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Sight Lines: Conference Recap

February 26, 2009
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I just returned from Salt Lake City, Utah, and then Las Vegas for the ACSM Conference and Trimble Dimensions. Here's a recap of the two events - including video interviews and a short clip of the chain throwing event at ACSM.

Thursday, Feb. 19: In today’s news, LIVE Monitoring Solutions has formed a business partnership with Altus Positioning Systems to resell and distribute the Altus APS-3 series GNSS receiver and Septentrio GNSS reference station hardware and software as part of solutions offered for network infrastructure, monitoring and other demanding geomatics applications. LIVE Monitoring Solutions is a new company that was founded by Erik R. Soderstrom and Robert A. Asher III, who have more than 45 years combined experience in the GNSS/GPS and terrestrial survey technology industries.

Friday, Feb. 20: Attendance is good, especially considering the economy. Curtis Sumner, executive director of ACSM, estimates that more than 1,000 visitors are attending this year’s conference, which is a higher number than last year. Most of the exhibitors I talked to are pleased with the amount and, perhaps more importantly, quality of the traffic-the individuals who went to the effort and expense to attend are serious about the business of surveying and mapping.

From left: Darcy Detlor, president and CEO of MicroSurvey, Rich Jensen, PLS, Kadrmas Lee & Jackson, and Mark Contino, vice president of sales, Topcon Surveying & GPS Products.

Topcon hinted about a new product the company is set to unveil in a few weeks. Mark Contino, vice president of sales for Surveying and GPS Products, didn’t provide many details but did say it would be a major development related to GPS. We’ll publish the information online and in print as soon as we get the news.

Rhonda Rushing, president of Berntsen, noted that business appears to be picking up following the passage of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Others I spoke with on the exhibition floor said they’re getting increased inquiries from the state departments of transportation. It’s still too early to say whether the Recovery Act will have a real impact on survey work, but many are hopeful.

Students at the RPLS.com/S-SIG social.

The evening closed with the ACSM Icebreaker Reception followed by ESRI’s Surveying Special Interest Group (S-SIG) Social (sponsored by Penobscot Bay Media). ESRI hosted POB’s annual RPLS.com gathering as part of this event, and more than 250 people attended. The group had a nice mix of students, young surveyors and experienced professionals.

Today I’ll be covering some of the workshops and speaking to more exhibitors. Look for an update later this evening or tomorrow.

Richard Abbott, PLS

Feb. 21: I sat in on a few of the morning workshops-namely, “Training the South Australian Graduate Surveyor, Could the Model Be Adopted for Training the US Surveyor?,” presented by Richard Abbott, PLS, and “BLM Cadastral Survey A & E Services Contract Opportunities,” presented by Belle Craig, PLS, and Denise Bickler. While I wasn’t able to stay for the entire presentation in either case, both were well-attended and generated numerous questions from the engaged audience. As I strolled down the hall of the Grand Ballroom where all the workshops were being held, it appeared that the sessions by Jeff Lucas, JD, PLS, and Craig/Bickler drew the largest crowds. (Incidentally, Lucas is leading five workshops this year. I was unable to attend his presentation on “Retracement and the 1973 Manual” on Friday, but I heard that the room was packed.)

My intent had been to catch a bit more of the workshops after the 10 am break, but Brent Jones, PE, PLS, industry manager for ESRI’s Survey/Cadastre/Engineering group and Donny Sosa, surveying industry specialist for ESRI, captured my interest with their demonstration of the capabilities of geocoding in ArcMap. Sosa created a map that combined the addresses of ACSM attendees with the estimated locations of “shovel-ready” projects by state as summarized by www.stimuluswatch.org to provide a stunning visual of where some of the best opportunities for surveyors might be when the Recovery Act money starts trickling through the system. Sosa pointed out that surveyors could use these same mapping capabilities to become more productive in daily operations and add value to deliverables by incorporating demographic or other data. Such mapping capabilities could also be used to assist planners with “green” development, broadband infrastructure and numerous other GIS needs.

While at the ESRI booth, I spoke with Michael Dennis, director of the American Association for Geodetic Surveying and owner of Michael L. Dennis Geodetic Analysis LLC, Pima, Ariz. According to Dennis, the primary value of geodetic surveying is that once a parcel of land is surveyed, it doesn’t have to be resurveyed for future projects. All of the data from the initial survey is reusable and can be translated into higher-value deliverables through advanced technology and software. Jones agreed, noting that surveyors need to change their thinking from being project-focused to being data-focused. For example, collecting all of its data in a centralized system can allow firms to streamline their surveying process while also making the data available for higher-value deliverables and future projects. Firms that are already using this process are highly successful despite the current economic challenges, Jones said.

