return on investment.
  • Regulatory: It may conflict with state or federal regulations (which may be outdated).

It is past time to advance the pace of technology adoption, application and integration in U.S. damage prevention. The technologies to help us achieve zero damages exist. The barriers facing the industry are not technological. They are driven by financial assessments that do not take into consideration the long-term benefits of investing up front, along with political and institutional challenges. Leaders in damage prevention must prioritize strategic technology investments in order to meaningfully advance the industry.

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