Point of Beginning Blog

Opinion: Surveyors Need to Rethink Their Roles

September 29, 2009
Surveyors traditionally define the boundaries and shape of the land. However, we need to rethink the role of surveying licensees as being the lead professionals for issues dealing with the other uses of the land. As such, we would control the flow of work and fees.

The economic decline has exacerbated an already weak market for surveying. It appears that high-precision aerial photography and photogrammetry, machine control (especially on site construction machinery), laser measurement devices, CADD, GPS and survey-grade GIS lead the parade. (By the way, if readers think that survey-grade GIS isn’t here yet, take a look at www.altalis.com and www.martinnewby.com/cadast.pdf. Bill Martin and Martin Newby Consulting Ltd. have been successfully converting the existing GIS in Alberta, Canada, to survey-grade for many years under a government mandate. Can we be far behind?)

Boundary and topographic work is on its way out as technology takes hold. Such surveys have traditionally been performed as though the property being surveyed was the only property on the planet and without regard to adjoining or adjacent properties. The GIS parcel map, although in its infancy, stitches together all of the parcels in a particular area, e.g., county, parish, etc. The venues that are taking the lead in upgrading the tax maps that formed the original GIS parcel base maps to a survey-grade base map already have government support in most instances. It doesn’t take a crystal ball to see the inevitability of a government mandate that makes that upgraded GIS parcel map the statement of ownership of parcels.

Since we traditionally define the boundaries and shape of the land, we need to rethink our role as surveying licensees as being the lead professionals for issues dealing with the other uses of the land. This approach might mean hiring or joint venturing with engineers or other specialists; however, as the lead professionals we would control the flow of work and fees. For example, the following work comes immediately to mind:
  • Permitting work of all kinds
  • Road design
  • Traffic analysis and reports
  • Transportation studies
  • Storm water analysis and reports
  • Environmental reports
  • Wetland delineations
  • Contaminated site analysis
  • Soil reports
  • Historical and cultural resource determinations
  • Production of civil plans
  • Construction management
  • Bid specifications
  • Bidding documents
  • Contract documents
  • Construction budgeting and scheduling
  • Construction inspection
  • Waterline design
  • Sewer line design
  • Storm water design
  • Water plant design
  • Water tank design
  • Wastewater treatment plant design
  • Water treatment plant design
  • Site plans
  • Proposal preparations and presentations
  • Geotechnical reports
  • Compaction tests
To simplify matters, the surveyor is usually the first professional on a project. Therefore, the surveyor is the one who has the ability to bring the work to the table.

Changing from a surveying company to a multidiscipline firm would not be a problem for a company that is well established, well known and liked-those characteristics would be the key to success. For other surveying firms, a willingness to get out and sell the company can ensure success. For the fainthearted who are fearful of making such a proposal to an engineer, architect, environmentalist or other professional, the surveying company could proceed as a totally separate entity.


What do you think? Is it feasible for surveyors to become the lead professionals as Madson suggests? If not, what are the primary hurdles? Has your firm had success expanding into in any of the work listed above? Please add your comments below.

Additional discussion on this topic can be found at www.rpls.com


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