2011: The Importance of 
a Self-Fulfilling Prophecy

By Patrick M. Olson, PLS, PPS, CP, PE

What’s Up, What’s Down?

Let me briefly reflect on the past year before casting my vision into the future. At our company in 2010, revenues increased substantially over 2009 and we project continued growth in 2011. We have fortunately been able to make modest increases in staff and hardware assets in recent months.

Reports from our friends at other firms are all over the map. Some are similarly trending upward, but others have experienced serious difficulties and have had to regroup. Many smaller firms are finding survival difficult and continue to operate with reduced staff or on reduced hours.

Where’s the Work?

  • Federal programs, both civilian and military, continue to be a substantial and reliable source of aerial acquisition and mapping work.
  • Airport obstruction mapping 
remains strong as new aircraft 
approach technologies are deployed and new federally funded airport planning programs continue. 
  • Statewide and regional orthophoto and lidar work remains an important market, typically best addressed by assembling strong teams that can successfully take advantage of limited weather windows for capturing imagery or geospatial data. 
  • County mapping work remains competitive but strong despite tight budgets. 
  • Flood-plain studies and flood-control projects continue to generate substantial lidar and photogrammetric mapping work across the country. 
  • While corridor mapping for pipelines and power transmission lines is on the increase, work for wind-farm development has been trending downward due to tight money. 
  • Even foreclosures are generating work such as surveys and imagery required for ALTA and environmental assessments. 
  • Geospatial and imagery work for land development is sti
  • ll down, but a few recent projects may be bellwethers of increased activity on that front. Photogrammetric and lidar surveys for volumetric and design applications for open pit mines and landfills remain important sources of revenue.
There is a lot more to succeeding, however, than tallying markets and opportunities.

The Importance of a Self-Fulfilling Prophecy

Recession or not, one dip or two, the world goes on, maps are made, and surveys are completed. Through good times or bad, hard work pays off, technology evolves, and confidence in our own abilities sustains us. However, fostering confidence works only when you have all the right elements coupled with a determined drive for success.

I sincerely believe that 2011 will be a banner year for our company. I say that because I have confidence that with our client base, our tools, and our staff we will make it so. We plan on success every year, and, due to our team and our tools, our prophecies tend to be self-fulfilling. I sincerely believe that the precepts are the same for any firm.

The Right Clients

If you are in the surveying and mapping business and have survived the past two years, it is very likely that you already have a strong client base. Strength lies in diversity in this context, both in the nature of your clients and their geographic location. Our firm’s business has been built on a robust mix of client types divided among consultants, industry, and government with a geographical diversity from Alaska to the East Coast. This is not an accident; nor did it happen by chance. We have worked hard for decades to develop strong client relationships and we do our level best every year to make them successful. Although much work has been done, yeoman’s work remains.

The Right Tools

If your firm is having difficulty predicting the future, perhaps you are not looking through the right lens or are not employing the right tools. Just as surveying and mapping technologies have undergone tremendous evolution in recent decades, so have management systems and methods. From business development through project management and accounting and finance, state-of-the-art tools are improving fast. Such tools are essential for any business to have the confidence to make substantial capital purchases and other financial commitments.

The Right Data

Client-relations management (CRM) systems can be bought off the shelf or built from scratch. At our firm we bought an off-the-shelf system, then hired a specialized consultant who tailored it to fit our needs. Virtually all levels of management participated in the system development and continue to suggest and implement changes for continuous improvement to keep the system dynamic.

Project-management systems can similarly be bought or built. In our case we chose to build our own, drawing on proprietary systems we already had in place. The challenge has been to make the project-management system work seamlessly with the CRM system and the accounting system, which has also evolved highly after more than a decade of use.

We implemented a tripartite system that enables us to effectively track and manage the company’s most critical elements: business development, project management, and accounting and finance. Our goal is to monitor every business and production element weekly or more often as required. We continue to work to make the system better. The only way of doing that is having all the facts readily at hand.

Drive and Determination

Clean and objective data is critical, but at some point you have to trust your instincts and those of your key staff. No software system, however sophisticated, can come close to incorporating and evaluating everything you have learned over decades of experience. The data are your reality premise; however, at the end of the day we all have to draw on our own best judgment and have the drive and determination to act.

No one questions the need for the right production tools, and no one needs to be reminded that surveying and aerial mapping is a capital-intensive business. These are givens. What takes courage is the act of upgrading one’s capabilities in the face of uncertainty.

At our firm in late 2009 we made the hard decision to trim staff as we reduced expenses, but we had enough backlog and confidence in our long-term clients to come through in 2010 that we ordered our third large-format digital aerial camera for delivery in early 2010. It proved to be a good investment, and our vision helped ensure that 2010 was a good year. We were in a position to again add staff, kept all three digital cameras busy, and had to supplement them with a similar number of digital cameras from subconsultants in addition to operating a half-dozen aerial film cameras. As we approach 2011 we have a strong backlog and are weighing the addition of a third airborne lidar sensor. These moves are based on confidence in our vision of the future but not on blind faith. The management tools we have both clarify and validate our foresight.

The Right Staff

Do not forget that all the management tools and all the determination in the world will not guarantee success without a talented and dedicated staff to execute your vision. In challenging times a strong, well led staff will deliver the performance you need to make your prophecy self-fulfilling. As the rate of change in the surveying and mapping marketplace increases, it is critically important that you have the right staff for the job, the flexibility to quickly accommodate change, and the commitment to meet specs and schedules. Always be on the lookout for the best candidates. Encourage continuing education and professional development within your staff. And constantly evaluate your staff and your structure. Reward achievement and face up to tough decisions when required.

Leadership by Example

If you want your staff to develop staff-leadership skills, set the standard by your actions. If you expect your staff to maintain high ethical standards, demonstrate them through your day-to-day dealings with clients, partners, and employees. If you expect commitment and exceptional performance, set the bar high for yourself as well. As Vince Lombardi said, “Confidence is contagious. So is lack of confidence.” Believe in your goals and broadcast that confidence to your associates.

Trying to read economic signs and listening to the talking heads lead nowhere. Instead, listen to your clients, get the right tools, monitor your data, and act on your own instincts. Have the confidence in yourself and your staff to predict that 2011 will be a great year; then make it happen.
Patrick M. “Pat” Olson is president and CEO of AeroMetric, Inc. Pat is an active member of the Management Association of Private Photogrammetric Surveys (MAPPS) and has served as MAPPS representative to COFPAES, the Council on Federal Procurement of Architectural and Engineering Services, since 2005. He also served as chairman of COFPAES in 2009 and 2010. COFPAES is comprised of delegates from the ASCE, NSPE, ASCM, AIA, and MAPPS and is dedicated to excellence and quality in Federal procurement of A/E services. Pat earned a B.S. in Civil Engineering from the University of Wisconsin-Platteville and has been in practice since 1972.

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