Knowledge is Not Enough—Interview With Ken Mooyman

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Forget about the bears. Beware of the mating geese. These were the solemn words Ken Mooyman, President of Leica Geosystems NAFTA, heard 30 years ago the first time he was dropped off by a helicopter in the wilds of Northern Quebec for a three-day stretch. Armed with only a tent, sleeping bag, canteens, books, canned food, and surveying equipment, the 22-year-old did field observations for the James Bay Hydro Project using Magnavox and JMR Transit (Doppler) satellite surveying gear. Back then it took three days of observations to get a position of about 20 centimeters accuracy, versus the mere seconds it takes to get a one- to two-centimeter position today.

Mooyman was born and raised in Brockville, Ontario, which nests along the St. Lawrence River in the picturesque region known as the Thousand Islands. Breathtaking in its rugged and natural beauty, the sparsely populated, rural surroundings provided ample opportunity to develop self reliance and find great pleasure in the outdoors–so much so that, like many surveyors, he grew up favoring the outdoors over the confined environment of school. To encourage him to go to college, his father wisely helped him get a job cleaning giant vessels–a less-than-stimulating pastime–at a nearby DuPont chemical plant.

It had the desired effect and it wasn’t long before Ken yearned for something more challenging. So he enrolled in a three-year surveying-technology program at Algonquin College in Ontario. While he studied fundamentals and practical subjects, he worked in a series of jobs. They included doing construction stakeout as a survey rodman for the county. While the work was sometimes monotonous, he observed and became fascinated by the impact of pre-planning, workflow and project management on the outcome of a job. He was also introduced to Wild equipment for the first time and, according to the young rodman’s perspective, every time a Wild salesman came for a visit, he was treated like a rock star! It was a portent of things to come.

Today, he works to cultivate that same interest in younger generations. Leica Geosystems maintains a relationship with many of the university surveying programs–including Cal State Fresno–and the company has a three-way partnership with the University of Oregon. Leica Geosystems supplies the university with the latest gear, and David Evans & Associates provides instructors, who teach the students the latest workflows as part of the survey lab. The company also supports Ferris State University in Michigan, which recently awarded Ken an honorary PhD for his contributions to the surveying industry. In accepting the award, he remarked that it should really go to Leica Geosystems and its employees. He paraphrased a Ferris State billboard he had seen on the way into town that stated, "Knowledge is Not Enough," and he lauded the university for creating what he calls "work-ready students." This, he says, is only possible when the students have state-of-the-art equipment to learn on, are instructed on current workflows and are taught how to use their knowledge to problem solve.

After his own graduation from Algonquin College in the winter of 1981, Ken became an instrument man for a local surveying firm, staking property corners for a lake-property development project. In spite of colder temperatures, the work was easier when the lakes were frozen, as many corners could be seen from one setup on the frozen lake. Ken grew to love surveying. He loved the need for practical and common sense problem solving and how technology was accelerating this need. However, while he enjoyed the physical and logistical aspects of the job, he yearned for something more.

So he started a company–Ontario 681012–in Ottawa, as a vehicle to offer his services doing Doppler and inertial surveying all over North America. From this he learned how to manage projects, new technology and data. Ontario 681012 also managed a number of large projects in Saudi Arabia, including a two-year power line project. That project was essentially a "trial by fire," demanding new business skills. For example, he generated new revenue (to keep the company afloat and employees paid) by convincing the project’s owners to allow his company to provide input on the power line’s design as well. That taught him a valuable lesson: surveyors need to exploit geospatial data as a means of expanding their offerings.

In 1985, his company was hired by GeoHydro in Rockville, MD. GeoHydro was one of the first commercial companies to perform GPS surveying in the United States, and they did the first GPS project in Canada. Working with industry pioneers Jim Collins, Sam Baker and Ilari Koskelo, Ken rose to the rank of VP of operations. Ken said, "We were using the Macrometer V-1000 back then and you could not process the data until you got the ephemeris data some weeks later. The Macrometer V-1000 also had a significant challenge in that all the receivers needed to be synchronized before the observation and as quickly as possible afterwards. Otherwise, after a few hours, too much drift occurred time-wise to make the data usable."

Once again, planning, workflow and project management became critical to the success of the project because there were few checks that could be done before demobilization on a project. However, even with all the challenges, he saw that the new technology was enabling users to do more –for example, it allowed traditional surveying firms to broaden their business model by doing geodetic and control surveying.

