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Capitol Gains: Defining your business.

June 1, 2009
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Have you ever gone to the bank for a loan and been asked for your business plan? Have you ever struggled when attempting to tell the bank what your firm’s market share is?

There is an old adage that “you can’t manage what you can’t measure.” Unfortunately, that maxim is all too true in the geospatial community. We have a desperate need for baseline information about geospatial activities. We must gather this information related to the federal government and other stakeholders to understand where the community is today. With this knowledge, we will be able to measure results, update our classification systems and plan for the future.

The Geospatial Market

How many firms are in the geospatial field? How many are in land surveying, how many in GIS, and how many in photogrammetry and related aerial data collection? What are the key markets the profession serves, and how much revenue is generated from each? How much of the market is focused on data, on services, on hardware, software and supplies? None of these questions can be answered because there is no profile of firms in the geospatial market. We do not have a current, accurate market study that measures the size of the geospatial market, tracks changes or analyzes market segments in a useful manner.

The North American Industrial Classification System, the federal government’s method for categorizing industries, professions and markets in the United States, still uses the limited title “surveying and mapping,” noted as NAICS 541370 Surveying and Mapping (except Geophysical) Services. This classification does not take into account the broader activities that make up today’s dynamic geospatial community, and this omission makes analysis and characterizations of the market difficult, if not impossible.

Does anyone really know what a “small business” is in the geospatial field? The Small Business Administration promulgates “size standards” or definitions of small businesses in each industry or professional category. However, due to the lack of an accurate NAICS system, it is impossible to accurately analyze the market to determine what qualifies as a small, midsized or large business in the geospatial world. The size standard for NAICS 541370, surveying and mapping, is gross annual receipts as a three-year average of $4.5 million. But is that too high for the typical boundary surveying firm? Is it too low for the typical aerial firm?

The Government’s Geospatial Role

Government plays a significant role in the geospatial field. But can we quantify the extent of that role? The Geospatial Line of Business Presidential Initiative implemented by the Bush administration has not succeeded in accurately measuring the annual federal expenditure on geospatial activities. The size of the federal government’s activity in the geospatial market is not known. It is not feasible to measure the size of the federal procurement market for geospatial data products and services under the current Federal Procurement Data System since it does not have an adequate product and services code system for tracking procurement dollars in the geospatial field. Similarly, there is no accurate accounting of how much grant money the federal government is awarding to state, regional and local governments, universities, nonprofit or non-governmental organizations for geospatial activities. Data on state and local geospatial expenditures of non-federal funds are virtually nonexistent.

How many federal employees are engaged in geospatial activities? The Office of Personnel Management position classification system for federal employees has not been changed in more than 20 years and fails to recognize the revolution in geospatial activities in the market and in the government during that time. The federal government lacks a job title for GIS specialists in its agencies. Job descriptions for cartographers, land surveyors, geodesists and technicians in support thereof are out of date and do not reflect the responsibilities and duties of such federal employees in today’s employment market. Additionally, these designations do not include an untold number of other federal workers whose day-to-day occupation is in GIS but their job title is in another discipline.

Not only does the federal government not know with accuracy the size of the workforce engaged in geospatial activities for Uncle Sam, but it also does not know the entirety of non-federal employment. Notwithstanding the fact that the U.S. Department of Labor has identified the geospatial field as one of the leaders in creating new jobs, there are no accurate data on current employment in the field in all sectors of the U.S. due to a lack of a current definition of geospatial positions by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which uses the limited titles of “surveyors, cartographers, photogrammetrists, and surveying technicians.” Also unknown is the amount the federal government spends on education and workforce development in the geospatial field in the United States. Funds are being expended by the departments of Education and Labor, the NGA, NASA and perhaps others. Despite geospatial’s “high growth” designation, there are no accurate data on federal investment in geospatial training, education and workforce development--and no coordination.

Information on what the federal government spends on operational and applied geospatial activities is not the only part of the community’s activities that is lacking. Calculation of the government’s considerable research activity is also absent. While agencies such as the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Science Foundation, and the Transportation Research Board all have active geospatial research activities (not to mention individual agencies’ Small Business Innovative Research awards) and spend tens of millions of dollars a year on geospatial research, there is no information on the dollar value of this research, no coordination among agencies, and no funding of this research toward a strategic agenda that has been vetted among agencies or the private sector. The result is potential duplication and research that may not be addressing the highest priorities.

Data Collection for the Future

When Congress and the Obama administration were developing an economic stimulus proposal earlier this year, several individuals and organizations attempted to write papers advocating an investment in the National Spatial Data Infrastructure as a means of creating jobs. In order to justify federal spending and demonstrate the nation’s need for surveys, maps and other geospatial data, efforts were made to quantify the delta between the current investment in NSDI and the nation’s need for current and accurate geospatial data. But information on the currency, completeness, scale and resolution, and accessibility of the NSDI framework themes doesn’t exist. There is no status report on progress toward meeting the nation’s need for geospatial data such as geodetic control, cadastral, orthoimagery, elevation, hydrography, administrative units and transportation.

Use whatever cliché you wish--”flying blind,” “can’t see the forest for the trees” or “you can’t manage what you can’t measure”--they all apply to the geospatial community in general and the federal government in particular. An effective data collection effort is essential to understanding where we are and what progress we are making. And it is the best way to ensure the future of the profession and the wise investment of taxpayers’ money.


Reference

1. To view the most recent Census data on surveying and mapping, go to: www.census.gov/ econ/census02/data/industry/E541370.HTM.

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