It was the best of times to be a surveyor, it was the worst of times to be a surveyor …

As I attended sessions and spoke with other attendees at the Esri Survey and Engineering GIS Summit July 10-13 in San Diego, I couldn’t help but notice the stark contrast emerging between two groups in the surveying profession. One group is determined to hold on to its traditional role and is prepared to fight tooth and nail to protect its territory from encroachment by technology and GIS “outsiders.” The other is openly championing the move toward freely sharing data and believes that everyone stands to benefit from a collaborative approach. Both groups call themselves surveying professionals, yet each defines its role in a different way. How can this be? And, perhaps more importantly, which approach is correct?

The answer, as it turns out, is not quite so clear-cut. During question-and-answer sessions, I heard early adopters of GIS voice their frustrations over the challenge of getting government agencies to accept their data. Others noted the ongoing struggle of changing the public’s perception of surveyors from “just measurers” to highly valued and knowledgeable resources on data management issues. And still others were concerned that even if surveyors jump on board and begin sharing all of their data in the vast GIS structures that are being created, their roles will still become obsolete as technology advances. Is the eventual demise of the surveying profession inevitable?

The emphasis at the summit was that accurate and authoritative data are more important than ever in the current and emerging GIS models, so opportunities abound. However, misperceptions exist on all sides. Too often, surveyors, GIS professionals and engineers are at odds with each other--and, it seems, surveyors can’t even agree among themselves about what their role should be. According to Nancy von Meyer, PhD, PE, RLS, GISP, vice president of Fairview Industries and one of the keynote speakers at the summit, the only way to bridge these gaps and ensure a successful future is to recognize that surveyors are in a minority position; take ownership of the issue by working with equipment manufacturers, software developers, the NGS and others to drive meaningful change; and solve the problems rather than obstructing progress.

“Our profession is evolving into something new and exciting,” said Annette M. Lockhart, PLS, a transportation surveyor with the California Department of Transportation, who moderated a California Land Surveyors Association panel during the summit. “People shouldn’t be afraid of it; they should be part of the solution.”

In upcoming issues, POB will continue to cover individuals and firms that are leading that evolution. If you have a success story to share, please contact me at Look for the full recap of the Esri SEG Summit and User Conference in POB’s September issue. Also, check out the new blog “Trends in GIS” at for additional insights.

Through continued dialogue and education, new opportunities will emerge.

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