When AeroMetric was assigned the tremendous task of developing a geospatial land base for the Navajo Housing Authority, the team members knew they were in for a challenge. In a project area encompassing 19.2-million acres of desert across four states with extremely rugged terrain, AeroMetric was charged with establishing a precise ground control network; developing a custom, project-wide horizontal datum; obtaining digital imagery; and creating a digital elevation model (DEM) and digital orthoimagery at 0.5 meter ground sample distance for the base layers of the system. The sheer size of the project was daunting. The rugged terrain and impending rainy season only added to the complexity.

Against this backdrop, AeroMetric shone. Ahead of schedule and on budget, the firm delivered a custom map projection tailored to the project area, detailed digital elevation data and comprehensive four-band orthoimagery that provides a comprehensive digital land base for the Navajo Housing Authority’s land information system. It was a project that earned AeroMetric accolades from the client—and the Grand Award in the 2012 MAPPS Excellence Awards competition.

Four other geospatial services firms and one technology developer were also honored with awards during a reception held on Tuesday, Oct. 30, at the MAPPS/ASPRS Joint Specialty Conference in Tampa, Fla.:

  • Photo Science: Airborne and Satellite Acquisition - LiDAR for the North East
  • Merrick & Company: Remote Sensing - Enhancing Airfield Safety with LiDAR Technology; and Surveying/Field Data Collection - Barrenlands, Bombs and Boundary Surveys
  • Sidwell: GIS/IT- City of Storm Lake GIS/GPS Project
  • KAPPA Mapping: Small Projects - Mapping Fishing Gear and Lines to Reduce Whale Entanglements
  • RIEGL USA: Technology Innovation - Scanning the Seas

The winning geospatial services firms represented both large corporations and small businesses, and the project size and scope varied greatly. But all four companies exhibited key characteristics that can be applied by any geospatial firm seeking to achieve excellence.

1. Perception. AeroMetric’s first step was to look at the big picture of what needed to be accomplished. The team then developed a project methodology that was continually reviewed and adjusted as the project moved forward.

When Sidwell was assigned the task of developing a comprehensive geospatial inventory of critical municipal infrastructure and robust information deployment solution for the City of Storm Lake, Iowa, the company first sat down with city officials to understand their business needs and discuss the goals and vision for the project, and then developed a plan to meet those needs.

In every successful project, proper planning is essential

2. Collaboration. AeroMetric attributed its success, in part, to having a “powerful team” that included Towill, Surdex and Aerial Surveys International. In fact, one of the firm’s core competencies is “assembling strong multi-firm teams and coordinating team efforts so that all work together in a seamless collaborative environment to provide maximum value to the client.”

To digitally map and locate lobster gear as well as the vertical lines that connect the buoys to the ocean-floor trap along Maine’s 3500-mile coast for the Maine Department of Marine Resources, KAPPA Mapping teamed with Keystone Aerial Surveys, a firm with a Microsoft UltraCAM Xp digital camera and expertise in image acquisition. Together the two firms were able to successfully address data acquisition challenges that emerged during the course of the project.

Sidwell collaborated with city and county officials, a local university, a financial software vendor and a local engineering firm, Kuehl & Payer Ltd. For Photo Science and Merrick, close collaboration among the various stakeholders was key to achieving a successful outcome.

Regardless of the project size and scope, a collaborative approach can lead to improved results and new opportunities.

3. Communication. When adverse weather and rough sea conditions threatened to push KAPPA Mapping’s project off-course, the firm worked closely with the client to convey timely information and achieve a successful resolution.

In Merrick’s survey of the 1.7 million acre active bombing range, clear, continuous, and accurate communication between Merrick’s office personnel, field crews, Air Force base and bombing range management personnel, and the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) district that oversaw the project was vital for managing and developing strategies to complete the different tasks associated with the project.

Clear communication throughout any project is imperative to ensuring client satisfaction.

4. Flexibility. While Merrick’s survey crews were in the field at the Barry M. Goldwater Range at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona, the firm’s project manager continuously updated the detailed work plan to adjust for changes in conditions. Likewise, AeroMetric’s flexible approach allowed the team to perfect a custom workflow over time based on best-of-class tools and techniques.

When KAPPA Mapping encountered challenges obtaining clear buoy locations using an automated algorithm, the firm changed its tactic and engaged all of its analysts to collect and locate more than 65,000 lobster buoys using stereo photography and photo interpretation.

Challenges are inevitable, and unforeseen problems can sometimes arise. Adaptability is key to overcoming obstacles and finding new ways to flourish.

5. Innovation. After confirming that manual breakline collection for the entire project area would not be feasible within schedule and budget constraints, the AeroMetric team automatically generated a 2-meter post-spacing DEM, which was 16 times more dense than required by the final deliverables. This higher-resolution DEM captured the vast majority of the terrain changes, minimizing the need for manual breakline collection while increasing the confidence in the final DEM results.

In Merrick’s airfield obstruction survey for Dobbins Air Force Base, the firm successfully applied a combination of high-density helicopter-based LiDAR, color digital aerial photography, and GPS control surveying to model the obstruction identification surface in 3D. It was the first use of LiDAR technology as the basis for Merrick’s analysis for airfield obstruction identification within the Air Force Reserve Command.

For KAPPA Mapping, innovation involved the creative use of existing technologies to provide a cost-effective method to reliably count fishing gear (and vertical lines) in regulated waters for the management of the endangered right whales.

Innovation can mean applying a new technology or a new approach. It requires looking at challenges from different angles to find alternative solutions. In the geospatial business world, innovation is key to growth.

6. Professionalism. “Your team addressed the critical challenges for this project with determination and professionalism,” noted the client letter for the AeroMetric project. “The services AeroMetric provided for the Navajo Housing Authority project reflect well on the value that AeroMetric and the geospatial profession bring to the development and economic growth of our nation.”

The client letter for Sidwell’s project pointed out, “The Sidwell team is friendly and professional. They continue to support our needs and address any questions and issues that arise.” The client for KAPPA Mapping’s project had this to say: “KAPPA Mapping was able to accomplish the project tasks in the face of many unforeseen obstacles by being flexible, innovative and motivated to produce the best possible outcome for all parties.”

Professionalism matters and is an essential characteristic of any geospatial firm seeking to achieve excellence. (See the related POB article, Seven Attributes of Professionalism.)

Geospatial firms that continually strive to achieve a high standard of excellence boost the image of the entire profession. It’s a goal worth aiming for.