Conference Recap: Mapping the Future

September 1, 2009
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Brent Jones, PE, PLS, survey/engineering industry manager for ESRI, presented the welcome address.


Event: 2009 ESRI Survey & Engineering GIS Summit
HOST: ESRI, www.esri.com
Location: San Diego
Dates: July 11-14, 2009
Number of Attendees: Approx. 300
Future Dates and Location: July 10-13, 2010, San Diego


The crowd of approximately 300 people at the 2009 ESRI Survey & Engineering GIS Summit was down about 17 percent from last year. However, according to Brent Jones, PE, PLS, survey/engineering industry manager for ESRI, 36 percent of the attendees were newcomers to the event. While many of the individuals present were looking for networking opportunities and new business ideas, others were seeking confirmation that their firms are on the right track.

GIS as a Competitive Advantage

In his opening remarks, Jones noted that the drive toward high-accuracy GIS is creating opportunities for surveyors. He challenged the audience to turn project data into system data that can be used to develop a competitive advantage. “Data inside your organization is an asset and needs to be treated as such,” he said.

In the first keynote address, Juliana Blackwell, director of the NOAA National Geodetic Survey, provided a historical look at the NGS along with a glimpse of the future. She noted that the NGS is looking at ways to refine its continuously operating reference station (CORS) system to better serve the surveying and mapping professions. According to Blackwell, the GRAV-D initiative holds a significant amount of promise for the future. When fully implemented (which is estimated to occur sometime between 2019 and 2022, depending on the drivers), the GRAV-D initiative will bring an estimated $522 million in annual benefits to the nation, primarily through better flood plain management and improved planning for other natural disasters. Blackwell also noted that kinematic and real-time networks are an emergent technology. While the real value of these networks hasn’t yet been determined, this is where we’re going, she said.

Joseph W. Betit, PLS, survey manager for Dulles Transit Partners (Bechtel) in Virginia, presented the second keynote address, in which he gave an overview of the Dulles Corridor Metrorail Project. The project utilized just about every available survey technology, including laser scanning and 3D and 4D modeling. Betit said that the surveyors of the future will be “value-added surveyors”--providing operational surveys and positioning systems with active real-time control and supporting an integrated geospatial facilities management system.

The industry leadership discussion panel gave attendees a chance to discuss the various ideas that had been presented throughout the day. The panel was moderated by Joseph V.R. Paiva, PhD, PLS, PE, a respected geomatics consultant and POB contributing editor. Panelists included John Matonich, president of Rowe Engineering; Curt Sumner, LS, executive director of ACSM; and J. Peter Borbas, PLS, president of Borbas Surveying & Mapping LLC. The discussion was animated and addressed topics such as licensing for GIS professionals (most agreed such licensing isn’t practical), the best ways to see a fast bottom-line return on GIS implementation (ideas included hiring recent college graduates and letting them run with their ideas or partnering with firms that have complementary strengths), and the need to continue educating the public about the surveying profession (Sumner emphasized that a collective effort is needed). Everyone agreed that further discussion is needed in the broader surveying community to resolve the challenges that many firms face with integrating GIS capabilities.

The industry leadership discussion panel was moderated by Joseph V.R. Paiva, PhD, PLS, PE.

Successful Integration

The sessions highlighted firms and organizations that have achieved successful GIS integration. One example is Young and Associates Surveying and Mapping LLC in Forth Worth, Texas. Robert Young, president of the firm, explained how urban oil and gas drilling operations have created a valuable new market for his firm and for GIS professionals in general. “A map is worth a million words--maybe even a million bucks sometimes,” he said. He went on to explain how an accurate base map of the parcel fabric provided by ground surveys can be an invaluable asset in the decision-making process when planning new pipelines in crowded urban areas.

Young emphasized that adding survey-grade processed coordinates and high-resolution photogrammetry to a map allows for better analysis of the geographic data. “Coordination between surveyors and GIS professionals is a must,” he said. “It creates a synergy tool that helps perpetuate solutions for the surveying and GIS professions and, of course, in the end, the client of both.”

Jack Avis, PLS, GISP, of Baker-Aicklen Geomatics, another firm that has successfully integrated GIS services, suggested that surveyors are already doing GIS work; they’re “just not thinking about it that way or selling it that way.” He noted that there is a big opportunity in helping utilities and agencies convert paper documents to geodatabases for better asset management. “Restricting data use and distribution will do more harm than good,” he said, adding that surveyors need to be part of the GIS solution.

Avis advised that surveyors look for and use GIS data for proposals and project analysis, survey preparation and preliminary design, geodetic control surveys, and the management of business resources. “Seek out GPS/GIS field inventory work,” he said. “So much of that work needs to be done that people are actively trying to find someone who can do it.” He also suggested that surveyors figure out which data are needed and then geospatially enable those pieces of the data. In the discussion following Avis’ presentation, attendees noted that the return on investment might not be immediate but having GIS capabilities would generate new opportunities, essentially creating a “snowball effect” over time.

During the Surveying Special Interest Group meeting, attendees agreed that more surveying presentations are needed at the International User Conference to education GIS professionals about the surveyors’ role. Donny Sosa, surveying industry specialist for ESRI, noted that there is an opportunity for surveyors to present papers at next year’s event. Through broader participation in GIS discussions, surveyors can create new opportunities and expand their outreach.


Contributed by POB Editor Christine L. Grahl.


Be sure to check out the GIS category on RPLS.com for the latest discussions on GIS topics.

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