THE INTEGRATION EFFECT: One Dealer’s Drive to Support Construction Industry’s Digital Transformation

In business for better than 50 years, RDO Equipment Co., a national construction and agriculture equipment and technology dealer, has seen a lot of change in the way jobs are planned, mapped and built—but perhaps none so significant as the current digital evolution.

RDO customers add Topcon’s 3D-MCMAX to their reliable John Deere dozers and graders for unmatched grade control through RDO’s support and service team. Photo courtesy of RDO Equipment Co.

Along with heavy equipment, RDO provides drone surveying and mapping solutions through GPS, lasers, GIS, survey solutions, UAVs and machine control technology for the construction, mining, and landfill industries across the United States. The company has been a partner and dealer for Topcon for many years, a relationship that has facilitated RDO’s custom approach to helping customers explore, test and deploy the latest advancements.

Adam Gilbertson, senior vice president of Field Technology & Innovation at RDO, said, “Our ability to help customers use new technology is really our hallmark. While on paper we’re an equipment dealer, we’re really a service company. And in that role, we have essentially become an integrator as technology has taken on a significant role in the world of builders. It’s our job to demystify technology to the industry in any way we can.”

Scott Schumacher, general manager of Construction Technology at RDO, agrees, adding, “Our challenge is to help our customers understand how technology solutions, and more recently the data derived from these solutions, comes together in real-time to drive better decisions, greater productivity and a safer project.”

He points to the massive amount of data that is already produced on a jobsite from machines, UAVs, survey equipment and modeling solutions. “The ability to use that information in a timely manner to make business decisions is a huge undertaking,” Schumacher said. “But the rewards are great for our customers and their partners, clients and the community… when it works.”


RDO’s transition from equipment dealer to dealer/system integrator began more than a decade ago, as machine control technology began to take hold in the construction space.

“We realized early on that there was a knowledge gap,” Gilbertson explained. “The transition of going from a paper plan to a digital plan, for example, is a meaningful amount of work, further complicated if you don’t know what you’re doing. A customer would be interested in machine control, but didn’t have any idea how to build a model to support the workflow.”

That’s when RDO first introduced its 3D modeling and job file creation service. Today, that group has expanded to eight highly skilled, industry knowledgeable 3D modelers.

“Our goal is not to build a business at 3D file creation—our goal is to help close the gap until our customers feel comfortable to buy or invest in their own modeler, and that’s happening,” he added. “Today, we’re seeing similar challenges emerge with managing vast quantities of data from multiple sources.”

The way RDO is helping resolve the growing data dilemma is once again providing foundational services to enable digital workflows. The company now has expert data managers within RDO whose sole focus is understanding and communicating with customers about how to bring data together.

An excellent example of this shared knowledge focus is visible in RDO’s expanding UAV services.


Both Schumacher and Gilbertson noted they are seeing massive interest and adoption of UAV technology across the construction landscape.

Gilbertson confirmed, “I’ve been blown away with how many of our contractors and customers around the country have started to adopt UAV technology. Some began with really low accuracy applications initially, just capturing pictures or live video to provide visual project updates to clients. Now, they’re using it to manage earthwork quantities, map jobsites and track project progress with tremendous accuracy.”

RDO customers across their vast 12-state network are adding Topcon GPS technology to their large excavators, like this John Deere 245G excavator working on an earthwork site in Montana. Photo courtesy of RDO Equipment Co.

RDO expects interest and investment in drone technology to double over the next year—and that rapid adoption has prompted the firm to again grow related services.

“We’re continuing to expand our capabilities with our drone partners to deliver higher fidelity data,” Gilbertson added, “and, more importantly, how to turn very large datasets into a usable form quickly—that’s where artificial intelligence can help.”

“We saw a need for a deeper integration into live networks and ease-of-use for clients to run machine control and survey equipment in a connected environment. This real-time correction service gives our clients flexibility and reliability.”

Scott Schumacher, general manager of Construction Technology, RDO

Several years ago, RDO partnered with Alteia, an enterprise AI software provider to introduce RDOai, a data management platform that stores, processes and analyzes survey and machine data.

