Geospatial mapping has historically been a disconnected process.

Field crews collect raw survey data and then send it back to the main office to be analyzed and cataloged on a single server. Communication is limited, and production is manual and workstation-centric, with workflows being managed almost exclusively through Excel spreadsheets.

But over the past two to three years, there has been a dramatic shift in procedures. Server-based technology has emerged, and many professionals have adopted automated tools to improve workflow efficiency.

Take the editing of LiDAR data, for example.

A team breaks LiDAR data into geospatial tiles, conducts the ground classification of that data and then labels the tiles. Just three years ago, the standard process was to divide these tiles, manually assign them to different individuals to classify, then report findings in an Excel sheet. 

Today, all of this data can be hosted on a single server. Project managers schedule tiles for processing, and automated status reporting software assigns them for completion and reports back when they are completed. Management automatically receives status updates and is provided with metrics on how long each tile took to complete. This enables managers not only to see what work has been done, but whether it was completed on time and on budget.

Production shops can work on large projects with multiple technicians without the worry of locating data, tasking technicians, or having to search multiple internal software and integration systems to optimize their processing workflows.

“Today, around half of companies that do base mapping have converted to this type of technology for production,” says Lewis Graham, president of GeoCue Group, a provider of geospatial workflow management tools.

“Management does not like to be out of control, and if you have no centralized management tool and can only determine status by asking people, a project is out of control. Then when it’s late, everyone starts getting nervous. For senior managers and executives, these tools are a godsend.”

At the same time, there is often resistance to change at the production worker level since some workers find job security in being the only ones in an organization with specific project knowledge, Graham says. In the past, this psychology could cause delays in production. But with a centralized reporting and processing solution, knowledge is a shared commodity across the entire production team.

“That is the negative side of rigorous process management—it can sometimes turn the lower level into a factory environment,” he says. “But these new workflow tools encapsulate this knowledge into checklists and software processes that keep companies from being vulnerable to these types of delays.”

As the market has become more competitive, commoditization has forced a bigger drive toward best practices in the geospatial mapping arena. Companies are under continuous competitive pressure to produce more products at a higher quality—and all for less money. Adoption of automated workflow process improvements saves time and money and creates a competitive advantage.

If, as Graham estimates, roughly half of the geospatial mapping profession is already transitioning to these modernized workflows, what will be the next game-changing industry trend?

“There is definitely a drive in the software industry now for a different licensing model,” says Graham. “Companies want to be charged for fewer licenses when business cycles are down and more when they are up. Many say they want it in the cloud—but what they really want is the software rental model that goes along with that. I think you will see a move toward an enterprise model rather than individual licensing agreements.”