The 811 “Call Before You Dig” system isn’t built for contractors – it’s time to level the playing field.
We’ve been in the construction business for 23 years — but despite our decades of experience, we hadn’t realized just how broken the 811 system was until the day in 2019 when a client handed us an Excel spreadsheet listing hundreds of tickets and asked us to build a report.
The request made sense. We were running Lantern Data Systems, a business intelligence firm that helps construction companies make data-driven decisions. But we soon learned that contractors’ problems ran much deeper than what could be tracked in an Excel report. In fact, from the contractor’s perspective, the entire 811 process was riddled with problems.
Figuring out how to excavate without damaging underground utility lines is inherently a complex, high-stakes task, and that challenge is exacerbated by the fact that many contractors lack clear internal processes for managing tickets. The bigger problem, though, is that the 811 system itself is outdated and inefficient, with contractors often left on the hook for costly delays — or working from dangerously inaccurate information.
Worst of all, the damage prevention industry itself was built by and for utilities and infrastructure owners. When things go wrong, it’s usually easier to blame the little guy, rather than trying to fix the broken system.
🚧Taking on a broken system
Well, we’ve always loved a challenge. We’d already spent decades helping contractors to use data and new technologies to move the needle in their organizations — and the more we learned about the deep flaws of the 811 process for contractors, the more convinced we were that this was a problem we could figure out how to solve.
We spent months talking to contractors about how they handled 811 tickets. Some tracked tickets with wall calendars and color-coded sticky notes, some tracked them on white boards and some used Excel or Google sheets. One contractor wasn’t calling in tickets at all: project managers thought dispatchers were handling it, while dispatchers thought the project teams had it covered. “It’s an absolute fustercluck,” as one contractor told us while on his way to investigate the dig-in.
And that’s before we even started talking to multi-state contractors, who were juggling the countless similar-but-different 811 systems used from one state to the next.
Bottom line: contractors didn’t just need better ticket reporting. They needed a rock-solid, end-to-end solution to track, document and communicate ticket information between the office and field. They needed to know they were digging safely, each and every time they put a shovel in the ground — and they needed real accountability to ensure they weren’t scapegoated for other people’s mistakes.
👷🏾♀️👷🏻♂️An industry in search of a solution
Solving that problem hasn’t been easy. We prototyped a simple ticket-tracking app, then asked a bunch of contractors we trusted to tell us why it sucked. We added new features, ironed out bugs, added more features, and kept on iterating until we’d satisfied even our most demanding industry buddies.
Finally, one day we got a call from a contractor we’d never met asking if they could try out “the tracker.” Word had gotten around that we’d cracked the 811 ticketing problem, and the contractor wanted in.
That was the day we knew 811spotter was ready for primetime. By singularly focusing on the needs of contractors we’d created something new — a streamlined tool capable of leveling the playing field, and transforming the way that contractors manage and document their excavation projects.
⛑️Safer digging for everyone
Today, 811spotter is trusted by contractors at small to big companies – from the smallest fencing and landscaping contractors with a couple dozen tickets to some of the largest multi-state contractors with thousands of tickets. To date, we’ve got tens of thousands of tickets under management.
Of course, we’re still learning and listening. If we’ve learned one thing over the past 23 years, it’s that contractors know what they need and aren’t afraid to speak their mind — and for a fast-growing company like ours, that kind of frank feedback will always be a vital asset.
So if you’re struggling to keep track of 811 tickets, don’t despair. The challenges are real, but you don’t have to face them alone. Get in touch with 811spotter today — and join our campaign to make excavation smarter and safer for everyone.