This column is sponsored by ESRI
Deciding on the purchase of new geotechnology is something that I’d do by looking at the cost, expected lifecycle and maintenance expenses weighed against the contribution of the purchase toward the organization’s insight, efficiency and bottom line. Geotechnology purchases require a varying scale of commitment because there are multiple levels of cost and complexity.
The geotechnology toolset is comprised of data collection hardware, software and systems, data, expert services, and the various means to communicate geospatial information. An expensive and long-term system purchase would require much more detailed analysis than the purchase of a low-cost handheld mobile mapping device or software for a specific task.
The various categories of geotechnology expenditure each deserve a separate look, for they’re all unique in terms of determining cost vs. benefit. Some purchases are easy for their low-cost and quick return, and others require long-term spending and commitment to achieve their rewards.
When I consider the category of geotechnology hardware, I’m thinking primarily of field tools for the collection and communication of geospatial data. Field tools range from handheld GPS mapping tools, to rugged computers with integrated GPS, to survey-grade measurement tools to LIDAR scanners.
Field mapping hardware offers varying degrees of accuracy, portability and communication capability based on price. When you pay more, you usually get more functionality. When considering a purchase of handheld mapping tools, I would define requirements for speed, accuracy, usability, dependability and weigh those against the budget.
Some wrangling with budget limitations would occur if for instance I found that by spending a bit less per unit I could get enough units for all fieldworkers. Having everyone equipped may prove better versus purchasing just a few high-end units that have the greatest accuracy. This and other debates are where the requirements of the job really come into play.
Software and Systems
The large and ongoing cost of a system purchase would likely fall into rigorous cost justification and budgeting processes that would involve several layers of management and detailed cost justification. The complexities of starting fresh or replacing a system investment with the offering of another vendor require the most detailed analysis of any geotechnology purchase.
Users and vendors now understand these cost justifications better than ever before. The work done by the Geospatial Information Technology Association on return on investment studies has fostered a workbook, workshops and detailed spreadsheets to adequately quantify the returns. This measured and meticulous approach to cost justification makes the hard job of defining and defending a large system purchase much easier.
When considering desktop software purchase, I would look to software reviews and user communities in order to asses capabilities and the user’s comfort with the products. An active user community that’s willing to assist other users would factor in heavily on the decision.
Geotechnology systems require a great deal of data. While there is free data in some parts of the world, all systems require the purchase of data at some point. There’s always a need for the freshest and most accurate base layer possible.
Beyond the base map, there’s a need to ingest demographic information and other data types depending on what you’re aiming to analyze. Data purchase costs vary depending on the information that you’re after and the size of the geography that you’d like to look at. There’s not a great deal of cost competition in this market as the requirements generally dictate the price.
When contemplating a data purchase, I’d look to form partnerships to spread the cost around and to gain access to broader areas. Data clearinghouses work beautifully in the geotechnology space and are a win-win for government and geospatially-aligned businesses.
The tools for printing maps or mapbooks should be considered communication tools along with the software and systems for web mapping. With communication tools, you’re looking to reach the most amount of people in the quickest time for the cheapest cost. Generally all purchase decisions here relate to the balance of those three elements.
If you’re buying a large format printer, you’re considering network connectivity to reach all members of the workgroup, with the fastest print speed and the lowest cost of print materials. With web mapping software and systems, you’re interested in the largest server capacity, the fastest bandwidth and application speeds with the least amount of expenses.
There’s a varying need for outside expertise and services in the geotechnology area. A consultant is generally needed at varying system implementation or customization efforts. The justification of this expense can be difficult, particularly if in-house help has failed to achieve the outcome and you need outside help to complete the task.
If I were a customer contemplating hiring a consultant for installation or customization work, I’d make heavy use of referrals and would want to conduct detailed interviews to make certain the consultants approach worked well with my staff. I’d also want to create many incentives in the contract for speed, documentation/training, and ensure a high level of end user satisfaction.
The question of how to purchase geotechnology is tough to answer without a specific case in mind. There are a great many motivations behind investments in geotechnology, yet all have similar objectives. An investment in geotechnology provides greater insight–increasing understanding while at the same time improving organizational efficiency. Geotechnology rewards are both tangible and intangible, which make it hard to quantify. One can only think of a life before or without geotechnology to start putting a lack of this capability in perspective.
Read what Jeff Thurston has to say on this subject here.