Geo Week News

August 31, 2015

Collision Course: Service Providers vs. Contractors

Building 3D LiDAR scan

In the last 5-8 years there have been many upstart business ventures that provide laser scanning as a service. These early adopters have chased what they see as the lowest hanging fruit–building information modeling (BIM) in the commercial/industrial construction market. To grow, these companies have been forced to educate the marketplace on laser scanning (a new technology) and prove that it really does work. 

Those firms that did sign up continued to outsource their scanning for a while, but that’s changing—quickly. Now that the BIM and virtual design construction (VDC) guys within these firms have been educated in the value of scanning by the service providers, they’ve started to do their own laser scanning. They’ve even convinced senior management that they can be more cost effective if they do it themselves.

This raises a few important questions. 

When does it make more sense for a contractor to outsource laser scanning or complete this scope of work in-house?

When to Outsource:
The contractor (or architect/MEP guys) should outsource to a service provider when the project is a renovation of an existing condition. Whether it’s capturing topography or completing an accurate as-built of a structure, it’s far more cost effective to outsource the data collection, and possibly modeling than attempting to complete the work in-house.

This is because the service provider can almost always complete the laser scanning in a visit or two. And since it’s “what they do”, they can produce an end deliverable much faster than a contractor can. Furthermore, it saves the contractor’s labor for doing things that are directly relative to the mission and not a custom project.

When to Laser Scan In-house:
It’s nearly impossible for a service provider to be cost effective on a new build where the site conditions are continually evolving—and in most cases the design model evolves. A provider simply cannot mobilize as often as necessary to provide usable data in a timely manner.

Also, the contractor on a new build is typically updating the design model monthly and then coordinating with other contractors. Adding a service provider just adds another layer of complexity, and that isn’t always necessary. 

What does the increase in contractors performing in-house work mean for the service providers who have been breaking their backs educating end users? Have service providers worked themselves out of a job?

 I believe this chain of events is a very good thing for everyone involved. Here’s why—

  • It saves contractors money. Contractors are going to continue to purchase scanners because it truly saves them labor and material cost.
  • It doesn’t mean contractors will stop outsourcing. There are some situations where outsourcing is better. If a contractor has already been convinced that 3D scanning is worthwhile, this compresses the sales cycle for service providers by removing the education component from the equation. Thus it costs the provider less to sell the job.
  • The future is not in 2D CAD files; it’s in 3D models. …That are accurate and useable. The more that contractors use laser scanning to create 3D models, the more they recognize the value of high quality work. This makes the service provider’s value proposition much clearer when the situation calls for outsourcing.
  • The BIM/VDC gang needs to justify their expense as they are allocated to projects, so they want control from the scanning to model creation. And ultimately, the more people that integrate laser scanning this way, the more fundamental it will become on all jobs. Again, this is a greater opportunity for service providers.

Regardless of which side of the fence you might fall—the fact remains that laser scanning will continue to grow more prevalent in upcoming years, so the sooner you’re able to articulate your plan for integration, the quicker you can take advantage.

As always—I appreciate comments and/or opposing viewpoints. I can be reached at [email protected]

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