Actionable Data Differentiates Today's Surveyors

“Think Forward” was the theme of this year’s Hexagon conference; a detailed account of the event, including discussion on the trend of company acquisitions and consolidations, is on our website.
an interview with Ken Mooyman

During the conference, Professional Surveyor Magazine sat with Ken Mooyman, president, Hexagon Geosystems NAFTA, who is also responsible for brands including GeoMax, MicroSurvey, ZI, Leica Geosystems, and APE. What’s striking while talking with Ken is his genuine enthusiasm for his work, his customers, and his products. We heard a few anecdotes from his fascinating surveying roots and how these experiences have shaped his views on the “synergy” of positioning technologies with workflow and process.
PSM: You grew up in Brockville, Ontario; what elements of your youthful experiences led you to a career in surveying?

Ken: [With a broad grin] I like to think I’ve done plenty of growing up since then. There were too many outside influences during my first year in the surveying program at Algonquin College, so I dropped out. My father, the construction manager at [a local chemical plant] arranged for me to work sandblasting some tanks that were part of the rayon and nylon production process. So here I am in summer in these vessels with masks and protective gear, and by the end of summer I had applied for and was back in school as there was no way I was going to keep doing that.

PSM: When did you graduate from Algonquin College, and did you start your own company right away?

Ken: I graduated in 1981 after the winter quarter and went to work for a land surveyor. We were doing property subdividing work in a very remote part of Ontario, that was cottage country.... The winter was a good time to do this kind of work as it was very efficient to set up in the center of a frozen lake and see all of the lakefront property corners from there. However, like the job at [the chemical plant], after trudging through four feet of snow for 12 hours a day,  I realized I didn’t want to do this for the rest of my life. I knew a fellow graduate [from Algonquin College] who was involved with a company that produced planning and processing software for satellite surveying; prior to GPS there was the Transit system [Doppler]. I learned to use these tools, and then started my own company.

PSM: Your company was called 681012?

Ken: That’s kind of an interesting story. Here I was, a recent survey graduate, and I didn’t know anything about the marketing stuff yet, so I went to register my company, and they said if I want to register a company name it would be like $500, or if they just gave me the next number in the [register], it would be only about $100  (I don’t remember the exact amounts). I said “I’ll take that.”
I started doing consulting on either large Doppler projects or large inertial projects. GPS technology was just starting to come out, and what we found was that these companies were using these new technologies, but what they really didn’t know was how to integrate them into these large scale projects; they didn’t know how to manage the workflows—and that’s where I found a real niche.

PSM: Take me down the path that led to Leica Geosystems and Hexagon.

Ken: Through my company I worked a number of years as a project manager on large-scale surveying projects that used these new high-tech and innovative surveying tools (intertial, Doppler satellite, radar, and eventually GPS).  In 1987 I was doing a lot of contract work for Trimble, which led me to work for them starting in training and support. By 2000 I was looking for a new challenge in the surveying field, and laser scanning was looking promising. I went to work for a start up called Cyra, which was bought out by Leica Geosystems. A couple of years later we had the good fortune to be purchased by Hexagon, and here we are.

PSM: On that subject of Hexagon and acquisitions, there is always apprehension among users about big companies buying out small ones. With regards to, say, recently acquired MicroSurvey, do you see them as an independent group preparing solutions for the other divisions of Hexagon; might we see them developing, for example, for the Leica product line, perhaps modules for LGO?

Ken: When [people] say “the integration of MicroSurvey,” we have to be careful; there is no integration of the company of MicroSurvey. There is absolutely an integration of the MicroSurvey SW with the products from the other Hexagon groups, like Leica Geosystems. The goal is to provide customers via these integrated solutions a more streamlined and productive workflow. The closer the collaboration and development of HW and SW innovation, the better for the customer.  It is more and more difficult for independent SW developers or single line HW manufactures in the surveying industry to get the most of the HW, SW synergies.

But MicroSurvey also works independently with other non-Hexagon companies. This is something that we want to stress up front because it is a key component of our business model. Many of MicroSurvey’s largest customers are manufacturers overseas, and we absolutely promote that and continue to provide the necessary support to grow that part of the business.

PSM: As an example, the GeoMax brand that we saw in the exhibition hall—would this be considered an “entry level” product line?

Ken: It can vary around the world; for us in NAFTA [markets in the United States, Canada, Mexico, et al.], I wouldn’t call it entry level. For us it is a different brand that would be used to gain entry into different applications or markets where the Leica Geosystems brand may not fit so well. It can be positioned based more on pricing, but I wouldn’t say “entry level” because it has full functionality at the price point.

PSM: What would be some examples of a market for the GeoMax brand?

Ken: We have to make sure at Hexagon, and with the other manufacturers as well, that we understand that there are customers who put value in different things, such as workflow, or perhaps service and support, or ease of use is also a good one. At Leica Geosystems, we want to ensure that we offer the very best in support—not just in the concept of traditional support people, but in having support products (like innovation upgrades, remote diagnostics, on-site trainers, etc.)

