How do you differentiate yourself as a consulting engineer?
With more and more civil engineers entering the workforce–one estimate is that around 16K new graduates are produced yearly (about 50% of them are civil engineers), and with more and more engineering firms set up each year, the developers ( AKA the clients) are spoiled with a large pool of consulting firms to choose from. Engineering consulting is fast becoming (or has already become??) a red sea market. Maintaining your competitive advantage is more crucial now than ever.
But how? Competing on cheaper fees is one way, but not preferable for obvious reasons. The consultant fees are already as low as they can get, further reducing them is detrimental to everyone– including the developers, because that would also mean less attention being able to devote to the projects at hand.
A more sustainable way is to add value by providing additional services. Sometimes it doesn’t really matter if the quality of the services rendered is less than existing ones; if your service is good enough for your clients but a lot cheaper than the alternatives, then you still WIN the job.
Our job for MiTS is simple: to make you look good in the eyes of your clients. And today we are going to show you how you can do just that: you can now do a site study and preliminary design even before you have surveyor data.
Preliminary site design #
Before the clients are committed to buying a site for development, sometimes they want to know the topography of the sites– the water flow paths, the relative levels of cut and fill at various spots, where’s the pit and the zenith, and so on, and so on– so that they can do preliminary design and initial cost estimation.
At this point of time, it’s not yet economically feasible to send in the surveyors to do the surveying. Even using drones to survey the site is still considered expensive by the ever cost conscious clients. So they turn to you– their consultants, and ask you to produce a rough site plan so that they could have a feel of it.
And they don’t need a very accurate cut and fill result. It doesn’t really matter even if your estimation is a few orders of magnitude different than the final outcome, what is important is that you need to produce a number, and the number shall give the clients a gut feel on the scale of the project, and shall serve as the starting point for all the ensuing discussion.
Google Earth Import+ Watershed #
Alpha Consultant, a consultant based in Sabah, Kota Kinabalu, with some thirty years of experience in construction and consulting engineering, has seen first-hand how the client’s demand also evolves with technology. To the Principal, Ir Kong Chee Vui, the Google Earth import and the watershed module in MiTS are super useful in doing preliminary site studies and designs under tight deadlines and a literally miniscule budget.
But Google Earth Import requires a credit card! #
In order to use the Google Earth module, you must register a Google Earth Elevation API key on the Google Console. To complete the verification process, a genuine credit card is needed. This is a blocker for many.
Some users are hesitant to use this feature because they are afraid of credit card fraud. But by now, we are so used to buying things online that using a credit card online should be a no brainer. Furthermore, as an international brand, Google security is much higher than regional shopping platforms like Lazada or Shopee. So this point should be moot by now.
Some engineers are reluctant to use their own credit card for company projects. To them, we can offer a suggestion. You can use your own Google account and key in your credit card and get the key. The MiTS software is designed in such a way that the API key will only reside on that machine, in an encrypted location. It wouldn’t be copied around when you pass your projects around. So it is safe.
Furthermore, you can revoke the API key anytime: after you resign from the company, after you no longer use the machine, or just after you are done with getting the Google Earth Elevation data for one time. You have full control!
Fortune favors the brave #
Before using the Google Earth Import module, Ir. Kong also had the same concerns. He emailed in to voice out his concerns and we replied as per the above.
Our answer must have convinced him to try on the Google earth import module, because later on he came back to us with a minor bug in the Google Earth tracing image, which we promptly fixed and a new version dispatched. As a sanity check, we also reran his project on our side and confirmed that everything was working well. The site that he worked on showed exquisite clients. All these results would enable him to start discussing with his clients on the site, a feat that would be impossible if he had to wait for the actual surveyor’s data and had nothing to show in the meantime.
I asked him if it bothered him for a minute to hand over his credit card details to a big corporation. He replied in negative, saying that this is just the rule of the game. He also confirmed that for multiple similar projects he dealt with, his credit card was not charged, not even once, because he never uses the API beyond the free tier.
This is how you add value in the eyes of your clients, by performing seemingly impressive feats with the help of technology. And in this case, all it takes is to just be brave enough to trust Google with your credit card. One doesn’t even have to pay for the usage! Free lunch it is.
MiTS in action #
Just to give you an idea how easy the whole process is in MiTS, you can refer to the below video on how this is done.
Note that this Watershed study was done on the Ayer Hitam Reserve forest, Wawasan Puchong; it is not Ir. Kong’s project site in Sabah. But still, you can see how well the generated streamlines match up with the hills and valleys. Such a starking visual agreement serves as a verification for the watershed algorithm that we use.
Since this is quite an advanced feature and we don’t want you to use the feature blindly without understanding. We also prepare a lot of resources for you to read on to enhance user understanding such as;
User Manual – Watershed
Case Study – Watershed Case Study
Modelling Techniques – Watershed Delineation in 3D View
Before the advent of satellite technology, the only way to study the topological features of a site was to send in real humans to do a quantity survey. Then satellite technologies like SRTM, LiDAR and drones came along, and one could just purchase the satellite data and somehow come up with the watershed delineation, either by hand (yes, it’s possible though tedious) or by feeding the elevation data into GIS software like ArGIS. But still, it was a cumbersome process because the elevation data was hard to come by and the GIS software was not really easy to use.
As Alpha Consultant’s experience showed, with MiTS, the whole process of obtaining elevation data and doing preliminary site study suddenly becomes easy and free (if you do not exceed the API free tier limit.) And if you run into trouble, we are always ready to help.
True, the quality of the Google earth elevation you get in MiTS is no match for the survey points measured by a real human. But it doesn’t matter because such a level of accuracy is already adequate for the developer’s purpose. Precisely due to cheaper costs, the developers can do more of such studies, which helps in their decision process and in maintaining their bottom lines.
Therefore, your role as their consultant is to leverage the right tool and to turn yourself into an oracle–compared to your competitors, and more importantly, in the eyes of your clients.
So do yourself a favor, take out your credit card and get a Google Earth Elevation API key. Try it on our software, experiment with it on different sites and different continents even, just look at the 3D view and the generated watershed, and be prepared to be blown away by it. You will realize how fortunate you are to live in the 21st century, when technological progress is lightyears ahead of what was a few generations ago.
About Alpha Consultant #
Ir. Kong is one of our early users based in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah. He used our software back then when it was still in the early stages of development. At that time he was using / trying other reputable / well known / industry standard software, for earthwork and infra design, but couldn’t really get a hang of them because they were just so complicated and not intuitive for an engineer, and with so many different modules. “Then we came along and pretty much changed the game with a single software for infra design” (his words not ours.)
Well, we think that he was just overly kind to us, nonetheless we really thank him for his trust in us and we are glad that he grows with us. He is really a valuable user that we acquired. MiTS can grow because of users like Ir. Kong. Thank you so much.