Esri is going back to the future with the AEC Summit. The conference, formerly called the Survey Summit, will take place July 12-15 in San Diego. It runs alongside the Esri User Conference from July 14-18, also in San Diego.

“This is almost going back to its roots,” said David Totman, the public works, AEC and survey industry manager for Esri. “If you look in the early days of the history of the summit, it used to be called the Engineering and Survey Summit. So we’re really almost going back to our roots. The more things change the more they stay the same and vice versa.”

According to the AEC Summit website, the conference is open to professional surveyors and GIS professionals as well as architects, civil engineers, construction professionals, transportation professionals and application developers.

“We kind of like to call it a bigger and better Survey Summit,” Totman said.

Totman admits the name change has raised some eyebrows in the surveying community.

“Believe me, we’re getting lots of questions,” he said.

 “Some people have said, ‘Why isn’t survey in the name?’” Totman said. “Maybe it’s a bit presumptuous of me, but I can’t imagine doing architecture, engineering or construction without surveyors. To me, it’s almost implied. We just have to do a better job of making sure the 2014 Survey Summit is alive and well. It’s just bigger and better, and it’s known as the AEC Summit.”


Esri AEC Summit

When: July 12–15

Where: San Diego

So why make the change? Totman said last year’s Survey Summit hit a “perfect storm.” The conference date near the July 4 weekend and a slow economy that is affecting many businesses and government agencies combined to drive down attendance. “The goal of any summit, any conference is to drive attendance because the more attendees you have the more robust the conversations can be,” he said.

Totman said that the summit experienced a boom with a strong economy in the mid-2000s when land surveyors were extremely busy. Attendees flocked to conference during that period, but the recession in the latter part of the decade affected attendance.

“Of course, everything kind of tanked,” Totman said. “We suffered because the whole construction industry just kind of died. All land transactions really kind of plummeted. We saw a severe hit in attendance. That’s just what it is.”

Totman said Esri officials regrouped after last year’s conference and tried to put themselves in surveyors’ shoes. They wanted to determine the business opportunities for surveyors.

“For surveyors who are attending, we asked where are the people who can start giving us paychecks and projects?” Totman said. “We all started thinking more and more. Land transactions are still going to be slow to rebound, but we’re starting to see some of the rebuild projects for aging infrastructure.”

Thus, Esri believed it made sense to open up the conference to engineers, whom Totman says are becoming more and more interested in GIS. Along with the National Society of Professional Surveyors (NSPS), Totman said there is renewed interest in the conference from the American Society of Civil Engineers.

“Engineering companies had been very heavily CAD-based, but they are starting to get more involved with GIS because they manage one project here with CAD and another project over there with CAD,” said Totman, who also is the chairman of the spatial data applications committee in the geomatics division of the American Society of Civil Engineers. “But with GIS they are seeing they can manage all their projects and I can start to build these comprehensive information systems.”


By expanding the conference’s scope, Totman hopes it makes sense economically for both surveyors and engineers.

“It’s almost like supply and demand,” Totman said. “Surveyors have the supply of expertise, knowledge, equipment, and engineers have the demand because they need high accuracy on their projects. To bring those two groups together is our intent.”

Totman believes the summit’s program will fulfill the needs of both surveyors and engineers.

“We’re looking for paper submissions where people are collecting high-accuracy data to feed many aspects of that infrastructure life cycle so engineers can say, ‘Oh, this is not just a CAD thing. This is a GIS thing,’” he said.

Esri’s website touts the AEC Summit as the “future of AEC.” The site explains the conference’s goals: taking high accuracy to all levels of the infrastructure plan. The conference will include technical sessions, user presentations and a hands-on learning lab in addition to a networking reception.

 “The tagline, the thing that hits you right off our title page, is the forum for high accuracy,” Totman said. “Who better knows high accuracy than surveyors? And so what we’re trying to do is highlight the importance of high accuracy, the importance of surveying in the entire infrastructure life-cycle process the engineers are working with.”