Editor's Points: A vision for surveyors.

August 1, 2009
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Much discussion has taken place lately concerning the many challenges facing the surveying profession.

The continued struggle to find work, competitors that regularly undercut firms on pricing, the general public’s lack of understanding regarding a survey’s value--disheartening trends seem to abound.

However, perspective can make all the difference. In his keynote address at the recent ESRI Survey & Engineering GIS Summit in San Diego, Joseph W. Betit, survey manager for the Dulles Metrorail Extension Project, Dulles Transit Partners (a joint venture of Bechtel Infrastructure Inc. and the Washington Division of URS Corp.), pointed out that the notion of challenges carries a different meaning when you take a broader view of the profession. Rather than the traditional idea of a surveyor who focuses on gathering measurements and data, Betit suggested a new vision--one in which surveying is a value-added enterprise that provides high-end 3D and 4D deliverables, supports integrated geospatial/facilities management systems and generates real-time, survey-quality coordinate-positioning data that can be used well beyond the immediate needs of a given project. Pursuing this vision and embracing advanced technologies will create renewed opportunities, Betit said. Competition then becomes international rather than regional, and the surveyor’s contribution to the overall success of a project is seen in a new light.

Of course, some might think that’s easy for Betit to say. Bechtel is a large global firm, after all, and it hardly seems fair to hold a small or midsized surveying firm to the same type of standard. But the need for surveyors to broaden their focus beyond what has traditionally been considered their niche was a theme I heard repeatedly during the summit.

In a panel discussion moderated by Joseph V.R. Paiva, PhD, PS, PE, leaders of organizations supporting surveying, engineering and GIS offered some ideas for how firms can expand their horizons. For example, J. Peter Borbas, PLS, owner and president of Boonton, N.J.-based Borbas Surveying and Mapping LLC, suggested hiring a recent college graduate and giving him or her free rein to pursue new initiatives. “Your firm will produce products that will dazzle clients,” he said. John D. Matonich, LS, president and CEO of Flint, Mich.-based Rowe Professional Services Co. and president of NSPS, recommended partnering with firms that have complementary strengths. He also emphasized that surveyors need to use technology to their advantage. Curt Sumner, LS, executive director of ACSM, noted that although the recession has impacted just about everyone, the firms that serve a broader market are doing better overall. And the opportunities aren’t just for large, multidisciplinary firms. In fact, the panel agreed that small and midsized firms are often better positioned to react to changing market conditions and tailor their approach to the needs of their clients.

In many cases, major changes aren’t needed; surveyors simply need to shift their way of thinking. In a separate presentation, Jack Avis, PLS, GISP, of Baker-Aicklen & Associates Inc., said that there’s a substantial need for geospatial professionals. “That’s what surveyors are, but they need to start thinking and acting that way,” he urged.

Interestingly, as I was dashing through the airport to catch a connecting flight on my return trip, a creative ad campaign for a software company caught my eye. A larger-than-life portrait of a cute brown furry creature with pudgy cheeks drove home the message that gophers have tunnel vision because they need it. People, on the other hand, can’t afford to have a narrow-minded perspective.

Think big. Broaden your perspective. Rethink your limitations. It’s good advice that all of us can take to heart.

P.S. Don’t miss Milton Denny’s 10-point plan for future success on page 38 of this issue. Also, be sure to check out our online coverage of the ESRI Survey & Engineering Summit and User Conference at Look for a full recap in our September print issue.

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