Point of Beginning

What Does "˜The Road Ahead' Look Like?

August 1, 2012
The 2012 Survey Summit and ACSM Annual Conference, which took place July 21-24 in San Diego, drew an estimated 250 attendees. The “Road Ahead” theme was an apt metaphor. For the first time in a long time, there seems to be some doubt about the direction we are taking as a profession.

The 2012 Survey Summit and ACSM Annual Conference, which took place July 21-24 in San Diego, drew an estimated 250 attendees. Instead of being held at the San Diego Convention Center, which everyone agreed was too large for the group, this year’s Summit was relocated a few blocks northwest to the Manchester Grand Hyatt overlooking Seaport Village.

The theme for 2012 was “The Road Ahead.” Curt Sumner, executive director of NSPS, delineated some of the administrative challenges in reorganizing the national organizations for surveyors. Brent Jones, the outgoing Esri Survey Summit coordinator, opined that the cloud has “changed the footprint of surveying and GIS more than anything to date.”

As in past years, the Summit overlapped the Esri International User Conference, which reportedly drew a crowd of nearly 15,000 people. Although a number of exhibiters and presenters were “defunded” and therefore absent as a result of the General Services Administration spending scandal, the show floor was still huge.

During a media “Lunch with Jack” session on July 24, Esri founder and president Jack Dangermond said that “the world is going to a services model,” and the new look at Esri will be themed “geography as a platform.” What does this mean? Well, it’s good news for small businesses. The shift to software services in the cloud along with the data allows just about anyone to publish and share their own data pages. They can also take their apps to the field with iPhones and other mobile devices.

The “Road Ahead” theme from the Summit is an apt metaphor. For the first time in a long time, there seems to be some doubt about the direction we are taking as a profession. I believe this has something to do with the cloud. While all of the traditional “new toys” could be held in our hands, the cloud is amorphous and ephemeral-we can’t buy it and own it.

In the past, we knew where the road ahead was because we had the plans and we surveyed it. Today, it’s much less clear. One thing GIS has in common with surveying is that it is not just a job or a profession-it’s more like a belief system or a religion.

The GIS crowd pretty much all showed up at this year’s Summit. The surveyors, at least en masse, didn’t. Maybe the road ahead has a fork in it. I hope not.