Surveying and Mapping Software Report: Spending Steady in 2020
POB's new study shows most surveying and construction firms are spending the same or more on software in 2020
Each year, POB examines the 2019 Survey & Mapping Industry Software Study conducted by Clear Seas Research to gain a better view of trends and spending in survey and mapping software. The dollars committed to new software and technology are a measure of growth and adoption when it comes to some of the technologies, but some of the other responses are equally if not more informative.
One important point in looking at the study results is that all respondents had to be involved in or have familiarity with the survey operations at their company. Respondents were identified as either surveyors, engineers, management, or they were classed as “other.” The management group, which could include “president,” “owner,” and other titles, dominated at 49 percent of respondents. Having said that, respondents identifying as management may also be licensed surveyors or dual licensed individuals as well as filling a management role (See Chart 1).
Looking behind the company revenue numbers may help explain how many surveyors end up in the management title category. While overall responses put 35 percent of companies in the lower earning category under $1 million, surveyor responses indicate 43 percent of their companies fall into that category, leaving 57 percent of surveyors at firms earning over $1 million (See Chart 2).
|Less Than $1 Million||35%||34%||45%||43%|
|$1 Million to $4.9 Million||25%||26%||20%||22%|
|$5 Million +||39%||41%||35%||35%|
*Those with "surveyor" job titles were mostly at firms with over $1 million in revenues.
Company size is another category where the overall pool of respondents differs somewhat from the responses provided by individuals with a surveyor title. Here, the breakdown remains about equal at a third of companies with over 100 full-time employees and a little more than a third (39 percent) reporting fewer than 20 employees. However, surveyor responses (excluding “management,” “engineer,” and “other” respondents) showed surveyors more often working at companies with 100 or more employees (42 percent) (See Chart 3).
|Less than 20||39%||36%||49%||32%|
|20 to 99||30%||26%||23%||26%|
*Those with "surveyor" job titles were more likely to work at mid- to large-sized companies.
One factor influencing all of this may be the rise in the number of respondents who are at companies where the principal business is construction. Five years ago, the 2015 study included only 6 percent of respondents at those businesses. That number grew steadily while the number at civil engineering firms, which was at 1 percent on 2015, has grown far more slowly, accounting for 7 percent of respondents in 2019. There may be an implication that professional surveyors are increasingly being absorbed into construction and civil engineering firms, or the study could simply reflect lower participation by smaller surveying-only firms. Regardless of the drivers, some of the results appear to reflect this stronger emphasis on construction (See Chart 4).
|Survey & Civil Engineering||34%||33%||37%||39%||45%|
There is a rise in the number of surveyors reporting they work at firms where the principal business is construction.
Asked about the principal type of work done at the company, “boundary survey” has hovered around 20 percent since 2016 after dropping from 34 percent in 2015. At the same time, “building and construction” jumped from 10 percent in 2015 to 23 percent in 2016 and has reached just over a third in the last two reports. Other categories have remained largely consistent over the period of the last five studies.
Taking the respondents with surveyor titles as a group, the number reporting boundary surveying as the principal type of work at their company is over 20 percent and construction lags the overall responses at 20 percent vs. 34 percent for all responses. The other notable difference is that 13 percent of surveyors report topographic surveys as the principal business where it represents only 7 percent overall (See Chart 5).
|Road/ Instrastructure/ Transport||11%||12%||12%||15%||14%||12%|
*Individuals with survey titles report their businesses perform more traditional survey work, including a higher percentage of topographic surveys than overall respondents.
Among the mix of software tools employed by respondents, it is not surprising that computer aided design (CAD) tops the list at 90 percent. This is consistent over the range of the last five studies. Similarly, civil engineering and design software has shown some tapering but remains at about 50 percent.
