Bridging the Gap IV

October 1, 2006
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This summer, ESRI hosted its fourth annual "Bridging the Gap" Survey Summit on August 5 and 6, the weekend leading up to the ESRI User Conference. Approximately 400 people registered to attend the Survey Summit, which was titled "Business Opportunities in GIS for Surveyors." At various times during the conference, speakers called for a show of hands to reveal the attendee demographics. The summit had the usual crowd of surveyors wanting to learn more about GIS and surveyors who were using GIS in one way or another and wanting to talk about it. New to the mix, however, was a contingent of GIS professionals (perhaps 20 percent of the attendees) who wanted to learn more about what surveyors do, and to state their need for support and collaboration from surveyors.

Brent Jones, ESRI's survey industry solutions manager, kicked off the opening plenary day. Jones hoped that the sessions would show attendees how GIS can be used as a wide-ranging tool to better manage the internal functions of a survey business and to better manage survey data. In addition, he wanted attendees to explore how GIS can enable them to provide non-survey or non-traditional services to their clients.

Jones pointed out some fundamental truths to the audience: surveyors are important to GIS because the earth is not flat; GIS projects are becoming larger and more precise, requiring much more attention to survey methods and processes; and spatial data is steadily becoming more important. He said that a geodetic network in a GIS should not be treated as a layer, but as a framework, and thus may be out of the realm of knowledge of a particular GIS practitioner (or surveyor, for that matter).

Jones named four aspects of "metadata"--reliability, confidence, repeatability and trust--that distinguish survey data from locational information. He pointed out that the first three are all capable of being measured with statistics, and should traditionally be provided by surveyors. He noted that problems erupt when GIS professionals using locational information don't know to distinguish it from survey data, especially because surveyors don't always provide the metadata (reliability, confidence and repeatability statements). He urged attendees to be aware of these distinctions in types of data.

During the rest of the day, attendees also heard from the following:
  • Wendy Lathrop, keynote speaker, reminded the audience that the Arizona Professional Land Surveyors (APLS) now allows geospatial professionals to become members of its organization. (See page 10 of this issue for more news on APLS membership bylaws.)
  • Ray Carnes and Tim Hudson, technical marketing staff at ESRI, said that anyone can "drive drunk" with software, a common danger with all new technologies. Carnes argued that users shouldn't necessarily draw conclusions about the appropriateness of using GIS to manage cadastral features without first ensuring that it has been done competently. He asked that decisions, policies and initiatives not be made by focusing on the negative aspects of the ability to abuse any technology, but rather by capitalizing on the potential for improving results, workflow or reducing costs.
  • Clint Brown, director of software products at ESRI, covered some of the new features of ArcGIS 9.2 and described the rigor that has gone into new features such as the "cadastral fabric." This is a new feature in 9.2 to allow "stitching" of a network of connected land parcels into the survey framework. By using this as the underlying framework, the feature allows for less distortion of the "truth" in the known survey world when other layers of the GIS are added.
  • An executive industry panel with representatives from Leica Geosystems, Topcon, Trimble and the National Geodetic Survey (NGS) also participated. NGS Director Dave Zilkoski said that GPS has a reputation for making geodesists of all surveyors, and that GIS may be making surveyors out of everyone. Neither of these statements are 100 percent true, Zilkoski said, but they point out the need for users of GPS and GIS to learn to understand their respective technologies and recognize when they are out of their realm.
The second day of the conference consisted of sessions presented by people from industry, academia, government and ESRI, speaking on a variety of topics that spanned the survey and GIS continuum. Up to five tracks were presented simultaneously so attendees could choose from a number of options. Sessions included: using GIS in survey businesses, GPS accuracy issues, GIS accuracy issues, mapping project presentations, ESRI technical presentations and seminars by NGS staff.

Presenters at the 2006 summit spoke about business opportunities in GIS for surveyors.
The next two days of the conference combined the summit's attendees with the much larger crowd gathered for the ESRI User Conference, which was based on the theme "GIS--Communicating Our World." On Monday, ESRI honored contributors to society, demonstrated the breadth and depth of GIS use and revealed new features being introduced to ESRI's software this year. ESRI President Jack Dangermond demonstrated refreshing candor with ESRI users by acknowledging the bugs and other problems with software and emphasizing that the work leading up to the current release had especially focused on quality.

The Survey Summit program on Tuesday featured repeats of some of the popular sessions from Sunday as well as a meeting of the Survey Special Interest Group (S-SIG). At the S-SIG meeting, attendees were reminded of the constant message for surveyors at the summit: use GIS to manage the surveying business. This is the best way to learn its potential and understand how to creatively begin the formation of business opportunities using this technology.

Attendees at the S-SIG also discussed ideas to promote more dialogue between surveyors and GIS professionals. As an example, attendees were reminded that GIS Day this year is November 15. They were asked to facilitate attendance at GIS Day functions by surveyors and to promote other means of interaction between surveyors and GIS professionals by working with local and state societies to publicize GIS Day events.

As a final note, Brent Jones announced that "Bridging the Gap" has ended its life as the subtitle for the Survey Summit. Jones indicated that the Survey Industry Solutions Group of ESRI concluded that the gap has indeed been bridged. Perhaps it now needs to be described, strengthened and used, but progress has been made. ESRI is currently soliciting ideas for a new subtitle with a "nice reward" for the successful contributor.

Special reporting by Joseph V.R. Paiva, PhD, PS, PE

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