What does LiDAR mean for photogrammetry? What does cloud computing mean for desktop computing? What do drones mean for manned aircraft? I find myself asking a lot of “what does this mean for this” questions lately and I can’t help it; there are a lot of new solutions that may or may not threaten the existence of current technologies.

The innovations that impact the geospatial profession don’t just raise questions about tool relevance; they raise questions about people relevance. Photogrammetry is just one example of a geospatial specialty that is becoming simplified due to automation in hardware and software. On the surface, easier sounds better because it usually means saving time and money. But so easy that anyone can do it? That scenario poses serious concerns which cannot be ignored.

This issue has not gone unnoticed. I hear about it quite regularly in interviews for articles and on exhibit floors across the country. Mike Tully, CP, GISP, president and CEO of Aerial Services Inc. in Cedar Falls, Iowa, most recently drove this home with two powerful statements during an interview I conducted for a POB article on the state of aerial surveying and mapping. He said:

  • “Every technology is fine and represents just another tool, but what we need as a society and as a profession, we need to make sure the people using those tools are capable and competent and maybe even licensed to use those tools to produce the products and services necessary to build our roads or bridges or coal piles or whatever we might be producing. The problem is not with the technology. The potential risk is the exploitation of that technology by unqualified people.”
  • “Today, in large part, a photogrammetrist has been reduced to a chip in our computers, so we now have software that’s able to perform photogrammetry for us in a very rapid manner. But we still need the expertise and the professionalism of the photogrammetrist to make sure the products and services that come out of these mapping processes, based on the remotely sensed data we’ve collected, is right and we can represent it accurately and fairly and professionally.”

It isn’t just manufacturing workers who face real threats from automation and other technological advancements; it’s technologists too. We can never know for sure “what this will do to this in five, 10 or 20 years,” but we do know based on history that big changes to the qualitative and quantitative demand for professionals are very possible.

The key points here are to keep up with what changes are occurring; ask important questions, even if they’re scary; and never get too comfortable. In the geospatial profession, individuals have to stay on their toes; impactful innovation is a constant.

If you are concerned about staying relevant, think about what makes you valuable as a certified photogrammetrist, for example, versus Joe Shmoe with a drone and processing software. Then, make sure that is known to the public. Professional organizations like MAPPS care about helping everyday people and policy makers understand the value of geospatial professionals with a unified voice; they can help you.

In addition to educating others about why your education, training, licensure and/or certification is of value, you have to not just see how new technology can benefit your business, but be ready and willing to adapt yourself. Maybe you’ll need to use less of one skill but more of another, or spend less time on some aspects of projects and more on others. Maybe you’ll even consider diversifying your geospatial service offerings to account for any slowdown in one vertical.

Don’t ignore the changes. Keep up with them whether you feel like they won’t affect you or you’re afraid of just how much they will. As John Palatiello, MAPPS executive director, recently said to me in an interview on geospatial professionals and policy involvement, “Take part or get taken apart. If you aren’t at the table, you’re on the menu.”

How do you stay ahead of the curve? Do you have concerns about how technological advancements might affect geospatial professionals? Shoot me an email!