Collision Course: Service Providers vs. Contractors

by Ken Smerz

In the last 5-8 years there have been many upstart business ventures that provide laser scanning as a service. These early adopters have chased what they see as the lowest hanging fruit--building information modeling (BIM) in the commercial/industrial construction market. To grow, these companies have been forced to educate the marketplace on laser scanning (a new technology) and prove that it really does work. Some customers signed up, but these were typically only the larger construction firms who could afford to take the risk.

Those firms that did sign up continued to outsource their scanning for a while, but that’s changing—quickly. Now that the BIM and virtual design construction (VDC) guys within these firms have been educated in the value of scanning by the service providers, they’ve started to do their own laser scanning. They’ve even convinced senior management that they can be more cost effective if they do it themselves.

So what does that mean for the service providers who have been breaking their backs educating end users? Will the market remain, or have service providers worked themselves out of a job?

I believe this change is a very good thing for everyone involved. Here’s why—


This raises the question: When does it make more sense for a contractor to outsource laser scanning or complete this scope of work in house?


When to Outsource:

The contractor (or architect/MEP guys) should outsource to a service provider when the project is a renovation of an existing condition. Whether it’s capturing topography or completing an accurate as-built of a structure, it’s far more cost effective to outsource the data collection, and possibly modeling than attempting to complete the work in-house.

This is because the service provider can almost always complete the laser scanning in a visit or two. And since it’s “what they do”, they can produce an end deliverable much faster than a contractor can. Furthermore, it saves the contractor’s labor for doing things that are directly relative to the mission and not a custom project.


When to Laser Scan In-house:

It’s nearly impossible for a service provider to be cost effective on a new build where the site conditions are continually evolving—and in most cases the design model evolves. A provider simply cannot mobilize as often as necessary to provide usable data in a timely manner.

Also, the contractor on a new build is typically updating the design model monthly and then coordinating with other contractors. Adding a service provider just adds another layer of complexity, and that isn’t always necessary.


Regardless of which side of the fence you might fall—the fact remains that laser scanning will continue to grow more prevalent in upcoming years, so the sooner you’re able to articulate your plan for integration, the quicker you can take advantage.

As always—I appreciate comments and/or opposing viewpoints. I can be reached at

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