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The dynamic nature of the geospatial profession makes it challenging to predict where the best opportunities might lie in the future; however, the start of a new year is traditionally the time to identify areas of growth and make plans so it’s worth spending some time considering the options. The members of MAPPS, the national association of private sector geospatial firms, have the opportunity to kick off the planning process for 2014 at the MAPPS Winter Conference to be held Feb. 9-13 in La Jolla, Calif. At the upcoming meeting, a number of the sessions will present areas of growth for its member firms to consider.
Typical sessions include new technology (e.g., streaming LiDAR, oblique mapping); best business practices (e.g., marketing metrics, return on investment, partnering); disruptive change (e.g., privacy issues, union activity, competition from public entities); government programs (e.g., NOAA, 3DEP); new state and federal legislation; and effective management techniques.
As the chair of the MAPPS Program Committee, Mike Tully, President and CEO of Aerial Services Inc., is deeply involved in coordinating the topics suggested by members for the upcoming conference. “At every conference, we try to offer sessions that will give our members the information necessary to maintain thriving businesses,” says Tully. “It is clear that rapid changes in technology are causing upheaval throughout our profession, and diversification appears to be the key to continued growth. The outlook is better for firms that embrace the changes and turn them into opportunities. For example, a surveyor who wants to ‘just do surveying’ in the same way it has always been done may have a harder time than someone who says, ‘I’m in the geospatial field and there are lots of things I can do as an expert measurer of location.’”
New technology is always an important subject at the MAPPS conferences. “We are always on the lookout for emerging technology,” says John Palatiello, MAPPS Executive Director. “We want to provide an early heads-up so that our members have time to consider the impact and how it might be useful for their firms.”
MAPPS Winter Conference
• When: Feb. 9-14
• Where: The Lodge at Torrey Pines in La Jolla, Calif.
• Notes: The conference will focus on business, management, technical and workforce issues, according to the MAPPS website.
At the February meeting, oblique mapping, unmanned aerial systems (UAS), and international markets are among the topics being presented. Until recently, oblique mapping was dominated by a single company. Now the market is wide open and there are opportunities for new entrants to meet the increasing demand for oblique data.
The disruptive technology supporting UAS for aerial mapping and surveying is being tracked closely by everyone in the geospatial community. Commercial applications for UAS are currently being researched and developed to be ready when the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) legalizes commercial operations in the United States for small (less than 55 pounds) UAS in 2015, according to their 2013 Roadmap released in November. MAPPS members will learn about how UAS are already being used in other parts of the world, and which markets have the most potential.
Another area that MAPPS recommends considering as an opportunity are international projects. “We feel strongly that large and small businesses can successfully operate internationally,” says Palatiello. “We want to share information with our members that demonstrates a viable business case and explains all of the logistics. Sometimes people don’t know where to start because the details, such as licensing in other countries, can appear daunting.”
The status of government programs is a common topic of discussion as well. The USGS Geospatial Product and Service Contracts (GPSC) is expected to come up for re-competition in the first quarter of 2014. There are also many questions about what the United States Census will be doing in 2020 and how the private sector may be included to provide cost savings and innovation.
MAPPS holds two conferences each year that cover a variety of topics. “MAPPS tries to create more opportunities and more work for our members,” says Palatiello. “Our focus is both professionalism and profit. We provide a level of information to executives to make decisions about investments and business processes. Our members are potential partners to each other rather than competitors, and we all work to make the pie bigger for the geospatial community as a whole.”
“We see significant events in the news every day that represent opportunities for growing business for MAPPS members,” says Tully. “When Amazon announces that they will use UAS to deliver packages, the public’s imagination is engaged and it helps increase their understanding of the great value and utility of geospatial data. When there is a train derailment, they learn about how geospatial data is used (or not) in collision avoidance/speed control systems. When there is a major weather event, the public sees the before-and-after images on television. All of these factors add up to drive a desire for geospatial data and thereby grow our businesses.”