GIS in the Cloud
Event: 2010 Esri Survey and Engineering GIS Summit
HOST: Esri, www.esri.com
Location: San Diego
Dates: July 10-13, 2010
Number of Attendees: 300
Future Dates and Location: The Survey Summit, a multidisciplinary business-focused event co-sponsored by ACSM and Esri, July 7-12, 2010, San Diego,www.thesurveysummit.com.
It was a diverse crowd that attended this year’s SEG Summit. According to Brent Jones, PE, PLS, Esri’s global marketing manager for survey, cadastre and engineering, the total number of attendees was about the same as last year, but the number of GIS attendees rose to capture 30 percent of the total. Approximately 49 percent of attendees were from the surveying community, 12 percent were from engineering and 9 percent were from other disciplines, including approximately 20 geodesists. Twenty-one countries were represented at the event.
The blend of professionals served to emphasize some of the summit’s key themes, particularly regarding the need for increased collaboration and education among the various groups. In his welcome address, Jones cited a number of statistics about data, including the fact that 85 percent of data in modern organizations is unstructured, 30 percent of people’s time is spent searching for relevant information, and 40 to 60 percent of an engineer’s time is spent locating and validating information. These statistics highlight key opportunities for surveyors, Jones said. He noted that geographic data has three components--attributes, behavior and geometry--and pointed out that these components don’t have to come from the same place. Through cloud technology--remote online servers such as ArcGIS Online that allow continuous data uploads and downloads for a fully integrated data solution--people can connect to any data they want from anywhere. Jones commented that surveyors as data managers might be the “new normal” as the need to aggregate, validate, collect, manage and advise on data continues to increase.
Nancy von Meyer, PhD, PE, RLS, GISP, vice president of Fairview Industries and one of the keynote speakers for the event, underscored the need for an enhanced understanding of accuracy in the quest toward a national land parcel database. She said that accuracy isn’t just measurement anymore but must involve the element of time. To be accurate, she said, parcel data must be current and complete. It must also have lineage so that it can be traced back to the source. Related attributes should be included, along with details regarding relative positioning or closure. And absolute positioning--how well the parcel legal description matches the control point location of the boundary--is becoming increasingly critical as geographic information systems take into account the movement of the universe.
Exploring the Tools of the TradeEnsuring the currency of data requires the ability to continuously update data and add metadata, and the technology is now available to make that process easier. Esri’s new ArcGIS 10 and ArcGIS Online were discussed at length during the summit. New capabilities include the ability to incorporate a basemap layer so that users can have reference points without disturbing the underlying data. Improved search capabilities allow users to find specific standards, and attribute tables are now available to compare values for quick updates. Users can now share standards through templates, and a variety of new tools makes editing easier. The software also incorporates 3D-specific tools for importing models in a 3D environment, as well as 4D tools for time awareness. Additionally, rich imagery can now be dynamically processed, integrated and served as part of the map creation process.
One complaint often voiced by surveyors using ArcEditor is that there are too many ways to accomplish a task and too many toolbars for all of the necessary tasks. The parcel editing function in ArcGIS 10 simplifies this process substantially. The number of templates available speed the data entry process. Snapping is easier in ArcGIS 10, and much of the data entry can be automated. Attachments have also improved; instead of being hyperlinked, now multiple attachments can be added to a single feature, and all of these attachments are stored in the geodatabase for easy access.
Many other features were also highlighted, but it was the “cloud” capability of the software that seemed to draw the most discussion. An Esri “stunt team” explained how users can build maps online and mash data from multiple sources to improve their deliverables by working in the cloud at ArcGIS Online. Limitless amounts of data can be stored in the same place for easy access by multiple end users. Sharing content adds value, they explained, because it allows people to make better decisions and drives collaboration. And as new data are added to the system, the overall quality of the data improves so that it becomes a continuous cycle of enhanced data management.
Breaking Down the BarriersThe idea sounds promising, but numerous barriers exist to perfecting the cloud, not the least of which is a general reluctance toward the idea of freely sharing data. During an industry panel moderated by Curt Sumner, LS, executive director of ACSM, participants addressed the idea that surveyors need to take a lead role in the creation of a national land parcel database. von Meyer, one of the individuals on the panel, noted that a lot of data is missing from state tax database systems and that surveyors can be the ones to propose legislation that would provide standardization. She also pointed out that parcel data is incredibly important in disasters. Counties with digital land bases can get aid 100 times faster than those without, she said. Wayne Harrison, president of the NSPS and another panel participant, said that state surveying organizations need to work more closely with state GIS committees to help guide the standardization process, and that both groups have to educate each other.
A member of the audience pointed out that surveyors have a wealth of data sitting in separate hard drives that could be useful to the creation of a national land parcel database. However, being compensated for providing that data remains a challenge. Ideas were discussed such as adding fees to titles and other services involved in land transactions, but a resolution remains elusive. There was a consensus that surveyors need to get involved at a community level through boards and committees to educate people about the value of accurate surveys. The hope is that the increased understanding will then be driven up through higher levels of government so that standardization can ultimately be achieved on a national level.
How to best use the cloud to improve business success remains a bit of a mystery. Based on the discussions at the summit and afterward, some firms are already masters of serving up and sourcing data from remote geodatabases, while others are still trying to grasp the concept of moving data beyond internal systems. As technology advances, professionals and firms will need to closely evaluate their role. Opportunities for leadership still exist in this new realm.
Editor’s note: For more insights on the SEG Summit as well as the Esri International User Conference and general GIS trends, follow the blog Trends in GIS at www.rpls.com.
Special reporting by Michael L. Binge, LS, GISP, Deral Paulk, LS, and Christine Grahl.
Hear audio clips from a panel hosted by the California Land Surveyors Association. You can also find the clips at www.rpls.com.
Summit-CSLA Panel 1
Summit-CLSA Panel 2
Summit-CSLA Panel 3