BoreDM is a new geotechnical software company focusing on geotechnical data management. Although they are less than one year old, they are taking the industry by storm with an impressive client list. I recently had the opportunity to have a virtual interview with the founder of the company, Louis Aaron. Check out what he has to say about our industry, what’s so great about their software, and what engineers need to know about the digital transition.
Randy: Hi Louis.
Louis: Hey Randy! Thanks for chatting.
Randy: A year ago, fewer than 15 people had heard of BoreDM. Now it’s the standard at multiple state DOTs including our home state of Arizona, and you’re adding users in the private sector at a pretty serious rate. Who are you guys, and where did you come from?
Louis: About a year ago I was working as a management consultant from 9am-9pm and building BoreDM v0 from 10pm-4am. So my background is not in geotech– I studied operations research and computer science in school, and I encountered the geotech space while working for Elon Musk’s tunneling company out of Vegas.
While I was at The Boring Company, I was once tasked with generating some boring logs in gINT, and I really just couldn’t believe what I was seeing. In 2021, we were using a software that my laptop could barely run, but more importantly, that ultimately seemed to spit my data into a PDF and another bizarre filetype (gpj). I cold called some geotechs that I found online, and I learned pretty quickly that there was an enormous data management problem in this industry. User interface is one thing… we can deal with a bad user interface. But data management is another. That was a problem I wanted to solve, and it’s in the name of our company: BoreDM is short for Boring Data Management.
The initial group working on BoreDM was really a group of my friends who had software backgrounds and were willing to help. We were able to lay a very modern groundwork for BoreDM from a software technology standpoint which enabled us to get a product in front of geotechs quickly and then iterate like crazy. None of us had geotech backgrounds and that forced us to listen and listen and listen to what people wanted. That’s why BoreDM doesn’t just work for small firms in the South or large mining companies in Australia or regional environmental firms on the west coast—it’s built to work for everyone.
Randy: So that’s where you came from, but you’ve gone from 0 to this in literally one year. Other subsurface logging programs have come and gone over much longer periods of time. What’s enabling the rapid growth?
Louis: People have been talking about data standardization in this industry for decades. Millions of dollars at both the federal and state level have been poured into research programs to get DIGGS off the ground since 2004. But ultimately the incentive structures haven’t been there. It was always “we should standardize as an industry.” “Why?” “Because in six years, all these really nice things are going to happen.” Very few people in this industry have the luxury of doing things today that pay off vaguely in six years. Engineers have projects that are due this week, and they can’t slow those down for hypothetical long-term promises.
What we realized from the beginning was that if we wanted people to standardize, not only did we need an excellent data structure, but we also needed to deliver value to users today. That meant creating a user interface that solved so many pain points so effectively that people were looking at BoreDM and going “why the hell would we not use this?” Once you’ve done that– once you’ve convinced people that your product adds so much value today that it’s worth making the transition to a standard data structure, you unlock everything else. You unlock the ability to generate cross sections in seconds, map data and see it from “Street View” effortlessly, run large-scale analysis across a database, and trivially export to AGS or DIGGS.
That’s not to say it was easy. It took nuanced database design from some really smart people. The database needs to balance intuitiveness and workability with flexibility and complexity. Fortunately, we’re actually software developers! Imagine if you had us software developers doing your drilling programs. Disaster. Geotechs building software? Also disaster. Our team has developers who turned down jobs at Apple to work here, so we know what we’re doing with data.
Randy: Within 9 months of BoreDM’s launch, you’ve announced that at least four state DOTs have purchased BoreDM subscriptions. Why did you partner with DOTs so early, and why is BoreDM resonating with them?
Louis: BoreDM’s mission is to solve the data management problem. State agencies are sitting on so much incredibly valuable data, but they’re stuck poring over paper logs for safety-critical analyses. We have states generating liquefaction hazard maps by literally looking at one log at a time and drawing things on a map. Our vision is a data-driven world where this safety-critical data can be analyzed with modern analysis methods– SQL and Python scripts which perform quantitative analyses. Those can then be used as the bases for more curated and qualitative insights. It’s been a year and we’re pretty much there already.
Alaska DOT has uploaded thousands of gINT logs into BoreDM, and they’re now fully queryable. They can type in plain English “pull all my logs where I have sand or silt within 10 feet of the surface and a groundwater encounter at less than or equal to 10 feet”. BoreDM pops out the results and plots them on a map. It’s incredible given where the industry was a year ago.
We’ve been in dialog with DOTs since day one, and thanks to some awesome people at Geosyntec in Atlanta and the forward-thinking team at ALDOT, we were able to bring ALDOT onboard way back in the spring. They sing our praises (and we sing theirs!) and that’s led to the traction that we’ve had so far. I would be surprised if we don’t hit 10 DOTs in the next ~3-5 months.
Randy: What about AI?
Louis: Way overhyped today– the basis for today’s leaps forward are large language models, which are not super relevant for our industry in the ways that people are pretending they are. They rely on massive amounts of data, which this industry clearly does not yet have. That said, we _are_ laying the groundwork for a future where we can maybe make some inferences about what conditions will look like without drilling a hole. But for reasons beyond the scope of this chat, I don’t see AI “replacing soil borings” for a very, very long time.
There are definitely some things that AI is good at today. BoreDM leverages AI to help answer some of our users’ questions about how to use the program (“How do I update the logo on my logs?”) and to generate SQL queries from plain English for analysis.
Randy: What should engineers keep in mind as they make the digital transformation?
- This stuff is really simple. Don’t let anyone convince you otherwise. If they make it sound complicated, they’re using scare tactics to push you into their outdated programs and then overcharge you to support them. Don’t let their old programs become your problem.
- Don’t be afraid of the cloud. People are afraid of the cloud because some of our competitors make use weird and vague terms like “powerful brain”. Nobody knows what that means, so it’s scaring people away. When done right, cloud databases are fast, efficient, and cost-effective. Otherwise the entire global economy wouldn’t be moving toward them.
- If you’re worried about cross-compatibility with other software, don’t be. We’re moving toward data standardization pretty quickly, so even if other software companies try to make it seem like they’re the only option, data interchange between programs is becoming trivial. Ultimately, it’s free market forces that push technology toward this over time.
Randy: You mentioned that you just released BoreDM 4. What’s new?
Louis: BoreDM 4 completes our two-part vision:
- Quietly, it enables advanced data sharing capabilities with a very simple, Google Drive-like user interface. In other words, public entities can very easily share data with the private sector, and the private sector can easily partition data between and across teams as needed.
- More visibly, it unites the four components of the geotechnical workflow with BoreDM Field, BoreDM Lab, BoreDM Logs, and BoreDM Analysis. That last part, analysis, is possible for the first time due to the data sharing element. Users can now query public data anywhere in the world alongside their own private datasets. Small shops can assert themselves as local experts with highly granular data that nobody else has access to. Larger corporations can leverage their data at scale. And all of this is performed within a modern user interface which makes it easy to customize logs, dropdown options, and automated calculations.
Our users cite time savings of around 75% when they’re coming from gINT, and that’s on v3. I can’t wait for them to get rolling with BoreDM 4.
Randy: Thanks Louis, and best of luck with everything!
Louis: Thank you, Randy!