“With this platform, we can automate some of those processes and provide a real deliverable to a contractor, as opposed to a data set. That capability is going to drive new applications,” he continued.

He pointed to one example where RDOai is helping a customer complete pile quantification in a quarry using a drone. “It’s a pre-planned flight plan. The UAV goes up on a designated day and time, captures the data, which is uploaded to Amazon Web Services, where it is automatically processed in a report with current pile quantities compared to the last report.” In some cases, that data is then automatically moved into the billing software.

RDO believes the ability to turn data into insights in real-time will also prompt greater use of technology in the field, opening the door to more efficient uses of GNSS technology—and the growing value of Topcon’s Topnet Live.

“Our ability to help customers use new technology is really our hallmark.”

Adam Gilbertson, senior vice president of Field Technology & Innovation, RDO


In 2009, RDO team members partnered with Topcon to expand Topcon’s Topnet Live GNSS network service across Montana, Wyoming, North Dakota, South Dakota and Minnesota.

Schumacher said, “We saw a need for a deeper integration into live networks and ease-of-use for clients to run machine control and survey equipment in a connected environment. This real-time correction service gives our clients flexibility and reliability.”

Topnet Live includes a reference station network, correction calculation software and the correction broadcast service to help customers gather and leverage highly accurate data on projects of all scope and scale. The service is purpose-built to deliver high-accuracy GNSS correction data for site surveys, construction layout/automation, and other positioning needs.

Bill Edmonson, the company’s UAV product manager and an avid UAV proponent for the construction space, said, “In short, users have access to a differential GNSS network without having to shoot a lot of control and even without a local base station. It opens the door for a broader audience to start utilizing technology, such as machine control, on a wider range of projects.”

RDO customers have realized some great success with the service. “We’ve seen customers start to adopt it a lot more recently, largely because of the ease of use, but also because it reduces the initial investment in hardware. It’s a very cost effective entry into GNSS-enabled tasks whether for surveying or construction. For those who have already made the investment, this network allows for them to repurpose those receivers as rovers.”

“With this network, a contractor can fly a site to calculate earthwork quantities, adjust models to newly constructed conditions and rework 3D models with impressive accuracy.”

Bill Edmonson, UAV product manager, RDO

With the Topnet Live network, contractors can access real-time kinematic (RTK) corrections for rovers/receivers without needing a local base station. RDO customers can use Topnet Live at their site to access the network through cellular/internet. Also, these users can resell access to the network, generating additional revenue.

For instance, from a UAV perspective, the biggest benefit of Topnet Live in the construction space is it enables accurate geotagging of aerial imagery and point clouds without the need for ground control points, improving efficiency of site surveys. “With this network, a contractor can fly a site to calculate earthwork quantities, adjust models to newly constructed conditions and rework 3D models with impressive accuracy,” Edmonson added. “It’s also creating opportunities for new uses of GNSS positioning that weren’t previously considered. For example, now contractors are able to do topographic surveys before bidding on a project, quickly and accurately.”

It also supports automated systems and mixed fleets on jobsites Edmonson continued, “It’s an easier, faster way to run machine control and survey equipment in a connected environment. Many of our civil construction customers have deployed semi-permanent and permanent Topnet Live stations at their jobsites to support earthwork activities.”

Positioning data from Topnet Live can be integrated with construction equipment and systems to enable features like automated machine guidance and progress tracking against design models.

Looking forward, the accurate, real-time positioning data from a network like Topnet Live will be essential for the deployment of autonomous machines in the future. Edmonson confirmed, “As automated equipment becomes more common, a robust positioning network such as Topnet Live is essential because it will allow machines from different OEMs to work together seamlessly on mixed fleets at construction sites.”

Topcon and RDO are working to grow the network around all of RDO’s regions across the country.

Schumacher concluded, “Solutions such as Topnet Live and even RDOai are essential to immersing technology into the construction workflow. It’s all about flexibility and opportunity. As we see some of these new products coming out, the availability of instant network correction is going to allow more contractors to invest in technology solutions and build that digital workflow. Most know they need it, and even want it, but implementation can be a challenge—and that’s where we’re here to help.”