Point of Beginning

A New Dimension

April 27, 2008
Evolution of GITA conference integrates new survey track.

The 2008 Geospatial Infrastructure Solutions Conference hosted 84 booths on the exhibit floor, including those representing ESRI and ESRI business partners.


This year’s GITA event, newly re-branded the Geospatial Infrastructure Solutions Conference, was dedicated to geospatially solving a $1.6 trillion problem: the crumbling U.S. infrastructure.

Keynote speaker, Tom Murphy, former mayor of Pittsburgh, laid out the specifics of this issue at the opening ceremony: 27 percent of the nation’s bridges are deficient, 3,500 dams have been declared unsafe, 33 percent of U.S. roads are in poor or substandard condition and 34 percent of the sewage treatment plants in the country are in poor condition. And that is considered to be a conservative estimate.

Even though the primary focus of GITA gatherings is American infrastructure and its current inadequacies, the overall event is international in scope. Global themes are a modern reality, and GITA is keeping up with the times. It’s yet another progression for the organization.

The 2008 conference is the 31st gathering for the organization that began as AM/FM International. “Former life” events were primarily tailored to the electric utilities and oil and gas industries, which now have their own conference hosted by GITA. These events were, in fact, considered to be the premier events for that sector. Today GITA has adjusted its format and has added a survey track to the program.

I was naturally curious about this addition and made it my mission to determine why GITA thought it was important to add such a track. As I navigated through the conference, I noticed that there weren’t a lot of surveyors at this event but that the American Congress on Surveying and Mapping (ACSM) had a booth in the exhibit hall. I asked Curt Sumner, ACSM’s executive director, why GITA added the survey track. Sumner views the addition as part of the evolving role of surveyors. After all, the massive amount of U.S. infrastructure rehabilitation needed is going to require the participation of surveyors.

Indeed, one of the key topics in some of the 111 workshops was “human capital.” The surveying field is not the only group experiencing a shortfall in available talent. The question is, “What do we do about it?” According to no less an authority than NASA, “Geospatial technologies will change the way we live and work more than the personal computer.”1

To help address the problem, the University of Southern Mississippi has developed a methodology called the Geospatial Technology Competency Model, or GTCM, over the last several years. The GTCM is basically a research tool that aids organizations in cataloging both the skill sets and requirements for its work force. Its use isn’t currently widespread, but as the existing geospatial work force continues to shrink, more organizations will take advantage of it.

What does this mean to surveyors? The answer can be stated in a précis consisting of a single word: revenue. Some of that $1.6 trillion expenditure is going to involve the need for maps and surveys.

The Exhibit Hall

The two “theme” words most often heard at user conferences these days are “global” and “green.” And the GITA affair was certainly consistent with that. But what stood out to me was that the number of vendors for an event of this size--which is moderate compared to many industry conferences--was impressive. There were 84 booths on the exhibit floor. Many of them represented firms from the utility and pipeline industry. The largest booth was operated by ESRI, while several others were ESRI business partners.

Mapping software was well represented. In fact, it was dominant. There were also a few GPS products displayed. While the larger survey instrument and field equipment companies were not present, I expect that to change if the survey track gains popularity or if GITA leverages its event by partnering with a more survey-oriented organization.

The Evolution of GIS

Dr. David Maguire, ESRI’s chief scientist, gave an interesting presentation about the evolution of geographic information science to the second generation of Web-based geographic products known as GeoWeb 2.0, which represents a movement sometimes referred to as neogeography, the successor to paleogeography. 2

The thrust in the GIS community today is to place more services on the Web and keep them frequently updated. Google Map is a prime example of this new paradigm. Maguire went on to say that making more geographic data Web-enabled is the main focus of new software development at ESRI and, indeed, throughout the geospatial industry today.

Other software developers are following in this approach. SAFE Software gave a press briefing demonstrating its new FME (Feature Manipulation Engine) 2008 unveiling FME Server with “new dimensions to spatial ETL” (extract, transform, load). This product lets the user begin with data in just about any format and load it directly to a map server in any required format.

GIS for As-Builts

One of the more interesting sessions I attended was part of the survey track. Titled “Another Hammer in the Toolbox: A Surveyor’s Perspective,” the session was offered by Land Design Surveying of Charlotte, N.C., and detailed the use of ArcGIS to manage a large construction project for the North Carolina Research Campus in Kannapolis. Part of this project included the use of ArcMap to manage as-constructed data by entering it directly from field reports. As-constructed plans have a historically bad reputation for being “rubber-stamped,” lost or discarded after the construction project, or simply not done at all. Entering data in more or less real time into a powerful database tool like ArcGIS tracks progress and costs and leaves a permanent record of events in an easily retrievable and viewable format.

In a session on Mobile GIS titled “Mobile Mapping Devices, an Embarrassment of Riches,” Charles Marlin of GIS solutions provider Graphic Technologies Inc., Madison, Ala., pointed out some interesting industry trends. Phone-type devices have taken control of the mobile GIS market, he said. And sales of hand-held collection devices declined 52 percent in the fourth quarter of 2007 compared to 2006.

The re-branded 2008 Geospatial Infrastructure Solutions Conference is another clear example that interest in the geospatial industry continues to grow. Major equipment vendors and numerous attendees view the networking opportunities at these events as an important investment in the future of their businesses. And it is the future that should concern us all.

Special reporting by Michael L. Binge, LS, GISP.


Sidebar: Event

Event: 2008 Geospatial Infrastructure Solutions Conference
Host: Geospatial Information and Technology Association (GITA), www.gita.org
Location: Seattle
Dates: March 9-12, 2008
Number of Attendees: 1,531
Future Dates and Location: April 19-22, 2009, Tampa, Florida