Planning for tomorrow’s clients

May 2005 » Columns » GEOMATICS
Technology improvements always are described as the means to do work better, faster, and cheaper. However, not all new technology addresses all of these areas. Often, sacrifices are made in some areas to get gains in others.
Joseph V.R. Paiva, PhD., P.S., P.E.

Preparing a business so that it can adequately meet clients' needs has many aspects. First, there is the impact of technology on the client, as well as on the service provider. Technology improvements always are described as the means to do work better, faster, and cheaper. However, not all new technology addresses all of these areas. Often, sacrifices are made in some areas to get gains in others.

An obvious technology trend in surveying is the movement away from the plane table to modern mapping methods. Total station or RTK GPS surveys get the job done faster, but capturing the field surveyor's understanding of the terrain on paper in a graphical form occurs much better with the older and slower plane table. However, in today's world, people (we think) understand the tradeoff.

But if new tradeoffs are required as technology advances, it becomes the responsibility of the consultant to educate the client, whether that is the project owner or the design professional who will use the information generated with the new technology. Technology also can change at the client's end, impacting what information the client needs and requiring the geomatics professional to adapt.

A typical example today is the requirement that true 3-D data files be part of the plans and specifications so that the contractor can load existing and design earthwork models into earthmovers equipped with machine control. The surveyor may deliver a 3-D file to the client, but the client also may require that the surveyor work with the design professional to quality check the terrain models prepared by the designer for the contractor.

Clients' changing needs Tomorrow's clients also will be affected by national and local economic trends, government regulations and standards, and community expectations. Understanding the changes in clients' requirements for products and services is an important part of preparing for the future, as is understanding where one's business stands (compared with competitors) in its ability to meet these needs. It is relatively easy to understand how other similar businesses might change their service and product profiles to fit clients' needs, but it is just as important to understand products and services that might come from non-local sources such as satellite imagery used for many early development activities. At one time, local air mapping companies and surveyors provided information for this purpose.

New types of clients Equally important in preparing for tomorrow's clients is to understand who they will be. It is easy to plan for the future assuming that the types of clients a business has today will not change tomorrow. However, if one is planning for growth, and the business is integrating new skills, technologies, and capabilities, the firm possibly can deliver new products and services to a group that it has not served before. Also, the cost-benefit equation for new groups of potential clients could be refigured to show how products and services that in the past were inappropriate for them, or infeasible to provide, now are possible.

For example, topographic mapping can be accomplished by on-the-ground activities or by using aerial photogrammetry.

On-the-ground mapping is an intensive activity, usually suited for smaller areas. Aerial photogrammetry, on the other hand, has low per-acre costs above a certain mapping-area threshold.

This threshold occurs because the cost of capital equipment and mobilization for photogrammetry is high. With some businesses, the largest area that can be mapped cost effectively using ground surveys overlaps with the smallest area that can be mapped effectively using aerial services. Sometimes, instead of an overlap, there is a gap. A client with land of a size that falls within this gap may determine that the cost of mapping is prohibitive and put off development until something changes. While land values and development potential often are the factors that change, technological changes may allow aerial mapping or ground surveys to become cost effective and to allow the developer to proceed.

This example applies to an existing client type. It is possible, however, to develop new users of geomatics services by analyzing sectors of economic activity in the community that require spatial information of one type or another. In seeking new client types, one must put some effort into understanding what needs exist and whether current methods to derive the spatial information are sufficient. With new methods and technologies, a geomatics firm may be able to provide a type of spatial information that it never has delivered before, to a client it has not served before. The most prolific and well-known technology for achieving results that could satisfy new customers is GISrelated.

But, businesses should not hesitate to examine other opportunities for delivering new, as well as existing, products and services to new client types.

Joseph V.R. Paiva, Ph.D., P.S., P.E., is a geomatics consultant. He can be reached at paiva@cenews.com.


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