Later in the afternoon, I spent some time talking with POB’s columnist Milton Denny and Larry Crowley, PE, PhD, associate professor of civil engineering at Auburn University in Alabama, about the ongoing need to attract more young people to the field of surveying while simultaneously ensuring that the education system adequately prepares them for a career in this profession. Crowley noted that today’s students aren’t being trained to think critically and own their decisions, and this is a detriment to the profession. There’s also a continued disconnect between the education system and the profession, and this gap can only be closed by pushing for more collaboration between educators and practicing professionals.

There’s more I could share, but I’m running out of time. I’ll provide additional updates as I can.

Steven W. Berglund, Trimble president and CEO, presented the first keynote address on Monday, Feb. 23.

Feb. 23: The Trimble Dimensions User Conference buzzed with ideas and energy. More than 2,400 people attended the event, which was on par with the record Dimensions 2007 attendance. The crowd was both geographically and demographically diverse and very interested in learning about new techniques and technologies.

In his keynote address, Steven W. Berglund, Trimble President and CEO, said that “maintaining vision in bad times is good for business.” However, he noted that focusing on vision is challenging when so many companies are just trying to make it through each day intact. According to Berglund, how we react to the current situation separates us. Some people have hunkered down waiting for the situation to change. Others are deferring difficult decisions until they have a better idea of what the future will bring. Still others are pursuing vision but with a more cautious approach. And then there is a fourth group that is attacking the situation head-on by aggressively implementing change within their organizations. “Corporate icons are created during periods of adversity,” Berglund pointed out.

He noted that Trimble’s Connected Site concept is one way that some companies are embracing change. By allowing information to be moved to wherever it is needed whenever it is needed, the Connected Site streamlines processes and offers a competitive advantage. Berglund said that Trimble continues to invest in improving reliability and in tools for accessing and using information. (Two examples highlighted at Dimensions include the Trimble Tablet Rugged PC, which provides a highly visible large-screen display for fieldwork; and Trimble Access software, which is designed to expedite data collection, processing, analysis, and delivery through improved workflows, collaboration and control, enabled by constant connectivity across the project team.) According to Berglund, “Technology-driven change is inevitable.”

He commented that while his keynote address in 2007 was about celebrating change, this year’s address had a different focus. “Relentless, commitment, vision, transformation, technology-these are the key words for current times,” he said.

Berglund’s presentation was followed by New York Times and Business Week best-selling author Dr. Robert Kriegel, who urged the audience to “Play to win-don’t play not to lose.” He said that firms should use technology to streamline their operations and should rethink their business. “If you want to win in today’s game, you can’t keep playing by yesterday’s rules,” he said. He noted that true leaders are proactive, not reactive-they’re always challenging the status quo and looking for bold, innovative opportunities. He noted that the general attitude in times like these is to work harder and faster. However, this approach hinders communication, increases the risk of mistakes and prevents the development of new ideas. “You have to step back from the action,” Kriegel said. He encouraged attendees to go on a “sacred cow hunt” (an idea he elaborates on in his book, Sacred Cows Make the Best Burgers). “Most companies are trying to do things faster and cheaper that shouldn’t be done at all,” he said.

Kriegel noted that change is uncomfortable but necessary. He urged the audience to try one different thing every week to spark new ideas and avoid doing things out of habit. “You should always feel a little anxious and a little uncomfortable because that’s a sign that you’re trying something new,” he said. He pointed out that passion is crucial. “The key to winning is you have to stoke the fires and not soak them,” he said.

Following these inspirational presentations, I attended a number of papers focusing on specific technologies and opportunities. The audience was thoroughly engaged and asked a number of questions of each speaker to determine how they could apply some of the same concepts in their own businesses. Scanning, mapping, LiDAR, 3D/4D positioning and machine control were popular topics.

Trimble's Philip Woodcock demonstrates the capabilities of the GX 3D Scanner.

Feb. 24: I ended my journey with a field trip to a site near Nellis Air Force Base, which Trimble had leased to provide an added “dimension” its user conference. There, I got a first-hand look at some of Trimble’s survey technologies in action, including the VX Spatial Station and GX 3D Scanner as well as Trimble Access software. I also saw how the Trimble S8 total station with FineLock technology can be used in conjunction with Survey Controller field software and 4D Control processing software to provide continuous, accurate deformation monitoring.

As technology changes, the opportunities continue to expand. I’d love to hear from our readers about how you’re using technology to improve your business. Please comment below or e-mail me at pobeditor@bnpmedia.com.

NOTE: For the complete recap of Trimble Dimensions 2009, please see the feature article Conference Recap: Trimble Dimensions 2009.
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