A Conversation with McSteen CEO, Kevin Woeste
Tell us about your role with McSteen Land Surveyors
I serve as CEO of McSteen, but for the past year have spent much of my time overseeing the day-to-day operations of the Survey Department. However, we recently hired a Manager for that group, so I am now looking forward to committing my time to working on the short and long-term vision of McSteen.
At McSteen Land Surveyors, we see innovation and the use of cutting edge technology as a core fundamental that is driving the growth of our company. While this has been a part of our company from the beginning, we have really begun to define our roles internally over the past few years, based on our individual skill sets. Technology has always interested me, so I’ve also stepped into overseeing the technical division and guiding the company’s focus, vision, and direction with regards to technology.
What are some of your goals for this year?
We set a few goals at the beginning of the year, many of which lie in the technology realm. In working with various companies over the years before joining McSteen, I have seen how an efficient workflow is the key to making life easier in production and making the company more efficient overall.
Fortunately, our previous CEO, Debbie, instilled this culture in McSteen during her years leading the operations of the company. She began using an in-house tracking system about fifteen years ago, which was unheard of the industry at that time. With that start, we are able to really take it to the next level now.
So what does this technology look like now?
We call it Survey Tracker. It allows our clients to login, order a survey, track the survey, and receive a final copy of it. And while we are really proud of this, we are working towards the development and launch of Survey Tracker 2.0 that we can easily integrate throughout our entire organization. And if all goes well, we may launch the platform to the public as early as next year.
Because Survey Tracker 2.0 integrates all of our divisions into one platform, we really think that this has the potential to revolutionize our internal processes as well as the entire industry.
Why is being on the cutting edge of technology so important to McSteen?
We have always looked at technology as a way to become more efficient. From early on in McSteen’s history, we have been early adopters of technology. We frequently participate in alpha and beta testing for companies as they bring new technologies to the market. It is our intent to look to where technology is going so that we can set our goals accordingly. As a company, we see the value of investing time and money into technology early in the process rather than waiting for it to be fully fleshed out.
Our projects right now are ahead of many of our competitors. By being early adopters, we are looking 2 to 3 years ahead. Meaning the things that we are playing with now are things that we can implement in 2-3 years.
For example, we were early adopters of open-sourced survey-grade GPS that allowed us to have a GPS app on our phone. By pushing along with the company who developed this GPS, they have now released a stand alone app that we are looking to integrate into our system. It took time, for sure, as we were on a waiting list for 6 months before receiving it, then had to work through bugs. After that it took an additional 6 months to get it to the standards we expect of our equipment at which point we were ready to start rolling it out. We have since scaled it to about 6 crews and are hoping to double that usage among our crews over the course of the next 12 months.
How do you think your use of technology differentiates McSteen from other land surveying companies?
The theme across the board is that we look at technology as a tool to help us become efficient. We use the workflow to see where the industry is going and then we work to push it forward. For example, by developing our McSteen Field App, we have been able to create great efficiencies throughout our company. In fact we are not just more efficient, but are able to provide better and more accurate information for our clients. Every crew has its own iPad, and uploads data real time rather than messing with individual files and FAXing information, which we used to have to do not all that long ago.
The important thing to note, however, is that no matter how important we think technology is to our company, it will never replace our staff. We want to find tools to make the job easier for our crews, but not replace them. There will always be a need for surveyors in the field, locating monuments and collecting data.
Over the next 2-4 years, we are focusing on what new technology will be developed. Because the survey industry is rather small and does not invest in a lot of R&D for technology on its own, we oftentimes look to what is happening in other industries. By doing so, we can try to determine how we can use these new technologies in surveying.
Commonly in the survey industry, companies want new tools to be developed and mainstreamed before they adopt so it takes years before they are able to benefit from them. That’s not our favored approach. We try to balance being an early adopter of technology without getting burned too frequently on tools that just won’t work for us. This requires a lot of internal testing, which our team embraces.
We believe that even the smallest gain in efficiency can have an impact when doing a large number of surveys. Decreasing the time that a project takes to complete will help us be more efficient and allow us to offer better service to our clients.