Denny Welch

Senior Vice President for Survey for Topcon and Sokkia

In the boom-and-bust economy that has characterized the construction marketplace for the past several years, one thing has remained constant: When jobs were scarce, companies that invested in around-the-corner technologies put themselves in a position to charge full-speed ahead to capture a larger share of the market opportunities today … and in the future.

Denny Welch, senior vice president, Survey, for Topcon and Sokkia, can clearly define the necessity of companies to adopt the digital job site philosophy—
tying in all phases of a job site with specialized software and machine-automation systems designed to take a project from the planning stage to field and finish. He elaborates in this interview.

Q: Even during the deepest trough of the recession, the economic mantra from Topcon and Sokkia has never changed: Invest in around-the-corner technology! Now! The companies have been adamant that survey firms need to research technological advances and purchase advanced precise-positioning instruments to remain competitive. Has that message changed?

A: No, and it won’t today, or in the future. Surveyors not feeling an overwhelming competitive rush and a need to invest in new technology that transforms every project into a complete digital job site are putting their future in jeopardy. Is that a harsh and non-compromising statement? Absolutely. But, that doesn’t make it any less true.

The secret to success in the survey business—from planning and bidding a job, from taking the first measurement to collecting and analyzing data—is how to get the most work done in the least amount of time with maximum efficiency. That’s a business truism that will not change regardless of the economy. Saving time is what is important.

At Topcon, the first priority of every instrument we design and manufacture is to enable our customers to save time while providing vital and accurate information that’s critical on the digital job site. Many successful companies took a chance on precise positioning technology when it was in its infancy and have been successful because of that investment.

Q: Sounds like you’re on a mission.

A: Well, I am certainly passionate about this subject, not just because this is the business we’re in, but because I know it’s true. To be truly successful, to grow, a company must have a fighting chance to win every single job for which they submit a bid. To effectively compete for every possible job, companies have to invest in the best technology available. And, more importantly, you have to be ready to change. Change is a part of business, and few surveyors will deny that the industry has dramatically changed in the past several years.

Q: “Competitive.” That’s a word you 
use a lot.

A: In the world of business, there are winners and losers. I believe if you are not growing your business, you are in decline, stagnating, or dying. A great many survey companies have been declining or, at best, stagnating over the past several years. But those companies that invested in technology to save time—and that are willing to change the way things used to be done to the way they must be done today in order to compete—created opportunities to be more productive, and many actually saw their bottom line increase. In any business, dropping more money to the bottom line is a good sign of a progressive, forward-thinking company.

Q: What technology is available that can create a competitive advantage for companies today?

A: Just about anything you can think of is already available. The future of survey applications is here. Advanced technologies are available in everything from digital levels to 3D scanners, total stations, and imaging stations. The around-the-corner technologies provide enhanced productivity and versatility through integrated digital imaging. Automation in the scanning feature, virtual viewing of points on a computer display, and absolute control of the instrument from a personal computer or a remote location are being used worldwide.

Such innovations create safer job sites and allow operators to work in the comfort of a vehicle or job-site trailer in harsh weather conditions.

Additionally, the incredible advances in software integration allow a high degree of versatility and application in the areas of property boundary surveys and topographical surveys, subdivision and construction layout, and support for linear projects, particularly roads.

Q: Earlier you said that the survey industry is in a revolution of change, and that surveyors at every level need to be change merchants. Please explain.

A: Talk about change! The technology and information revolution is evident everywhere in the marketplace. If surveyors are not willing to change their perspective of the work they do, to expand their expertise to include the newest technologies, they are limiting their earning potential.

Think for a minute how the world of surveying has changed. How long ago was it that mapping of roadways, streets, and utilities took a herd of workers and a lot of time? Today, with mobile mapping, which combines multiple technologies in a single system, you can map roadways at 60 mph. You can create maps with GNSS accuracy while capturing images and locations of everything in the mapped area, from buildings to trees to street signs.

Another example is Topcon’s new RTP-300 real time profiler that attaches to the rear of a vehicle and collects surface data at speeds of up to 65 miles per hour. It creates an exact model of the road surface. How long would this take to do the old-fashioned way?
The collected information from both mapping and profiling systems can be easily stored, retrieved, and used by multiple parties in various locations in myriad ways.

Q: And the bottom line is …?

A: Again, saving time and money and increasing productivity exponentially should be the ultimate goal of every business. Becoming a change merchant for your company and adopting modern technology and expanding your business model can help you reach that goal.
This interview was conducted by C. Jason Smith, Ph.D., a literature professor at LaGuardia College and co-founder of Disciple and Publish, a writer’s co-op based in New York City.

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