A couple of trends may be showing in the longer view that could be less evident simply looking at 2019 vs. 2018. One is the drop in data collector/controller software. In 2015, 83 percent of respondents reported using this type of software. That number has dropped to 55 percent in 2019. In addition, the intent to buy data collector/controller software has also dropped. Without an in-depth look at hardware trends relative to hardware design and users’ purchase and use, it is difficult to provide a reason behind the change. One explanation could be that earlier numbers reflect purchases or use of standalone software which has subsequently been provided by the hardware manufacturer (See Chart 6).
|Data Collector/ Controller||55%||56%||64%||71%||83%|
The other interesting trend is the rapid rise of building information management (BIM) software. BIM stood at zero responses in 2015 and 2016 but jumped to 20 percent in 2017 and has remained at that level. BIM has become a hot topic in construction and geospatial circles, but watching the adoption curves of other technologies in this sector shows a more cautious approach rather than a rush to follow trends. Some of the rise could be accounted for by the increase in respondents who say they are involved in construction. To take speculation a step further than that, an economic boom in construction could drive more demand for survey and geospatial services and, as a consequence, respondents are moving strongly towards adoption of BIM tools. Looking at who is interested in BIM software, surveyors are showing their customary caution. Engineers are the largest group by title expressing interest in BIM (41 percent), followed by management (22 percent). Surveyors and “other” account for 8 percent and 24 percent, respectively. As noted earlier, it is difficult to gauge how many surveyors or geospatial professionals are among the management titles.
Signing the Check
The driving force behind software spending continues to be the cost of maintaining current tools. One sub-factor in this could be that the current software has become outdated or is no longer supported. The number of respondents citing obsolescence was up slightly to 55 percent. This kept pace with those who said increased productivity and efficiency (59 percent) and advancements and features (50 percent) were important factors driving their decision to purchase (See Chart 7).
|Cost to Maintain||97%||88%|
|Current is Outdated/Unsupported||55%||52%|
|In the Budget||24%||29%|
All of those factors driving purchases in general can raise some interesting questions when respondents indicate what software purchases they are planning. Reflecting their top category of software currently being used, their top purchase intent is also for CAD software. At 54 percent of planned purchases, CAD software is not only a consistent target for upgrades, it ranks at double the next highest purchase (civil/design software and data collector/controller software, both at 24 percent).
A quiet player on the “use” and “purchase” fronts is unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). Following rule changes that greatly opened up opportunities for commercial UAV operations, this category has shown a steady rise in interest and adoption. Standing at 6 percent of use in 2015, UAV software is now at 20 percent in use and has remained at around 20 percent for four of the last five studies, coinciding with the rule changes (See Chart 8).
|Data Collector/ Controller||24%||22%||27%||34%||43%|
When it comes to new markets respondents expect to enter, the earlier points about obsolescence become more apparent. Older software may not be able to keep pace with the demands of LiDAR mapping (which 30 percent of respondents indicate they will begin). BIM also makes a strong showing at 28 percent of respondents saying this will be a new market they will enter. It is, therefore, no surprise that UAV mapping is also on this list (See Chart 9).
|Laser Scan Data Processing||22%||19%||21%|
|GIS Data Collection||20%||22%||24%|
|Contract GIS Data Collection||10%||11%||12%|
Looking at the actual dollars in respondents’ budgets can be a complex exercise. The size and make up of the companies represented by the range of respondents can mean a software budget of $10,000 in one case and $3,000,000 in another. It’s difficult to reconcile those ranges without tying them to something that runs in parallel like company size or company revenues. It would be great to be able to say that survey and geospatial companies planned to spend at a level of 10 percent of 2019 revenues for software in 2020, but the numbers available don’t provide that insight. Instead, the consistent pattern of the mean spending may help. In the current study, respondents indicate the prior-year mean budget was $207,743. The current year was $183,609. Next year’s mean budget is $222,323. That may suggest at least steady spending. And, this is supported by 45 percent of respondents saying their 2020 budget will be the same as 2019. Encouraging is the fact that 35 percent say budgets will increase (See Charts 10 & 11).
|Prior Year Mean||$207,743||$873,715|
|Current Year Mean||$183,609||$979,312|
|Next Year Mean||$222,323||$1,108,061|
|Budget will be higher||35%|
|Budget will be the same||45%|
|Budget will be lower||7%|
Except as noted by some of the interesting ups and downs in certain areas, the 2019 Survey & Mapping Industry Software Study shows consistent growth. As noted, some categories are rising faster than others and a few are tapering or trending downward. Increasing use of newer tools such as BIM, LiDAR, and UAVs certainly has an effect on related software or on the software tools that support other processes that exhibit change or growth as the newer technologies get integrated into the core business. Software remains at a mean average of 35 percent of survey and geospatial companies’ budget allocation, roughly equal to that allocated for equipment (See Chart 12).
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