Streamline Records Research with 4M's Real-Time Utility Data

May 13, 2024

Utility damage prevention is a top concern for infrastructure professionals — and with good reason. According to the Common Ground Alliance (CGA), the U.S. sees between 400,000 and 500,000 utility strikes yearly.

At this year’s CGA conference, attendees were asked a poll question: “What technology has the most potential to reduce damages?”

The two top responses? Mapping and AI.

The problem: collecting utility data the traditional way with manual records research is time-consuming and often leads to dead ends. Data is fragmented, and owners might respond slowly or not at all. Records can also be inaccurate, incomplete, or nonexistent.

‎Furthermore, poor data leads to poor planning, design, and budgeting — and this uncertainty puts your project’s execution at risk. Unexpected findings lead to cost overruns and delays, not to mention safety hazards related to utility strikes.

What if you could avoid manual utility record research and gain immediate access to all the existing utility records in your project area?

Solving the utility research problem: Real-Time Utility Data

At 4M, we’ve set out to unlock the world below us, ensuring the continuity and development of all critical infrastructure and services people rely on daily. Since 2023, we’ve mapped 100 billion linear feet of utilities and operate in all 50 states.

‎Now, our Utility AI mapping and Analytics Solution, built for project owners, civil engineers, general contractors, and government agencies in the early stages of infrastructure development, now includes a new data layer called Preliminary Real-time Utility Data.

We aim to give utility risk mitigation professionals the utility data they need at the preliminary stages of a project—before they send investigators to the field.

“When risks are identified after people have equipment and are sent into the field, they are much more costly and can impact project timing,” says Amir Hofman, VP of Product at 4M. “Our approach enables you to identify those unknowns and risks and empower you to anticipate and mitigate them right from the start.”

So, what is Preliminary Real-Time Utility Data?

After submitting a design ticket, a utility owner typically responds in days to weeks—sometimes never.

Imagine this instead: you draw a line or polygon, and like magic, there it is — information on specific utility lines, their owners, and a wealth of utility details right at your fingertips.

Our new data layer offers immediate visualization of specific utility lines, their owners, and extensive utility information. Compiled from existing and unverified utility records, this data enables you to access detailed utility data in real-time, accelerate planning and field team mobilization, and achieve a competitive advantage to secure more bids.

Hofman isn't alone in his view of 4M's real-time data. Wes Kaisershot, VP, Director of Engineering at SurvWest, describes it as "utility records on steroids."

‎And the "Godfather of subsurface utility engineering," Jim Anspach, said our Utility AI Mapping technology is "the way forward for any designer of infrastructure project to eliminate costs and schedule delays effectively."

Having this utility information available at the beginning of the project will help you minimize unknown risks and plan your project effectively. Instead of putting the project on hold, you can move ahead with planning and utility coordination with utility owners while waiting for responses from the One-Call Center.  

How does 4M gather and synthesize the real-time data?

‎Our utility data mapping is powered by an AI engine overseen by human experts, enabling us to provide you with utility information at scale quickly.

We’re constantly collecting and extracting millions of utility records from private and public records and customer data, evaluating sources based on reliability, coverage, quality, and relevance. We use advanced data fusion techniques to pull all the information from different sources into a dataset. Then, we analyze, validate, and prioritize the data with the help of our AI engine. “It’s a continuous learning machine that takes historical patterns and improves learning and ability to identify or correctly rank relevant sources and conflate them,” says Hofman. “That is the AI machine.”

In addition, we have domain experts with expertise in civil engineering and related fields on hand to review data points and resolve issues that require human opinions. Their review is fed back into the AI engine to improve future decisions.

“Even after we deliver the data to a customer, the Utility AI model continues to scan, collect, and extract everything related to the area and refine it with more and more sources," Hofman says. "We also appreciate feedback and new information from users that helps minimize inaccuracies over time."

What does Preliminary Real-Time Utility Data look like?

Let’s take a quick tour. We’ll zoom in on Austin, Texas, and draw a polygon to define the project. The first data layer that appears is the utility density map. This heat map includes high-level information such as utility owners and line lengths.

Heat Map

On the left side of the screen, click to see the Preliminary Real-Time Data layer. Here, you’ll find real-time access to the publicly available utility data you would typically have to collect during records research.

Preliminary Real-time data layer

Click on a line, and you’ll see the line length and the name of its owner.

You can also click utility owners on the left to see a listing of all the lines belonging to this particular owner or a breakdown of the number of lines present within the map from each sector—communication, energy, water, and more.

Then, with the analytics and layers options, you can access additional information such as land ownership, topography, floodplain, and estimated right-of-way parameters.

Data Layers

4M’s Preliminary Real-Time Utility Data gives you the tools you need, in seconds, to conduct initial records research and complete feasibility and concept planning studies. This is where we envision this layer assisting your workflow — to help you with more bids.

How accurate is Preliminary Real-Time Data?

Accuracy can be subjective depending on when and where it’s used in the project. 4M’s goal with Preliminary Real-Time Data is to provide a comprehensive baseline dataset that can inform planning and development.

While our data is often verified from within 2-6 feet in general, the bigger impact is the coverage and completeness of the data and how you can implement it as part of the project lifecycle. We’re not trying to replace the traditional ways to locate utilities before digging. Rather, we want to help you reduce risks and unknowns long before you get to the investigation stage — and save time for your field teams by giving them more targeted information.

Does Preliminary Real-Time Utility Data cover utilities outside the public right of way?

The short answer is “yes.”

4M data is not limited to public right-of-way areas. However, our focus is on providing data to inform linear construction projects — not on providing data for vertical projects or related to private properties.

Is Preliminary Real-Time Utility Data available in my state? 

Currently, Preliminary Real-Time Utility Data is available throughout the states of Texas and California. We expect to add Colorado, Florida, New York, and Georgia to that list by the end of June 2024, bringing the total to 15–20 U.S. states by the end of the year.

‎Surface object detection is available right now as part of 4M’s Standard and Advanced data layers, and we have plans to add it to Preliminary Real-Time Utility Data in the future. We’re also working on a mobile application to enhance collaboration between engineers behind the desk and the field team.

Try Preliminary Real-Time Utility Data today – for free!

The future of utility mapping is here, and it's time for you to be a part of it. Our Preliminary Real-Time Utility Data isn’t just a tool; it's your new secret weapon — tailor-made to propel your infrastructure projects into a future where speed and efficiency are the norm.

Experience for yourself the new area of utility mapping, where waiting is out, and instant utility insights are in.

Chris Garafola

With over a decade of experience spanning agencies and innovative startups, Chris is a dedicated content marketing leader, driven by the belief that content isn't just about consumption; it's about leaving a lasting impact on the person who engages with it. Inspired by 4M's mission to create the first online database of subsurface utilities in the U.S., Chris is eager to illuminate one of the infrastructure industry's most pressing issues and champion innovative solutions that deeply resonate with general contractors and civil engineers to address these challenges.