Editor's Points: What business are you in?

December 22, 2008
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When you’ve been successful in a certain niche for a number of years, it’s easy to fall into the trap of defining yourself and your business by that success.

But what do you do when that niche suddenly disappears, as it has for many businesses over the past few months? As the economy has taken a nosedive, many people have been frantically trying to figure out a survival plan. The economists and news media all like to hypothesize about where we might be in relation to the Great Depression and other calamities, but no one knows what the future will bring. Speculation about initiatives that might move forward once President-elect Barack Obama takes office only further fuels the uncertainty. How can anyone possibly develop a successful strategy in such circumstances?

When I posed this question to the individuals I interviewed for my business outlook article (see page 10), I received a variety of responses. But one tenet was unanimous: The individuals and firms that will thrive in the coming years are those that can continue to adapt to the changing needs of the market. For many, this approach will mean broadening services far beyond what has been considered within the scope of a traditional “boundary surveyor” to embrace mapping and GIS capabilities; laser scanning; building information modeling and other advanced 3D and 4D deliverables; data preparation for machine control; forensic, historical or archaeological surveying; or a number of other areas requiring data acquisition or geospatial technology expertise. Firms that have already diversified into a variety of service areas are well positioned to meet the challenges confronting our profession in 2009 and beyond. Conversely, firms that wait too long to pursue alternative services and markets are likely to get left behind.

Noted business strategist George A. Steiner is credited with telling a story about a buggy whip maker in the early 1900s who was confronted with losing his business to the automotive industry.{1} Had the entrepreneur broadened his perspective and thought of himself as a producer of “transportation starting devices,” he likely would have been able to reinvent his business to meet the needs of the new era. (Never mind that the automotive industry itself might have done well to follow this line of thinking, given its current quagmire.)

All correlation to the automotive industry aside, we may well be facing a new era in our profession-one that requires a creative approach and a constant re-evaluation if we’re to remain successful. This is one strategy that has withstood the test of time.

P.S. Don’t miss POB’s new Webinar series, “Earn More Dollars. Make More Sense.” The series, which is being held in conjunction with Missouri University of Science and Technology and offers earnable professional development hour (PDH) credits, will debut on Jan. 22 with Joseph V.R. Paiva’s “Are You Keeping Up with Technology, Or Is Technology Outrunning You?” The Webinar will review practical leading-edge field and office surveying technologies, including ways in which these technologies work and how to apply them to maximize their effectiveness. For more information or to register, go to


1. Steiner, George, “Strategic Planning: What Every Manager Must Know.” New York: The Free Press, 1979.

To contact the editor, send an e-mail to pobeditor@bnpmedia.

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