Based in the sunshine state of Florida, second generation marine surveyor, Craig Norton, is the President of InspectX. A SAMS® Accredited Marine Surveyor, RYA 200 ton Yachtmaster Offshore and MCA Y3 Chief Engineer, he decided he was fed up of duplicating his work when writing his reports, collecting the evidence in the field only to come home to have to make sense of his scribbled notes so he could write his report. His thought process led him to search for a solution so that a report could be generated whilst doing the survey to save those many hours in front of a laptop once home. The result is InspectX, a programme designed for surveyors by surveyors.
It is 2019 and we are living in the technological future we could only have imagined 20 years ago. As marine surveyors we are fortunate to have such a large selection of advanced tools readily available, all of which can significantly improve the quality and scope of our inspections. We have advanced methods of non-destructive testing such as thermography, moisture meters, ultrasonic testing and lab analysis, yet when conducting a survey inspection, we still take handwritten field notes on paper just the way we did decades ago. The tedious task of taking handwritten notes and duplicating the effort by transcribing these notes into a legible document in the office is accepted as the unfortunate norm.
InspectX will change that forever. It is the first and only marine report writing software specifically designed to complete an entire survey report on a touchscreen tablet while in the field. It is aptly named because of its versatility which enables an inspection and report of almost anything. Before discussing this new solution, let’s take a look at the problem with the survey process.
It is a well known standard that preparing a detailed survey report takes roughly an hour in the office for every hour that was spent in the field. For most surveyors, this means that most evenings and weekends will be spent working on these reports. As a partner in a well-established and very busy survey company in South Florida, I very much enjoyed the onboard survey process but hated the long nights and weekends writing these reports. Just like the preparation of any survey report, ours were tedious and time consuming. Added to the repetitious task of preparing the report is the constant stress and responsibility that comes along with trying to ensure every possible item was thoroughly checked during the inspection. The pages and pages of scribbled notes were often torn or saturated with saltwater. Every evening, my goal was to complete transcribing just half the notes collected from that day’s assignment which meant that I would spend the entire evening in front of the computer, even eating dinner at my desk. I was losing sleep, had little time for my wife or myself and I realized that continuing in this way was unsustainable. I’d had enough, but I wasn’t alone. Over and over I heard from other surveyors with similar stories of late nights spent behind the computer and no personal life. There was clearly something wrong with our survey process and what became overwhelmingly clear, was just how much time we spent duplicated our effort when transcribing our notes. Even when sent to a transcriptionist, the review and correction time was still too long to justify the expense.
As an engineer by trade, it is in my nature to identify and fix problems just like this. Teaming up with a respected surveyor as well as a software developer, we began a mission to completely replace the notepad and pen and introduce the idea of using a tablet to collect information while in the field. To accomplish this would require the design and construction of software specifically tailored to the marine industry and with the marine surveyor’s process in mind. We identified two key challenges that would be absolutely necessary in order for this to work in the field. Firstly, this software would need to be able to rapidly navigate to a specific location within the report faster than flipping through the pages of handwritten fieldnotes, and secondly, once at that location, this software would need to be able to enter information faster than writing with a pen. With those two specific goals in mind we set out to create a program purposely designed toward entering information while in the field and eliminating the duplicated effort of transcription once in the office.
After studying numerous survey reports and separating the structure of these reports into categories, sub-categories, and headings we chose to represent each of these sections as clickable buttons on the screen. Visually presenting the entire report layout in this fashion enabled rapid navigation to any heading within the entire report with just a single press. This rapid navigation answered our first key component.
Next, we added a list of commonly used phrases called “Quick Insert Options” to each heading within the report. Whether taking inventory, describing a condition, or writing a deficiency we often use similar phrases and statements in our writing. Having access to a running list of these phrases that could be modified, built upon and fully customized directly in the field meant that we could have an unlimited resource of all our past commonly used statements for entry when this condition was sighted again. These “Quick Insert Options” enable an entire phrase, one that was already carefully worded with references or standards, to be instantly entered into the report. Newly added phrases can be saved for future use and custom changes can be made with the tablet’s onscreen keyboard, handwriting to text recognition, and even through voice dictation. These adjustments can be made faster than writing it by hand and this ability to quickly insert text and phrases was the second key factor and the last piece needed to prove our concept in the field.
With an early version of InspectX software loaded onto a touchscreen tablet, my business partner Peter Muir and myself ventured out to inspect a small vessel early in 2016. We had our familiar clipboard with fieldnotes on standby but neither of us picked up the pen, instead pressing buttons and making our selections directly on the tablet. The process proved natural and fluid and after that first assignment I clearly remember us both laughing out loud at the absurdity that we just managed to complete an entire report in the field without at all compromising on our content or quality!
Once we realized the full extent of how much time this would save, we knew there would be other surveyors that could benefit from this system. We began working on a version that could be customized and tailored for use on many different types of survey inspections. This of course, did not occur overnight. The next couple of years saw continuous progress and additional enhancements that have all proved extremely valuable. Peter had accumulated an enormous database of information during his 26 years of surveying and we agreed to include all of this content as an option with the program for other surveyors to build upon. This content can be modified and new phrases can be added at each surveyor’s discretion. From the ground up, the layout of the entire program
has been designed with the needs of a marine surveyor kept in mind. The buttons are large and easy to read, and the navigation and entry is designed to operate entirely by touch. There is a dark background with bright contrasting colors to help screen readability even in bright sunlight. We designed a color scheme where the
buttons change color to represent their status and level of completeness. As information is entered, a heading
can be marked as ‘in progress’ which turns the button yellow if the inspector feels there is more information to be added to this heading, or it can be marked as ‘complete’ which turns this button green. This visual cue,
along with a percentage value, serve as a very rewarding indicator as the inspection and subsequent report are completed together. At a
glance, a surveyor can see exactly which headings have been completed and which are still in progress.
