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What does the surveying industry look like in 2021?

By Charles Thomson
June 9, 2020
We explore what the surveying industry will look like in 2021 — from advancements in 5G to autonomous vehicles.

2020 has been a year of unexpected change. However, this article is really about ongoing transformations that would have shaped 2021 under any circumstances. Market disruption will likely accelerate these changes. But baseline technological change is poised to shape a new future in surveying, and you should take notice. 

Some of the most relevant technologies that will have a bigger part to play include:

  • 3D scanning and point cloud analysis 
  • Mobile and cloud computing
  • 5G networks
  • Wireless sensor networks
  • Machine vision 
  • Autonomous vehicles 
  • Building Information Modelling (BIM) 

The push of data analytics driven by advances in artificial intelligence (AI) is also poised to be a game-changer.

While all this technology will play a part, we need to be wary of picturing a world of robots building infrastructure and 3D printers producing flawless bespoke components. “We always overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years, and underestimate the change that will occur in the next ten” according to Bill Gates. Given that the construction industry has stubbornly remained largely unchanged for decades, this quote should remain front-of-mind while reading this article.   

With that said, KPMG’s Global Construction Survey 2019 does hint at a sea-change underway. Leading construction companies are now treating innovation and creativity as a core part of their cultures — not an add on. They are creating a technology vision that is communicated across the organisation and supported by action and investment. The surveying industry is not expected to look quite like this in 2021 — but many, out of self-preservation, will be taking steps towards it.


Exploring the cloud for efficiency and flexibility

If the global economy has learned anything during recent events, it’s that digital transformation, powered by the cloud, is no longer an option but a necessity.

By 2021, we will definitely see cloud-based solutions being used in many different and innovative ways. 

  • Higher-powered processing solutions will get the job done quicker. 
  • Point cloud software will take advantage of this processing power. 
  • The option to scale processing when needed will be business-as-usual for more surveying companies.

The cloud brings huge potential for remote collaboration and improves the integration of survey technology into construction workflows and other industries. However, one area where the cloud plays a particularly dramatic role is in point cloud processing. 

LiDAR-based reality capture is a hugely valuable tool for surveyors. However, it’s hamstrung by slow processing speeds. The cloud lets surveyors dynamically scale up and down access to computing power. Combined with advanced multi-stage, vector-based registration software, the right cloud-based software can cut process time by up to 80%.  


What you can do

If you want to learn more about what the cloud delivers to point cloud processing, check out our eBook — Are you ready for the cloud?”


Taking collaboration to the next level

The rapid emergence of Building Information Modelling (BIM) will continue to revolutionise the way architecture, engineering and construction firms work together to communicate, solve problems and build better projects. Cloud-enabled BIM takes the collaborative capabilities of BIM one step further — making remote access easy. 

Done well, BIM reduces mistakes, limits human error, and can avert project conflicts. The ability to use reality capture and survey technology to create “as-built BIM”, which updates project plans to match project outcomes, will continue to contribute to improved outcomes and increased collaboration between surveyors and construction teams. With the right cloud-based improvements, LiDAR can be used to scan buildings and prefabricated materials at every stage of construction, entirely removing the risk of errors.  


Remote working as the norm

Surveying, by its nature, has always been a remote-working profession. What will change is what “going back to the office” means. Over the last months, we have learned that you can work digitally, and people can share data. More and more often, surveyors will likely go from the field back to their homes to finish the job — empowered by cloud computing to access the needed processing power anyway.  


Building in flexibility

By 2021, certain aspects may become a common occurrence, such as the need to close down a site and open up again in a short space of time. By using the cloud, processing can become more “agile” taking advantage of the ability to scale up and scale down resources as and when needed.

What you can do

Surveyors need to put in place the foundations for remote workflows. That starts with the cloud-based advanced to point cloud processing we have already discussed. However, it also extends to piloting collaborative systems such as Microsoft Teams or Slack. They are usually free to start with — and you can learn a great deal about how you can get the most from these tools. 


New skills and new technologies 

According to the PropTech 2020 report, 53% of surveyors now work for an organisation with a digital or data strategy, and another 26% are in the process of developing one. Taking advantage of these changes will be critical to firms looking to retain a competitive advantage. 

Efficiency is important, but so is removing human operators from risk. Just like in the construction industry, survey advancements are likely to focus on removing humans from dangerous tasks. Automation is also likely to take over the tedious tasks, freeing up time for more fulfilling work. Over the next two years, the industry will start to look beyond copying human capabilities and exploring the possibilities of what automation can offer that humans alone can’t.

One technology area we can expect to see take-off even more by 2021 is the use of drones in surveying. The rapid development of drones has led to a significant increase in their use for mapping, building assessments and land and agriculture management. 

More specifically, the mobility and versatility of these UAVs has allowed surveyors to inspect areas that have previously been deemed unsafe for access. Not only reducing the risk of personal injury for many inspectors, but also providing a cost-effective solution to a previously time-consuming task. 


A better future

"It is far better to foresee even without certainty than not to foresee at all. "

— Henri Poincare

Every profession is being challenged at the present time, and surveying is no different. How we approach our current challenges and harness the power of the technology at our disposal really matters. The data we have at our disposal means we can address the business issues that matter most to our colleagues and clients. 

According to Turner and Townsend’s 2019 International Construction Market survey, two-thirds of construction markets globally report a shortage of skills. Reality capture technology, in particular, can help automate away some of these shortages, and is one of many reasons we see an increasing symbiosis between construction and survey teams — just one of several opportunities presented to surveyors.  

Technology is challenging us to be more effective with our time, freeing us up to do the more rewarding parts of the job. We will all need to become more proficient in its use. But, while technology offers great promise, it has its limits, and professional judgement will continue to be vital. 

To stay relevant in these rapidly changing times, we will all need to keep learning. That means looking at new technology and finding creative ways to deploy new tools and techniques to improve and expand capabilities. Get out there and start planning. 

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Tags: surveying