Geo Week News

April 20, 2012

What the H-E-double hockey sticks!?


At the recent SPAR International conference this week there was a lot of talk about new and emerging technology. Cloud computing, 3D printers, drone scanning, augmented reality, and the dreaded — as one person put it the “scanner killer” — photogrammetry were all presented.

Many in the audience showed visible discomfort at the possibility that the lidar service they’ve been offering may not materialize into the golden goose quite as planned. One attendee asked me if there was any true opportunity to go big as a service provider. He was concerned that the business he was working so hard to create may be dead very soon.

Are we climbing the proverbial ladder only to find it was leaning against the wrong wall?

Others shared a concern and were frustrated that they couldn’t keep up with all the new technology and its required investments. And by “investments” I mean the human resource element, not the hardware or software expense. After all, how can you make money when the rules seem to keep changing?

Don’t freak out just yet.

Reality Check 

It’s only my 3rd SPAR event but I must admit that many of the shiny baubles that I once believed to be cornerstones of our business are no longer there … or maybe never really existed. Perhaps it’s age, but more likely it’s because I’ve learned from my own mistakes over time. It’s through those lessons and being fortunate to have honed some of my own skills that I don’t quite believe everything I saw presented this week.

This is the crowd for the lidar vs. photogrammetry session. Think there was some interest?

Framed another way—nobody comes to SPAR to present who doesn’t have a desire to be the expert within their profession. And human nature dictates that we don’t want to look like knuckleheads in front of our peer group. So, from my standpoint and that of several I spoke with, there were some fantastic presentations, but if you looked behind the curtain there was some blur between fact and fiction at times. Sort of the way food has some additives to make it look better than it really is.

So somewhere between the real bleeding edge and lipstick-on-a-pig, we learned a lot. And I would suggest that makes all attendees better as it serves as a catalyst for innovation. One person makes a claim and others try to replicate it, or destroy it. Either way, it leads to more discovery and speeds evolution.

I like to look at SPAR as a cattle prod for my brain that forces me to rethink my own business. And it benefits our industry overall because it’s not loyal to any one manufacturer.

It’s All Good 

So don’t push the panic button just yet. I think the fantastic advancements in technology we witnessed can have two significant benefits for service providers. First of all, we are getting more tools to in our arsenal to meet our client’s needs. The more focus you place on making your customers successful, the more customers you’ll get. And when you get to that position, you move from a simple service provider to a consultant. Profit margins are always better when you’re consulting than when you’re competing on an open bid. 

Secondly, the evolution in technology places you ahead of the players who are new to this 3D space. You have the experience that others don’t. And with further democratization, you’ll have to work less to educate the client (fun, but very cost inefficient) and have the ability to spend more time on activities that directly relate to driving revenue.

Furthermore, the innovations you witnessed should make your job easier. From ClearEdge’s new modeling abilities to Mantis Vision’s ability to create point clouds in a matter of seconds, it helps us all by ultimately reducing costs. So while your project revenue may decrease, I’d suggest your margins should actually improve.

Got Strategy? 

There are thousands of business books out there regarding strategy and I think most all of them deal with the topic of change. So in the face of the continuous changing technology, I’d suggest your company have a strategy that embraces it. Most of the world doesn’t attend SPAR and is still naïve to the latest and greatest technology. So you have time to capture some lower hanging fruit while planning for the future.

What do your clients want and need today? Don’t overwhelm your customers with too much … don’t offer a trip to the moon, if all they want now is a bounce on a trampoline.

What we do as service providers is measure things really fast and very accurately in 3D. And there’s a lot of opportunity to measure out there, at least for the remainder of your lifetime. Now that you’ve seen some new ideas, build your business to accommodate where you think the ship is sailing.

The point is while we all want to know where this industry is taking us — and we got a glimpse into that at SPAR last week — I’m not convinced we really completely know. However, I am convinced that if you listen to your customers, don’t over complicate things, and provide a quality service, you’ll be in great shape with whatever the future holds.

You can’t control the technology train … so embrace it. The scenario played out at SPAR reminds me of a story: As winter approached, the native Americans and the National Weather Service both cared greatly about the upcoming winter forecast. The tribe members kept watching the NWS report about the upcoming winter and the news kept getting progressively worse, so they put away an enormous portion of their harvest and introduced severe austerity measures. Then, the NWS reports grew more threatening about the adverse winter ahead to the point of near panic. The tribe bunkered down and took measures that hadn’t been implemented for decades.

Finally, someone though to ask the NWS about why they had projected such a horrible winter forecast. They said they had never seen the native American tribe take such austere measures and it could only mean a rough winter was ahead.

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