Geo Positions: Geospatial Veteran Talks Laser Scanning
Welcome to GeoDataPoint’s new Geo Positions segment, shining a spotlight on geospatial professionals of all specialties. The recurring Q&A aims to help readers learn from how others in the field do their jobs.
This installment — the first ever — features Bryan Merritt, PSM, LS, corporate manager of geospatial services with Erdman Anthony. The engineering firm has seven locations across the country, offering a wide range of mapping and data collection services, utilizing geographic information systems (GIS) and LiDAR, for clients primarily located east of the Mississippi River.
Entering college, Merritt knew he wanted a career that involved working outdoors. He obtained a degree in civil engineering and settled for a drafting job with an engineering company after graduating into a slow economy. When the firm’s surveying group posted a job opening, he applied and was hired.
Now, more than three decades later, he is still working as a geospatial professional and says he loves the challenges it poses. “I enjoy the hunt, the thrill and that means a lot of different things, he says. “It’s maybe winning a new client over, or it could be the hunt for the proper solution to a problem and figuring something out that we’ve never done before.”
Over the course of his more than 15 years with Erdman Anthony, he says it’s hard to single out a special project because they are all so diverse. One that stands out in his mind though is when his team took on Radio City Music Hall as a client. They were responsible for scanning and modeling the interior of the music hall so the very first three-dimensional Christmas Spectacular special effects could, in fact, be 3D.
Q. What do you do for a living?
A. I’m corporate manager of geospatial services for Erdman Anthony, covering four offices in three different states. I look at what my role and responsibility is as more of like an orchestra leader. So I take input from my guys on where to go and how we’re going to do it. It’s my responsibility to make sure playing off the same sheet of music so they can play their instruments the greatest and our group sounds great. So it takes a lot of effort to keep everyone in tune with their markets and their peers and the company itself. As part of that, I help the staff venture into new markets, new technologies, new teaming situations, and also try to keep them grounded in the old survey process. So sometimes the old way of doing things is the right way to do it. Sometimes an old instrument plays the best over a new one. On the other side of that, I’m also the vice president of the United States Institute of Building Documentation. That’s a nonprofit organization that is focused on the building documentation industry. So I’ve been that organization since its inception in 2012. The focus there is to bring building documentation industry to the forefront, creating standards and educational systems to promote the industry.
Q. What is your favorite tool to work with?
A. The favorite tool to work with is the brain. We’re in a little different situation. We’re a geospatial group within an engineering firm, so we provide solutions to situations. It’s a little different, so it’s never about one particular tool. It’s about finding the best solutions. So one situation may have us using a 6-foot ruler as the absolute best tool, whereas in another situation we’re using a terrestrial scanner or a remote-control hydrographic boat or maybe we’re just wading across a canal with a level and a level rod. So I think for the ability to use a variety of the tools appropriately, the brain is the best tool to use.
Q. What is the toughest challenge you face?
A. Right now — and I don’t see this changing any time soon — is staffing. Finding quality talent in our industry is very difficult. Our education across the country is really small in the geospatial industry. They’re not pumping out a lot of graduates. So as we find new staff, we’re finding that we have to provide a lot more training. And in our situation, as a group within an engineering firm, we work across many, many platforms — different CAD platforms, different instrumentation. Finding one person that knows all our CAD platforms and all our data-collection platforms and all our instrumentation platforms is impossible. So we end up doing a lot of training in those platforms. But staffing is by far our toughest challenge.
Q. What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned?
A. Admit that you’ve made a mistake. We’re not perfect. Don’t hide mistakes; own them; learn from them. That’s the way we learn. We learn by making mistakes. And never repeat a mistake. Make new mistakes. That’s how we really learn, is by making new mistakes. If we continue to repeat old mistakes, it’s like 50 First Dates; we just keep repeating and we don’t gain. I’ve learned more from getting my own nose bloodied than I have by completing the perfect project. In my own business I think I’ve received more work from clients that I’ve made mistakes for, and admitted to them and fixed them, than I would have if I’d not made any mistakes at all. I think that’s probably the best lesson that I’ve learned.
Q. What advancements would you like to see made?
A. We do a fair amount of laser scanning and the hardware side of laser-scanning technology has rocketed. When I first got into laser scanning, if we were collecting 4,000 points per second, everybody was “oohing” and “aahing” over that. Now we collect millions of points per second. So that’s all great that we collect all this data, but where we really need advancement help in is the feature extraction, the software side of things. I think the hardware has totally out-advanced the software side, specifically in the laser-scanning industry. So I think the ability to efficiently extract data is really far lagging behind our abilities to collect the data.
Q. What are your keys to success?
A. Being able to understand the changing dynamics, both between technology and staffing. We have a younger generation coming in that has totally different talents and abilities than I had coming out of school. Having the ability to give them room to grow and work in environments that are best suited for them. I think gone are the days of the pocket protectors and the HP41s. Today it’s more about real-time information, real-time communication, virtual reality. So setting up your environment and your technology to best suit your staff is really going to be the key to success.