The powerful benefits of these colored buttons were not fully realized until we started to put the software into practical use. Unlike handwritten fieldnotes, this software now functioned as a reminder to inspect certain items and this served to increase consistency and reduce the chance for omitting an important item. In addition, the ability to mark a heading as ‘in progress’ proved to be incredibly useful as information could be entered on any item but left ‘in progress’ as a visual reminder to demonstrate, verify or add further information at that particular entry. This helped to improved consistency and accuracy during the inspection in a way that handwritten field notes could never match. We are frequently reminded by other surveyors using InspectX just how valuable these colors have become to their survey process.
The vessels most of us inspect are not arranged in the order that a report is written and being able to quickly navigate to different sections of the report through the software allows for a more natural workflow throughout the inspection day. A surveyor can start in any area of the vessel and just record what is seen without the need for any particular order, and with a single touch they can jump to an entirely different section of the report to enter information on another
item. This fluid process ensures the software functions as a tool to aid in the inspection process rather than dictating the order of items to be inspected. All the while, the color scheme works to ensure nothing gets overlooked and everything moves along according to the information intended for collection. This software installed on a tablet in the field functions as a tool, equally as important and essential as an inspector’s flashlight. Arriving to an assignment with the technology of a tablet can project a competitive edge and we have noticed referrals and requests for survey inspections purely based on the fact that this software ensures a thorough and detailed report. Brokers and clients are continually impressed, not just with the fast report turnaround time, but equally with the detailed process that affords them and their clients the added confidence that all possible inspection points are thoroughly investigated.
Beyond entering information and saving time, InspectX improves the delivery of the end of day discussion with the client. This is most often utilized in the case of pre-purchase inspections, where the prospective purchaser is eagerly awaiting to hear the list of deficiencies to better understand the vessel’s current condition. In the past when using handwritten notes, I would mark the margin of the page wherever a deficiency was mentioned and during my discussion with the client I could reference those markings in the margins. However, there was simply no way to prioritize these items which resulted in my delivered list being a mixture of high priority safety related items and low priority cosmetic deficiencies in the order they were written on paper. This changed when using InspectX as these deficiencies are already entered and prioritized accordingly and now the relevant information can be relayed to the client in an orderly and meaningful way. Leaving the vessel with all the headings marked complete inspires confidence and assurance of a thorough inspection, and that feeling can only matched by the satisfaction of knowing the entire report is also complete.
Among the powerful features of InspectX is a unique option for those surveyors who collaborate as a team on any assignments. A networked link between computers allow multiple surveyors to work on the same report at the same time. The fact that all participants can visually see the inspection process by the colored buttons means less time conversing to insure all areas were inspected which makes for a more streamlined workflow. This feature can be useful as a training tool for new employees or when training an apprentice. In addition, this same networking ability will be most useful for the easy transition from the work tablet to your home computer, which can be done without transferring any files. It’s a seamless experience to come home with your work tablet and immediately open up the software through a browser from the comfort of your main desktop computer.
The pricing model for InspectX is different from most programs today that require either a large investment or monthly subscriptions. InspectX is free to download and we offer remote personal demonstrations to help get setup and running. We chose a unique approach to keep the software affordable and accessible to everyone, and a small charge is applied only once to each project upon completion. Changes can still be made to this project after purchase without incurring another charge. This small fee is easy to build into the cost of each assignment and will also ensure InspectX stays ahead of the curve with updates and enhancements. We don’t want to fall behind the times which is why our software is constantly evolving and growing. We listen to the needs of our clients and their feedback help us to prioritize future updates.
The complexity of modern vessels and their systems require more time and attention to inspect. Matching this pressure is the continuous demand for faster report turnaround. Everything in InspectX has been designed with the needs of the surveyor in mind, and the simple and clean layout presents everything that is important while keeping the interface free from distractions. Just like the large selection of advanced tools at our disposal, InspectX brings a modern edge to an old practice and helps to improve performance and save time on each survey inspection.
Craig was born in South Africa and grew up living onboard sailboats in the Caribbean which lead him to developing shipwright skills during refits and rebuilds from a young age. Ocean crossings and yacht deliveries lead to the superyacht industry where he obtained a 200 ton commercial captain’s license working on luxury yachts. Later he shifted to the engineering department and obtained a YIII Chief Engineer license before becoming a SAMS AMS® marine surveyor. Most recently, Craig is the founder and president of InspectX marine report writing software.
The creation and continued support of InspectX is a team effort and particular credit should be given to Peter Muir AMS® and his extensive database of included content. Dan Oross, mastermind software developer who has helped make this vision better than we could’ve ever imagined. Craig’s wife Nedra, the brains, inspiration, drive and support without which, none of this would’ve been possible. Last but not least, thank you to all our current and active users who continue to spread the word and help us grow.
By Craig Norton
call: (1) 561-600-0098 (UTC -5)