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Sight Lines: 6 Strategies of Successful Surveying Firms

January 18, 2012
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Why do some firms succeed where others struggle? Is it really necessary to keep up with technology? How can a surveying firm stay profitable in this “new economy”? Here are six key strategies being implemented by some of today's most successful firms.

Why do some firms succeed where others struggle? Is it really necessary to keep up with technology? How can a surveying firm stay profitable in this “new economy”?

To find out, I spoke with representatives from a couple of equipment dealers who have been closely watching market trends. Here are six strategies they see being implemented by some of today’s most successful firms.

1) Listen to your clients. Your clients will tell you the expected deliverables, but they might not know the best way to achieve their objectives. They’re looking to you to provide solutions. Listen carefully to understand their needs, and use your expertise to add value to the project. “Successful companies employ a strategy of offering to their clients the deliverables that they need and want, including new cloud-based deliverables that use free viewers available from the industry leaders,” says Tom Seiler, executive vice president of Seiler Instrument & Mfg Co. Inc. “The focus is on timely, accurate and complete datasets, bundled with imagery and 3D LiDAR data when available.”

2) Do more with less. Use automation to your advantage, and streamline your workflows wherever possible. “Successful firms are already doing more with less by investing in automated surveying and mapping processes, like Trimble Robotics, Trimble VRS Rovers, and Autodesk AutoCAD Civil 3D with field-to-finish line work and mapping/GIS functionality built in,” Seiler says.

3) Embrace technology. Technology has been advancing so rapidly in the last several years that it might seem impossible to keep up. However, surveyors who do not embrace technology will get left behind. Keeping an eye on market trends can help you understand where to invest to gain the biggest benefits. “Mapping/GIS is evolving into more server and cloud-based solutions,” says Lanny Schnipper, sales manager of Seiler Instrument’s Survey Division. “Background data is becoming much more important, which is requiring large amounts of data collection, especially via mobile mapping. The boundary between survey and mapping workflows will continue to shrink as hardware and software platforms become more versatile in both markets.”

Daryl Huffman, executive director of Duncan-Parnell Inc., agrees, noting that firms can still take advantage of GIS to grow their business. “GIS tools are increasingly merging with hardware and software technologies that enable faster, more accurate data collection techniques to speed up all processes,” he says.

Besides GIS, technologies to watch include mobile mapping with LiDAR, building information modeling (BIM), and unmanned aircraft systems (UAS, also called UAVs or drones). Tools that provide real-time field-to-office connectivity are also making waves. “Field software on mobile devices with direct database connections and cloud-based updates are going to be in high demand,” Schnipper says.

4) Learn how to use tools effectively. Of course, simply having the latest tools isn’t enough; you need to make sure you know how to use them to gain new business. “Successful and growing firms continually invest in the training, implementation and customization necessary to optimize their use of the integrated hardware and software solutions available today,” Seiler says. “These firms grow with their clients by delivering reliable, innovative solutions, and by using productive workflows and integrated processes and methods.”

“Stay lean and use technology to the fullest,” Huffman adds. “The faster you can get the data delivered, the greater chance you have of procuring the job.”

5) Find your niche. Having a successful niche makes it easier to gain new business without focusing on price. “Specialize in at least one component of the workflow, and do it better than your competition,” Schnipper says.

6) Expand your network. The most successful firms are also well connected. “Partner with vendors and other companies with synergy to offer complete services, from design to collection to processing,” Schnipper says. “Fill in gaps internally or through cooperative business partners.”
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