Technics at 30

This year Technics reaches a major milestone: 30 years in business. We couldn’t have done it without the support of our clients and our team; thank you to everyone.

To mark the occasion, our Chairman Graham Mills looks back over the last three decades and to the challenges and opportunities ahead.

30 years ago, I started Technics, equipped only with a manual theodolite and drawing board – and it was a time of adventure.

Anyone who knows me will have heard the anecdotes before, but one I won’t easily forget is the time when I was out on my own, surveying the gardens of a disused country house in the autumn. Walking along a path covered in leaves I fell, chest-deep, into a sludge pit. I managed to get myself out and back to the car, but had to strip off before driving home for a shower!

While this might not have been my proudest moment, there have been many to overshadow that particular day.

We now survey nearly a thousand projects every year, and we’ve been trusted to provide survey data on some of the UK’s most complex and key projects, including Battersea Power Station, The Gherkin, London Bridge Station (pictured below), Crossrail, HS2, and Kingsnorth Power Station, to name a few.

In the early days it was difficult to break into the larger business without a track record. However, we undertook the pilot project for Crossrail in Hanover Square back in the early 2000s, a study to determine whether utility mapping would be better than utility company record drawings. They excavated on our survey results, which proved the high accuracy of our data and demonstrated that the utility company record drawings were not fit for design purpose. We then advised on the utility mapping specification and ended up surveying large swathes of London for this prestigious project.

More recently, the team at Heathrow Airport had been told by other survey companies that Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) did not work well on its site. After many discussions, I offered for us to survey a sample area free of charge. We proved that GPR worked successfully (scan data below) and it then became a permanent requirement in their specification, and we went on to undertake many surveys on this complex site and continue to work there today.

Throughout this time, Technics has also been involved with industry bodies and initiatives, such as the Government task groups Survey4BIM and the UK BIM Alliance, to help the profession as a whole move forward, and I was honoured to be the President of The Survey Association for five years. I currently am on the TSA Council and sit on the Survey Liaison Group (SLG) which involves TSA, RICS and ICES, and was one of the instigators behind the PAS128 utility standard. With colleagues at the SLG, we created the new GeoBusiness conference and exhibition, which I chaired two years ago.

I think it is essential to help younger people to understand what we do and encourage them into the profession. We therefore participate in school events including talks, careers evenings and TeenTech and also community events such as Innovate Guildford.

Technology has, of course, changed the way that everyone and everything works. One of the biggest changes has been the evolution of digital laser instruments for site work and computer-aided draughting on the office side. The evolution of new faster data capture instruments has transformed how we work – a pace of change that is still accelerating.

I have always invested in new equipment, instruments, computers, and software. If you don’t, you fall behind the curve very quickly. We have also pushed ahead by developing our own survey software routines, creating GPR processing software, and partnering to create the first tow-along multi-channel GPR instrument.

It is all very well us investing in technology, however, it is essential that our clients see a real benefit from it. I am proud that we have developed very close client relationships, some of which started 30 years ago and continue today. Working closely with them and listening to their needs helps to inform the investments we make and the development of the surveys and data we provide.

I’m often asked about the technology we use, and which is the best. For me the answer is simple – the next one! Technical advances in both instruments and software will continue to accelerate. Virtual and augmented reality and immersive visualisations will become the normal output for survey data and artificial intelligence and robotic process automation will increasingly take over from human tasks. We always need to evolve, and Technics is looking at all its own processes, and developing systems to automate them as a result.

From an entrepreneurial point of view, I’m most interested in where the instruments and software are going and I have a particular interest in artificial intelligence and where it will take us.

Some parts of data collection and surveying are becoming more automated, but it is essential that this is underpinned by detailed knowledge and surveying skills. However good your technology and however far forward you look, you still need people to fully understand what clients require and to add to their experiences as projects move ahead.

Above all, I am proudest of the team we’ve built up here. Technics has been the springboard for many careers, giving people the initial opportunity and then nurturing their growth and advancement – not least our now Managing Director John Macintyre who has been with us for 24 years, starting as a trainee surveyor. Enabling this development and seeing large numbers of people move through the ranks from assistant surveyor at the beginning into management roles has been an enormous privilege.

Together, we’re very proud of the way we bring technology and experience together to help our clients solve the most challenging surveying problems quickly, and as a result become part of their teams. With the pace of change in data capture, software, and visualisation, we will continue to apply the best technologies to add value to their projects, for the next 30 years at least!