Point of Beginning

A New ESRI Chapter

August 1, 2007


The former Survey and GIS Summit hosted by GIS giant ESRI of Redlands, Calif., gave way to the new Survey & Engineering GIS Summit this year. The surveying-focused conference, which was held July 16–19 in San Diego, nixed the old tagline of “Bridging the Gap.”

Brent A. Jones, PE, PLS, ESRI’s Surveying Industry Solutions group manager, said that organizers didn’t want to continue emphasizing the gap between GIS and surveying, especially since there is considerable proof that it has been steadily closing for a number of years. In his opening address on Saturday, June 16, Jones said that professionals involved in land and infrastructure development, surveying and mapping, construction and similar disciplines are seeing greater usefulness in using an underlying GIS database for collecting and making available the essential information that enables collaboration, internal efficiency, external efficiency and reduced redundancy. With an interconnected environment for all the constituencies, the currency of the data is much improved when all these disciplines contribute data as well as use it. Organizations that have been expanding their use of GIS include infrastructure organizations; governmental units that specialize in planning, engineering, utility management and land assessment; and of course engineers, architects and land surveyors.


Summit attendees had an opportunity to network and view products at the surveying and engineering product expo.

According to Jones, engineering disciplines were included in this year’s summit because engineers are the infrastructure designers and managers, in one way or another. These disciplines are not brought together solely by steadily improving GIS technology, Jones said, but steadily improving GNSS positioning technologies and processes continuously expose misaligned data. The need for professionals to increase communications with each other makes the gathering of surveying, engineering and GIS professionals at the summit even more relevant.

Prof. Stig Enemark of Aalborg Uni-versity in Denmark and president of the International Federation of Surveyors (FIG) gave the keynote address on Saturday, June 16. Enemark asserted that surveyors should not just dwell on the present; they should look to the past to see the indicators for evolutionary and revolutionary change--and be prepared for the future. The title of his speech, “From Measurement to Management,” stressed the past role of the surveyor as an explorer and measurer. With steadily advancing technology, neither of these old functions will continue to be dominant in the professional surveyor’s life, Enemark said. Instead, surveyors should be preparing themselves, as a profession and as individuals, for their new role as managers of land and properties.

While it is acknowledged that surveyors have played a key role in the past in the development of countries’ economies and societies, Enemark remarked that surveyors need to have a global vision of this same kind of contribution in the future as land and property managers. Enemark’s vision took the audience of 400 far beyond the customary vision of the work done by today’s land surveyor. He used the example of the UN’s eight Millennium Development Goals as guideposts for the preparation and change we should be preparing for. Those global goals include the eradication of poverty and hunger, universal primary education, improved child mortality and maternal health statistics, and environmental sustainability, among others. Not only does every surveyor have a responsibility to help achieve these goals wherever they live, he said, but these goals are the new frontiers for exploration and measurement. Enemark showed how measurement of the land and the establishment of cadastral surveys are fundamental to the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals. He also advocated for a “Surveyors Without Frontiers” organization, paralleling the famous “Doctors Without Borders” charity, acknowledging that it sounded like an oxymoron. “But,” Enemark concluded, “we surveyors in the developed countries can contribute so much to others who are looking for a better life for their own people.”

Professor Stig Enemark kicked off the summit with a keynote address and stressed the past role of the surveyor as an explorer and measurer.

Other notable activities during the event included a distinguished industry panel that covered issues relating to licensing for surveying, mapping and GIS professionals. The discussions among professionals were quite energetic, resulting in an extension of the time devoted to the panel. Curt Sumner, LS, executive director of ACSM and a panelist, noted that the level of discussion and commitment of both the panelists and audience resulted in an action plan to address some of the difficult issues facing the profession regarding licensing.

Summit sessions ran concurrently in seven parallel tracks. Topics ranged from technology and its application to land management and engineering applications. A surveying and engineering product expo, which included a Saturday evening reception, also kept the attendees networking.

Monday marked the opening of the International User Conference and offered summit attendees an opportunity to attend the huge plenary session attended by about 14,000 where the man of the day was Jack Dangermond, ESRI’s renowned president. Dangermond took his audience through an update of ESRI’s GIS vision, and was joined by many staff members and users who demonstrated successful applications of GIS technology. Presentations included solutions for a myriad of problems as well as new features that have been added or will soon be added to prominent ESRI products. The highlight of the afternoon was an entertaining story of determination presented by Wangari Maathai, Nobel Prize winner and founder of the International Green Belt Movement. Maathai discussed the solutions executed to attack some of Kenya’s simultaneous problems of deforestation, soil erosion and water shortages.

On Tuesday, the final day of the summit, a survey track was presented, and at midday many professionals took a break to join in the semi-annual meeting of the Survey Special Interest Group (S-SIG). A variety of issues, including surveying licensing, education and professional development, were discussed, particularly as related to GIS-integrated practices. The next S-SIG meeting is scheduled in conjunction with the ACSM conference in March 2008 in Spokane, Wash.

Even though the summit had ended, about 30 people attended a presentation on Wednesday about the National Geodetic Survey’s (NGS) 10-year plan. Dave Zilkoski, NGS director, presided over the session to outline the draft of the plan and solicit feedback. He indicated that he wants the surveying community, who are the primary users of NGS’ products and services, to provide suggestions of how they can do their work better while providing additional and improved products and services.

In an “exit interview,” Jones indicated that the integration of engineering into the summit was successful. He also noted that it appears surveyors and engineers are not yet fully speaking the same language as GIS professionals. According to Jones, next year’s summit, scheduled for August 2-5 in San Diego, might be partially organized as a forum for discussing GIS and the benefits this technology brings in a context that both surveyors and engineers can understand. “We might just need to have a course in GSL--that is, ‘GIS as a second language,’” Jones commented.

Special reporting by Joseph V.R. Paiva, PhD, PS, PE. Images courtesy of Michael L, Binge, LS, GISP, and Joseph V.R. Paiva.

For more on the ESRI Summit, check out Paiva's column, Professional Topography.