Although we provide traditional support for GeoMax we don’t offer as many of the support products I just mentioned.  That’s because GeoMax customers might not put as much value in such products.  For example, if someone has a Leica Geosystems [solution], then it can continue to be upgraded with firmware or traded in, but, on the other hand, customers might not really care about that. [If] I want to buy an instrument because I have a one-year project with a specific task, then maybe the GeoMax might be the best choice. It is another example of our goal to provide customers with a choice.

PSM: These might be a good choice for other mapping and positioning applications like forestry?

Ken: I think that brings up another discussion; when you say something like “forester” and think of other people working outside of the surveying industry, then I think we are really talking about applications: What is their workflow, and what is their application? That is where a couple of things can happen, and that is where MicroSurvey can come into play. This is where we are trying to use MicroSurvey in NAFTA to provide local applications.

That is a message I love about this [approach] … I do not think, as in the example of the forester, that they necessarily need to [apply a full surveying solution] to the application they are doing. Clearly, though, if they are doing true surveying, if they are doing cadastral work, then that needs to be done by a surveyor. However, if they are putting positions on trees to study them for growth or insects or [such], then this is a good solution. There is traditional cadastral surveying and there are many other applications that use geospatial (surveying) data.

PSM: What is your take on the “scanning boom” that so many surveyors feel a bit apprehensive about?

Ken: If you asked me personally, I feel fortunate to be part of it and am so excited about how much [scanning] will be able to improve our ability to do what it is that we do. Where I would like to see more work is on the combining of scanners, total stations, GNSS rovers, what have you. Whether that’s through workflows, office software, or something else, I think those are the next steps necessary to ensure that the surveyor exploring the subject is not thinking, “Oh no, not this scanning stuff again.” There are always concerns about change, and the best way for you to deal with concerns about change is to make it less disruptive for the [new user]. This is an area where we need to work harder.

PSM: At an earlier presentation at the conference today, you pointed out that nearly 80% of the people who signed up for the scan cloud processing session were from the process, plant, and marine industries. Is this something of concern for surveyors?

Ken: The specific training was Cloudworx, which is not standalone but runs inside other software like CAD or design SW such as AutoCAD and so on. I equate the [situation] with the early days of GIS and the [involvement] of surveyors. I believe that scanning (and this is something I’ve promoted for many years) is another opportunity for surveyors to take their value proposition further.  That is where I talked about Fenstermaker [and Associates, Inc] during the keynote. They saw the potential of this, started to do some of the modeling, and realized there was more value for them [in expanding into new markets in water, marine, energy, etc.].

Surveyors can do that because they are geospatially aware, so they can take that workflow further into adding value for their customers, as opposed to surveyors who just buy scanners for capturing data in the field, taking just the raw data and giving it to the engineers to use. How are we going to differentiate ourselves as surveyors if all we are doing is pressing a button, capturing data, and giving that data to somebody else? That creates a situation in which [we] could only compete on price.  Unless we continue to evolve and maximize our skills and grow past competition solely based on price, the surveying industry is going to have a difficult time keeping up on the education and salary requirements of those young kids out of school.

PSM: Is the data from a scanner a sort of (and this is not meant in a negative way) “dumb” collection of measurements that takes a skilled hand to make sense of it?

Ken: Yes, the scan is almost a single button: a quick scan. However, if we are not careful as surveyors, this could have an almost negative effect. For instance, if you wanted to measure this room with a total station, you would have to have some deeper awareness of what points to capture to be able to accurately define the geometry of the room; you would need a little more education or experience, but [not so] with the scanner. So, although the scan data is simple to capture, we have to be careful as surveyors if we do not also include more of the downstream workflow [to add full value].

PSM: What is the coolest thing you have seen in this industry in recent years? What excites you as a former ground-pounding surveyor?

Ken: We can talk about all of this new innovation with regards to tools, we can talk about all this new stuff with scanning—there is a lot of new stuff coming, that’s all very exciting—but I think what excites me the most is the opportunity for young surveyors coming out of college who have good geospatial awareness, who know how to manage datums, coordinate systems, and transformations, and all these important things. I’m excited they have these incredible futures because the use of geospatial data is becoming more and more ubiquitous in our society. I know it sounds a lot like rhetoric, but it’s true; we see here at the Hexagon conference just how much [geospatial data] is being used by the [process and plant people, by city managers/planners, by large scale manufactures, by engineering procurement construction companies, by public safety, etc.].

PSM: We get the feeling from listening to the keynotes that the biggest gains are currently in process and workflow, not necessarily just in the advances in hardware. Would you consider this a fair characterization?

Ken: I think that is what we [Hexagon] have been trying to say and what Ola [Ola Rollén, Hexagon CEO] has been saying. Here he is, someone from outside of our [surveying] industry, and look what he did with the Leica Geosystems acquisition. He saw that here is a company with the best tools for measuring and capturing this geospatial data. Now we’ve got this geospatial data, and just like a surveyor, what do I do with this? Sure I could throw it over the fence, but the value is not in the data alone; it is in what you do with it. Of course, the garbage-in-garbage-out theory applies; it has to be the very best geospatial data. You can have the best geospatial data possible, but it is not until you turn it into “actionable information” that the true value is [realized].

And for a lot of us, myself included, it took someone from outside of our industry to really engrain that thought. This is where I think surveyors can add even more value. This vision of the future excites me.

» Back to our August 2012 Issue