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Editor's Points: Information vs. Data

Surveyors are highly skilled at collecting and analyzing data. Much like software developers who think in code, surveyors can intuitively understand complex datasets. Most clients, on the other hand, can’t.

In traditional lines of work, the difference might not matter. After all, clients are paying professionals to decipher the data for them. But as technology increasingly blurs the lines between data collection and data application, surveyors will need to become better at seeing the world through the eyes of their clients so they can add value by providing not just data, but information--intelligent, layered, visual information that improves decision-making and facilitates understanding.

At the 2012 Esri International User Conference in July, Esri Founder and President Jack Dangermond talked about how GIS is becoming more powerful and easier to use through advances such as the new ArcGIS 10.1 platform. Using descriptive phrases like “more automation,” “streamlined editing,” “integrated workflow management,” and “improved 3D visualization,” Dangermond outlined the move from GIS as a tool to GIS as a platform. “This is a new age,” he said. “It’s not just GIS on a single project, but there’s this overlay that brings it together.” Through dynamic web maps based on ArcGIS Online in the cloud, data is becoming easily accessible and sharable in context with other data, which makes it more intelligent--and therefore more valuable.

This wasn’t “just Jack” talking. A compelling case study from the Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT) showed how data is being added to a GIS to create an interactive mapping platform called UPlan that assists in analysis and collaboration. As Jeremiah Lindemann, Esri solutions engineer, noted, “When someone asks for a map, they’re not asking just for a map; they’re asking for a way to convey answers to certain questions.”

Some of the same themes were echoed in video interviews conducted by POB’s Alexis Brumm in the Esri International User Conference exhibit hall. For example, Photo Science Vice President Michael Shillenn pointed out how all the different sensor platforms and the various data types provided by those sensors are allowing professionals to ask questions and do analysis that couldn’t be done previously. Jon Skiffington, director of product management for LizardTech, talked about the ability to access and share the increasingly larger datasets that are being created with LiDAR and imagery. Dale Lutz, vice president of development and co-founder of Safe Software, noted how users are benefiting from advances such as increased automation, the ability to interact with real-time data, and streamlined workflows through the integration of commonly used tools. And David Petterson, GISP, product line manager for integrations at Pictometry, shared how Pictometry is moving toward providing answers, not just imagery. (Watch these and other interviews from the 2012 Esri International User Conference at

Starting with good data is imperative. However, the data is just the beginning. By seeing the bigger picture, surveying and mapping professionals can help clients visualize new solutions. It’s an attractive proposition.

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