Technology advances are making it faster and easier for surveying and mapping professionals to collect data and provide increasingly sophisticated deliverables that solve complex problems for clients. But the situation also presents a challenge. With technology changing so rapidly, any new investment typically must pay for itself within five years, if not less. How can a firm make a solid business case to invest in the latest-state-of-the art 3D laser scanning system—or any new technology?

At Langan, an international engineering and environmental consulting firm headquartered in Elmwood Park, N.J., staying on the leading edge of 3D laser scanning technology is a chief objective for the firm’s surveying and mapping group. An early adopter of scanning technology, the company has rapidly expanded its arsenal of laser scanning equipment and expertise within the last several years. In 2006, the firm purchased one of the early Leica Geosystems ScanStation units. Since then, the firm has added a Leica ScanStation 2, a Leica HDS6000 and a Leica ScanStation C10. Recently Langan became the first to purchase the new Leica ScanStation P20, a robust, ultrahigh speed laser scanner that provides high scan density and high accuracy.

Related Article: Why Langan Purchased a Leica P20

At any given time, all five of the scanners are in operation on various projects, from large infrastructure surveys to building information modeling (BIM) for a wide range of facilities and clients, and Langan sometimes needs to rent additional scanners to meet demanding project deadlines. How has the firm made laser scanning such a successful part of its business? According to Joseph Romano, PLS, vice president of the firm’s surveying and mapping group, there are no shortcuts. “With technology, everything is very dynamic; it’s always changing,” he said. “You have to keep track of the latest advances and make smart decisions to stay on the leading edge.”

Following are six strategies that can be implemented by any firm seeking to get the best return on their technology investment.

1. Identify Your Niche. The rapid pace of technology innovation presents exciting new opportunities, but trying to keep up with all the latest advances can be both frustrating and futile. Instead, investments should be made strategically and aligned with the company’s primary areas of expertise. “We can’t jump on every new technology as it comes out just because it’s new,” Romano said. “We have to make sure we’re making the right decision. Each piece of equipment has a specific role and fits a niche for us. We have to stay within our core strengths.”

2. Understand Your Capabilities. Investing in new technology is just one part of the equation. Although some clients might actively seek service providers who use the latest piece of equipment or software, most are more interested in how a firm’s capabilities fit a specific need. “As clients become more knowledgeable about the equipment and options available, having current technology is important,” said Matt Sipple, PLS, project surveyor for Langan, “but being able to explain why we use that equipment is just as critical.”

3. Stay Up to Date on Software. With the trend toward building information modeling (BIM) and integrated project delivery (IPD), clients are looking for ways to add intelligence to their datasets. Often software can be a differentiating factor in choosing a service provider. “BIM and IPD are becoming more common as a final deliverable, and there’s a lot more demand for 3D design,” Sipple said. “Clients want more working models and datasets they can integrate into their own workflows. Staying on top of software development is critical to meeting these needs.”

4. Go Beyond the Minimum. A benefit of modern technology is that it can expand a surveyor’s capabilities far beyond what was traditionally possible. Although there is such a thing as providing too much data all at once (does the client really need billions of points in that model?), it can be difficult to predict the downstream requirements of a project. “Once we’ve collected the data, we can’t increase its accuracy, so it needs to be collected correctly and for more than its intended purpose,” Romano said. “We try to anticipate our client’s needs and structure our data collection efforts accordingly.”

This often means capturing data surrounding the project site in case any other needs arise. “Making additional data available as needed keeps the costs manageable for the client while streamlining the process,” Sipple said. “It also allows us to continue to add value as a project progresses.”

5. Break Down Barriers. Achieving success with a new technology requires identifying the potential barriers as well as knowing how to skillfully remove them. For example, individuals within a firm might be resistant to change or may lack the understanding needed to fully embrace a new technology. Creating a seamless flow of information often requires adapting to new processes and breaking down silos between roles or departments. It also requires investing more time in the planning stages to ensure a successful outcome.

6. Invest in Relationships. Relationships are crucial in business, and this is especially true when investing in new technology. Having a strong network of partners and clients can make all the difference in how quickly a new technology investment provides a return. “We value the relationships we have with our hardware and software providers,” Romano said. “The feedback we give to them is critical, and they’ve never let us down.”

Langan also maintains relationships with past clients and participates in professional and community events to make sure the firm understands where the needs are in the market. “Some of our past clients that didn’t have an interest in 3D previously now have a client that wants something in 3D or BIM. They’re calling us up saying, ‘Hey, I remember you guys had that 3D laser scanning technology,’” Romano says. “In other cases, we’ve made connections at a trade show or professional event that took time to come to fruition but led to new projects eight to 12 months later. It’s all about relationships, and you have to nurture those wherever you are in the process.”

Note: This article is preview of a longer article, “ROI: How to Make Technology Pay Off,” that will appear in the May 2013 issue of POB.