Ken thrived on challenging situations and ongoing experience taught him the value of QA/QC procedures to reduce the number of site re-visits. And because GeoHydro had purchased timing receivers from Trimble to sync the Macrometer V-1000s, he got to know the Trimble people. In 1988 he went to work for them in Sunnyvale, Calif. While he was there, his education (which included earning a bachelor’s degree in business) continued as he learned how to demonstrate to companies the value that technology can bring to an organization. He also gained knowledge and experience in training, support, and sales.

After many years in an office, he yearned to be "out in the trenches" again, solving problems and working with people. So, in 2000, he took a job at Cyra Technologies, the pioneering laser scanning hardware and software company. He became their VP of sales and support. Six months later, Cyra was purchased by Leica Geosystems, and thus began his eleven-year (and counting) career with Leica Geosystems.

In 2001, Ken moved to the Netherlands to establish the Leica Geosystems HDS (scanning) European operation. Working with the strong European operations was a real eye opener for him. He realized that it was not just about technology: He learned the importance of working closely with customers to ensure they had the knowledge and skills necessary to get the most out of the latest technologies. In 2003 he moved back to the HDS headquarters in San Ramon, California. In 2005, he became the manager of the innovative and emerging scanning business unit. Towards the end of 2007 he became the VP of sales and support for Leica Geosystems Surveying and HDS business in the NAFTA region and, in September 2008, he took on his current role as the president of Leica Geosystems, NAFTA.

Ken is understandably proud to be part of Leica Geosystems and of what the organization has accomplished and stands for. He is quick to mention that even during these tough economic conditions, the company has spent 10-12 percent of its revenues each year on R&D. To that end, Hexagon, the Swedish congl
omerate that purchased Leica Geosystems in 2005, also recently acquired Intergraph, another giant in the geospatial industry. Hexagon CEO Ola Rollén provided the reasoning behind the acquisition in his keynote at the first Hexagon User Conference in Orlando in June 2011 (see The American Surveyor, Vol. 8, Num. 7). As he explained, the synergy created by all of Hexagon’s acquisitions will bring "new actionable information built on our design, visualization and measurement technologies." Another important acquisition by Hexagon took place in 2008 when it bought NovAtel, the Canadian GNSS developer that supplies the boards for Leica’s GNSS gear.

Looking ahead, Ken says the Hexagon family of companies will take an integrated approach to the geospatial information lifecycle, concentrating on technologies that produce actionable results, which are deliverable to mobile devices, desktops and via cloud-based offerings. He thinks cloud computing will become a major factor in the industry in the next few years and expects mobile computing and cloud-enabling geospatial applications and platforms to extend the use of geographic data and information to an increasingly large number of users. "We expect to see a growing use of geospatial technology in most business sectors–especially those focused on `green’ projects," he says. And he adds that Leica Geosystems will play a significant role in developing the next generation of technologies, which will enable surveyors to capitalize on our industries ever-accelerating opportunities.

In 2011, Leica Geosystems’ parent company, Hexagon, introduced a sensor-to-internet approach to the use of geospatial data. Ken says that is exactly what is needed to improve the management of the explosion of geospatial data that is essential for the profession going forward. He sees surveyors staying involved further along the value chain– owning workflow through software and managing data through GIS–instead of simply, as he says, "throwing it over the fence" to engineers or architects. "It’s more than just creating coordinates. It’s about adding value. We need a whole new class of geospatial managers (surveyors) who own the project currency–what we call geospatial data–from beginning to end."

As we have seen, the value that Ken brings to his position and his company is extensive. He is a real surveyor who has spent time in the field. He knows how to combine theory and practicality. He has created and managed companies, understands the value of technology and knows why surveyors are intrinsic to our collective future. "The pace of change in the world is increasing," he says. "This reality presents tremendous challenges, but also opportunity. For example, a key issue in the United States going forward is infrastructure. A 2009 report by the American Society of Civil Engineers put the price tag of necessary repairs now at $2.2 trillion–up from $1.6 trillion in 2005. This daunting reality presents an enormous challenge for the United States, but also an enormous opportunity for our profession. Surveyors will remain essential to our society and help shape this country’s future."

Marc Cheves is editor of the magazine.

A 1.369Mb PDF of this article as it appeared in the magazine—complete with images—is available by clicking HERE