As GIS makes the transformation from strictly mapping functions to an expanded ability to aggregate data along GIS parameters for more informed results, surveyors, contractors using BIM systems, engineers and others who use geospatial information will be asked to produce new products for their clients.

We are already seeing this trend in related software such as 3D CAD (computer aided design) systems that engineers and those in surveying and construction management disciplines use. Historically, the call has been for 3D CAD training, which was exactly what engineering schools focused on for years. But with the growth of Internet of Things (IoT) technologies and other location contextual information, a richer integration of data is possible.

“What this has spearheaded is a crisis in many businesses,” says Peter Schroer, CEO and founder of ARAS, a product lifecycle management (PLM) software provider.  “Business users said that they needed a more holistic vision of the products that were being produced that went beyond just the engineering.”

In the geospatial discipline, this drive for holism has led to several information needs.

To illustrate:

  • The architect of a large commercial building project in an earthquake zone wants an assessment of the stability of the earth beneath a proposed site as well as an understanding of the site’s specific locational coordinates.
  • A retailer wants demographics information on the types of consumers and on the traffic flows past a proposed new site, based on the site’s location.
  • A forest management firm wants an understanding of topography, flora and fauna in the evaluation of a parcel of forest land before developing a forest management plan for the parcel.

Undoubtedly, these new demands will lead surveyors and other geospatial professionals to broaden their skills so they can incorporate more information sources onto traditional mapping and surveying products to enhance the value of those products. However, equally important for firms will be the new demand that their clients will be presenting for more analytics-enriched work that can render a more complete picture of a situation or of a proposed project.

“Already in Germany, we are seeing revisions to academic programs with students now being given half of their training in an engineering type of discipline and half in business to address these needs,” Schroer says. “This is the type of holistic education that we need in the U.S.”

Schroer says that in some respects, we are beginning to see a rebirth of some of the approaches to engineering-based disciplines that were in place at NASA and in military aerospace programs during the 1960s.

“In those days, there was small team of engineers who looked at all of the interrelationships and impacts of different aspects of parts and how these parts all worked together in a product,” Schroer says. “Later, this function got relegated to more of a paper-pushing function and several decades of engineers were strictly trained in the mechanical aspects of product design. … It is time to take another look at this model.”

What are the takeaways for engineering and surveying companies?

Revisit Your Product and Service Offerings

A good way to do this is to evaluate recent requests from clients. How are these requests changing? And if they are not yet changing, do you envision that they will change in the near future? A common change in client requests is to ask for more content-rich products than were available in the past, simply because most companies are already engaged with advanced data analytics, so they know what is possible. If they aren’t already, your products need be enhanced and aligned with these new demands.

Assess Your Workforce Readiness

If you have  a seasoned workforce of surveyors and/or engineers, chances are that many have not worked much with advanced analytics, or with blending data from variegated sources and superimposing it on CAD or mapping software. They will need to be able to do this as clients start asking for more, so some workforce retraining might be called for. In other cases, you might want to hire university graduates who can complement your existing workforce with these skills. A good approach is to find a college or a university that offers combined engineering/surveying /GIS training with training in advanced analytics.

Check With Your System Vendors

Purveyors of surveying, mapping, GIS, BIM and CAD systems already understand the need to enrich the information yields of products with information from diverse sources. If you have a software upgrade or a workforce skills upgrade issue, talk to them. They can often provide short-term help and longer term solutions that can help you get to where you want to go.