Within the past few years, responsive design has led to the development of device-agnostic applications that have become powerful tools capable of collecting, organizing, processing and visualizing a wealth of data — from anywhere — to better inform the decision-making process. From the palm of a hand, advanced mobile applications arm those in the field with the technology needed to collect data on-site, which is then immediately shared with and reviewed by teammates, in real time, via the cloud.

That instant accessibility and data-processing capability allow a decision to be made right then and there, before the field employee leaves the site. Using the same tool, historical information, also able to be quickly referenced on the go, can help shape the prospective solution. By eliminating unnecessary steps, site visits and devices — and, therefore, the potential to introduce errors along the way — platform-agnostic solutions deliver efficiency and clarity as well as savings in time and money.

Visual representation of this data further enhances how we understand, analyze, interpret and communicate it. Advanced tools allow us to interactively aggregate, filter and slice data based on various parameters, which, in some cases, helps predict trends but always results in improved decision-making and, of course, saves time. Having such immediate and visual access to information is expected — and mostly preferred — in daily communications and business operations.

Mobile applications, custom built to handle the challenge at hand, have proven their worth across all industries, largely progressing environmental work by solving complex problems in a timely manner.

Real-Time Data Offers Rapid Response to Contain Oil Spill

When it comes to an accidental oil spill impacting a river, there’s no time to waste in getting it contained. Ten years ago, a 30-inch pipeline carrying crude oil ruptured, releasing an estimated 19,500 barrels of oil. After heavy rains, the oil seeped into a nearby, significant river and continued downstream. At that time, data collection and digitalization weren’t what they are today. In response to the spill, we combined technology and environmental talents to come up with ideas that allowed data to be collected and analyzed on the go using a mobile application.

Because it was important to capture dynamic data, a geospatial data aggregation tool was applied, which enabled the project team, on- and off-site, to access real-time project data and view it within a three-dimensional virtual model. The immediacy of this time-sensitive approach sped up the overall process — as well as the Shoreline Cleanup Assessment Techniques, natural resource damage assessments and floodplain assessments along the affected river banks.

Throughout the project’s critical timeline, the ability to efficiently utilize real-time technology was crucial as it supported 24-hour, seven-days-a-week incident command, field supervisory and documentation support. Additionally, the team was able to upload more than 140,000 geo-referenced date- and time-stamped photos within a wirelessly accessible, continually updated database. Overall, this tool enabled us to respond faster and with a customized remediation solution.

Modern Methods Improve Data Collection and Processing

Historically, Microsoft Excel has been the tool of choice when processing and presenting a substantial amount of data. These days, two modern device-agnostic applications — ArcGIS and Power BI — present a different, more efficient and accurate way of studying and interpreting existing data.

For example, Survey123 for ArcGIS, a centralized geographic information system (GIS) database accessible from a mobile device, enabled the use of interactive mapping for data collection and sharing. Power BI and its customizable platform further visualized the GIS data through personalized reports with key performance indicators that could be shared companywide.

A fresh perspective and newer technologies introduced additional, relevant information that led to more informed business decisions. In addition to providing spatial and project data that allowed for an improved analysis of existing data, these advanced data collection and processing applications also saved time and money.

Environmental remediation continues to be a heavily data-driven industry, with organizations seeking modern practices and mobile applications that can provide real-time data to shape progressive solutions. Consequently, data accuracy, visualization and accessibility are key to driving progress and delivering immediate results. There’s strength in numbers, and the more data we have, the better we can do for the environment.


From addressing emerging contaminants like PFAS to efficiently managing volumes of historic data on legacy sites, we understand each site is different and the data management strategies and remedial approach must be carefully considered.


Shailesh Deshpande, a general manager with Burns & McDonell India, has more than 20 years of experience in environmental engineering. He has developed solutions that required aggregating and processing data for numerous projects related to air quality services, including emissions inventories, permitting and regulatory compliance.