The Importance of AGS Data Format

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In an age when BIM, cloud computing and artificial intelligence constantly make the headlines, the AGS Data Format has become more relevant than anytime in its 25 year history. Keynetix Managing Director and AGS Data Management working group member, Roger Chandler, outlines the format and why its adoption continues to make AGS member organisations more competitive.

To better understand what the AGS Data Format can do for an organisation, consider these two scenarios.

A colleague provides a printed spreadsheet of 1,000 numbers, in two columns, and asks for a graph of the data. The immediate response would be to ask for the spreadsheet with the data in it. After all, re-typing 1,000 numbers already in a spreadsheet would be wasting time and would probably introduce errors.

Now imagine a client supplies borehole logs printed out from its borehole logging software. The logs have 1,000 items of data on them and the client wants a graph of SPT vs depth.

Those unaware of the AGS Data Format may not realise that the first and second scenarios are exactly the same and have probably re-typed 1,000s of numbers, thinking it was the only option. Their competitors have probably asked for the information in an AGS file and completed a job that could take all morning in about five minutes; without typing anything or introducing any new errors.

AGS Data Format: transforming data handling

HTML is a good example of how a widely-used format can transform an industry. This is the file transfer format that runs the internet.

When a web browser asks a server for a webpage it is sent in an HTML format, which is then read by the browser and the webpage is displayed. The server does not need to write a file specifically for the browser software – it gives it exactly the same file to any software asking for the webpage.

In the same way, the AGS Data Format is a text file set out in an agreed standardised format supported by about 20 commercial software packages, giving a wide range of options for the collection, reporting and visualisation of geotechnical data.

Both these files are ‘data transfer files’. The rules on how to read and write these files are often called the ‘file format’. The AGS data management committee maintains the rules for the AGS Data Format.

Two Golden rules

To highlight the power of this basic concept, I came up with two ‘Golden rules’ at a 1999 Keynetix user conference, which have been adopted by the AGS:

Rule 1: Only enter data once

Rule 2: Get someone else to do it.

In the first scenario above, the immediate response would be to get the data from the person who already had it (Rule 2). If, however, if no data was available, then it would have to be entered (Rule 1) and then no one else should ever need to enter the data again (Rule 2).

Take a sample data audit

A sample data audit is a very useful, and often enlightening, exercise to complete.

First, write down every stage of the project where any of the sample details were written or typed in. Consider:

  • Sample labels
  • Drillers’ logs
  • Engineers’ notes
  • Chain of custody
  • Schedule sheets
  • Laboratory worksheets
  • Testing reports
  • Borehole logs
  • Section diagrams
  • Design plots.

Typically, around six of the these will have been written or typed in, sometimes all of them.

Second, take away one from the answer (information will have to be entered once to create the sample) and multiply the remainder by the number of samples the organisation handles in a year.

This number could be more than 10,000 or even more than 100,000 – that is the number of times a company carries out an unnecessary operation and, worse, could increase its project risk due to errors being introduced by its inefficiencies. This is only for sample data – the number is far bigger when the audit is carried out on all the data gathered during a site investigation.

In the first ten years of the AGS Data Format, it was used primarily as an inter-company data transfer as part of final project deliverables. However, it is now used just as much, if not more, to help companies adopt more efficient data practices within their internal and external supply chains.

If implemented correctly, AGS Data Format can significantly reduce inefficiencies and therefore increase the quality assurance of client deliverables, enabling teams to spend less time typing and more time thinking and considering the geotechnical problems and solutions for the site.

To find out more visit

About the author

Roger Chandler Joined the AGS committee in 1997 and co-founded Keynetix the following year. He is a member of the AGS Data Management working group. For the last 20 years he has grown Keynetix into an international geotechnical data management software company and regularly speaks at geotechnical conferences on the power of the AGS Data Format.

Roger is offering to hold a free lunchtime webinar for AGS member companies to help them learn more about the AGS Data Format and how the two Golden rules can improve data efficiency. For more information contact