The challenge for land surveyors and other field professionals is that critical information can't always be accessed when they need it. Then when they can get it, information is still missing, requiring them to do considerable manual work to fill the gap.

This double quandary hasn't gone unnoticed by mapping software companies that are trying to solve both issues.

Anytime, Anywhere Access

“Surveyors need continuous access to mapping data no matter where they are,” says Stewart Berry, director of product management, mapping software at Caliper, a mapping and transportation software provider. “They might need standard GPS and GIS information, but their field operations might also demand that they have visibility of other trucks and individuals on the project, and where they are locationally.”

Delivery of this information could come over a mobile device, which is especially suited for field-based operators. Data can also be delivered from office desktops to field-based mobile devices in near-real-time, eliminating much of the work that surveyors must do back at their offices to finish a job.

“The great facilitator of this flexible access is the Internet cloud,” says Donny Sosa, survey industry manager, ESRI, a mapping software provider. “By relying on cloud-based apps and storage, field operators are far less dependent on their home offices.”

Sosa notes that over the last 12 to 18 months, one of the biggest benefits that mapping software has been delivering to surveyors is access to geographical information created, shared and delivered by anyone using a mapping software platform that supports such collaboration. It has also reduced the hassle of having to work with different file formats that are coming in from different networks.

“We are aware of research that indicates that surveyors spend 50 percent of their time locating data that is stored between their offices and in the field,” Sosa says. “This is why we focus on the Internet and cloud-based technology as being the intermediaries of data storage and access … It eliminates the need to physically chase after data.”

An Expanding Role for GIS

GIS integration and a growing number of GIS applications that can interact directly with mapping software to produce richer information is a major focus for mapping software vendors.

Software manufacturers have also added map templates that come packed with GIS information that users can simply modify to fit their own purposes.

“We offer nine different base maps with highly detailed information that you can tailor for your needs,” Sosa says. “These maps come with detailed imagery of the region being mapped. They also have topographic maps. If you zoom on the maps, you can actually see elevations. You can also get water charts, ocean charts and street information.”

Sosa says that the choice of different map formats aligns itself well with the different mapping technology needs in various industries. For example, if you are in the waterworks industry, there are click-and-start mapping applications that you can choose from. They help you avoid having to start all of your maps from scratch because the applications have most of what you need.

“We are a GIS as well as a mapping system,” says Caliper’s Berry. “The end goal in mapping software is to make both GIS and mapping easier for users … A user like a surveyor can get ‘wizards’ that can direct him to important data and functions, but he also has the opportunity to do his own deep diving into the software if he chooses to. We provide programming tools that enable sites to customize the software to their own particular workflow and work needs.”

Fast-Forwarding to the Future

Both Sosa and Berry agree that emerging technology trends will have to be addressed by mapping in the future.

“We need to be aware of drone-to-map solutions, which will be invaluable in agriculture, utilities, government, transportation and forestry, to name several industries,” Sosa says. “Within these contexts, the ability to provide a GIS, GPS, plus image and Android access will be in high demand.”

“Also look for greater integration between mapping and 3D software,” Berry adds.

The goal, of course, is to bring new mapping tools to the desks and the field locations of surveyors and others so they can do work faster, and with greater completeness.

“You can’t stop people from working alone, or from going through an iterative process of producing drafts and then finals of their work, and you can’t change them if they don’t want to collaborate,” Sosa says. “But by enabling new capabilities together with data storage that creates universal access from anywhere, we can incrementally improve the process.”