Rent-a-Mentor: Employee Development on a Shoestring
Over the past eleven years, KAPPA Mapping, Inc. has observed the development of a new business model in the mapping profession involving a transition from mom-and-pop regional production shops to large companies offering end-to-end acquisition and processing services with offices across the country. To stay in business, small operations such as KAPPA Mapping are faced with the challenge of attracting new customers, expanding into new markets and developing new products and services without the benefit of large staffing and capital resources.
KAPPA Mapping was founded in 2003 when several partners purchased a well-established mapping firm located in downtown Bangor, Maine. While continuing to offer all
|Claire Kiedrowski, president of KAPPA Mapping, created the Rent-a-Mentor program to bring innovative ideas and up-to-date processes into her company.|
types of aerial imagery and mapping, softcopy photogrammetry, digital orthophotography and GIS services, Claire Kiedrowski, president of KAPPA, recognized a shift in purchasing habits among local and state entities as the economy struggled and government budgets were slashed. To save money, government agencies joined forces as members of multi-year cooperative agreements, which were attractive to larger firms with fleets of aircraft, cameras and sensors, as well as in-house production capabilities. Small regional firms were less likely to be cost competitive on large projects and thus a portion of their traditional market space eroded.
“When I started KAPPA Mapping I was excited about the prospect of working with clients from start to finish on projects to ensure they got exactly what they needed,” said Kiedrowski. “We focused on keeping our in-house technical capabilities extremely flexible. Our small staff is adept at stepping into someone else’s workflow and working with data from small, medium and large cameras and LiDAR sensors, and working with clients who use a variety of softcopy workstations, different layering schemes and various engineering specifications. This is what makes KAPPA Mapping unique; however, our overflow services started shrinking due to development of in-house capabilities at the large firms and some of our traditional government clients had their priorities change and their contracting methods modified. I needed to get creative to inject new life into my business.”
Kiedrowski was inspired by a mentor-protégé program offered in some federal government contracts that incentivizes prime contractors to provide developmental assistance to small firms to improve their chances to compete on future contracts. Agencies that offer this program include DoD, FAA, NASA and Homeland Security. Kiedrowski decided to explore ways to leverage existing technical skills among other professionals who could share their expertise with her staff as a way of keeping KAPPA Mapping competitive and attractive as a prime contractor and partner.
So far, two mentors have joined KAPPA Mapping for specific assignments. Jim Haley, retired from James W. Sewall Company after 45 years in the business, accepted Kiedrowski’s offer to work on a stereo compilation project for KAPPA. “It is hard to find experienced compilers that can do quality work,” Kiedrowski said. “Companies used to train someone for two to three years to learn to compile, but now that commitment from a firm (and an employee!) is rare. Jim assisted with our collection macro development and made other suggestions to improve our work flow. He was a terrific sounding board for our younger employees who benefited from his vast experience, and I think he enjoyed the opportunity to give something back to the profession.”
The second mentor, Tom Asbeck, owner of PointCloud Mapping LLC and formerly at Aero-metric and Photo Science, was hired to assist with combining LiDAR workflows to improve efficiency and exploiting publicly available datasets for extraction of additional value-added data for municipalities, counties and other clients.
“This type of mentoring has a lot of value primarily because technology is changing so rapidly,” Asbeck said. “Small businesses operate in a production environment and typically don’t have time for research and development to identify process improvements, while large companies can afford staff that focuses on efficiency and implementing new technology. The KAPPA Mapping employees are receptive because it increases their knowledge and the quality of their work. This is a wonderful approach to explore new possibilities.”
“The impetus for starting the Rent-a-Mentor program is to keep up with the big players in the rapidly changing geospatial profession by bringing training, research and development into KAPPA Mapping, at a price we can afford,” Kiedrowski said. “We maintain forward momentum by exposing our employees to innovative methods while improving our services and expanding our offerings. It’s a win-win for KAPPA Mapping, our employees, and the mentors. We plan to continue the mentor program as other appropriate projects arise.”
|KAPPA Mapping extracted bare earth as well as trees, buildings and a water tower from LiDAR data.|