2010 ESRI Survey and Engineering GIS Summit

The theme of this year’s ESRI Surveying and Engineering GIS Summit, “Building New Opportunities” (July 10-13 in San Diego, CA), permeated the sessions and workshops. For most of the surveyors, engineers, and GIS professionals in attendance, that was just what they wanted to hear. For many others though, the task at hand is to first recognize the opportunities at hand.

At first glance, many of the topics covered were those that you would expect to hear about: the new release of ArcGIS 10 with its enhanced web and cloud computing capabilities and the surveyor’s role in the creation and maintaining of a national land parcel database. However, another theme is emerging that could have more long-term business impact on the surveying and geospatial community.



In his opening remarks, Brent Jones, ESRI surveying and engineering industry solutions manager, presented some eye-opening statistics:
  • 85 percent of the data in modern organizations is unstructured,
  • 40 - 60 percent of engineering time is spent locating and validating information,
  • 30 percent of people’s time is spent looking for relevant information, and
  • effective data management can reduce design and construction costs up to 14 percent.
Since the majority of the data in engineering projects is either georeferenced, or should be, this represents an enormous opportunity for firms with the willingness and ability to step in and manage this glut of data.

In one of the keynote addresses, Stuart Rich, chief technology officer of Penobscot Bay Media, LLC, discussed how GIS is integrating with BIM and moving inside the building envelope. He mentions that once the interiors of buildings and the subsurface infrastructure are accounted for, only 16 percent of major cities are mapped. While speaking about the use of lidar to map building interiors (collecting over 250,000 points of data per second in his applications) he stated that “the value of measurement is trending very close to zero.” This reinforced something Brent Jones said earlier in the day, that any firm whose business model is based on charging to collect individual points of data is in a for a rude awakening.

On the second day, as the plenary session gave way to individual workshops, much of the subject matter reinforced the concept of GIS as a data-management tool. As the software becomes ever more powerful, especially regarding 3D data, GIS software is becoming the logical platform to manage information throughout the entire design and construction sequence. Starting with geodesign—which brings geographic analysis into the design process and allows the planner to make visual what were once abstract design criteria—through the management of construction, a single geodatabase can be used as the repository for all information from various consultants on a project.

Some of the more interesting workshops in this vein covered topics like using GIS in managing, updating, and accessing up-to-the minute information in mining applications; to managing quality assurance in construction projects by placing as-built information side-by-side with design information in the same geodatabase; and tying construction-cost and time-management data into a georeferenced system. As scientific management concepts like Six Sigma stress, if you can’t measure it, you can’t management it. GIS can bring a whole new area of measurement (spatial) into the management process.

During lunch on Sunday, Eric Gakstatter, survey and GIS editor of GPS World magazine, delivered a speech about GIS and its relationship to surveying, stressing the fact that the much-perceived gap between the two practices stems from surveyors’ inability to look at GIS from any end users’ perspective other than their own. A few points he covered were:
  • GIS isn’t all about parcel databases.
  • A GIS’s spatial data accuracy is driven by the mission of the GIS.
  • All organizations would prefer a cm‐level accurate GIS.
  • Most organizations can’t afford to create or maintain a cm‐level accurate GIS.
  • In most cases, the accuracy of a GIS you encounter is good enough to provide the necessary information to support its mission.
As in previous years, the weekend Surveying and Engineering GIS Summit segues into the ESRI International User Conference. Given the size and scope of the User Conference (over 12,000 attendees), after the plenary secession much of the attention from the surveying and engineering community focuses on the exhibit area as manufacturers use the largest crowd they’ll see in North America to launch new products.

Carlson Software had a large presence, emphasizing their continued development of products that offer increasing interoperability with ESRI products, bridging the gap between GIS and CAD. Their field survey data collection software, SurvCE, can now be programmed to collect GIS attribute data and export directly into ESRI products. Juniper Systems unveiled their new Mesa rugged notebook. It features the largest screen currently available on a handheld device as well as integrated GPS and digital camera that will geotag images.

Both Topcon and Trimble introduced new mobile mapping systems. Topcon’s IP-S2 mobile mapping system combines a GNSS receiver with an Internal Measurement Unit that works to track the vehicle’s position even when the satellite signals become blocked, such as in an “urban canyon” environment. The Trimble MX-8 Mobile Spatial Imaging System combines 600,000 points per second of centimeter-grade scanning data with georeferenced imagery that can be draped over the point cloud. In addition, their Trident-3D Analyst software, with the ability to automatically extract road signs, road geometry, break lines, and lane markings, starts to break down the office bottleneck of data that so many firms have experienced when moving into the scanning market.

In many ways these last two mapping products represent the challenges and opportunities presented at this year’s summit. The amount of georeferenced data is accumulating at a rate faster than anyone imagined. Concurrently, the market to managing that data is suffering from a vacuum. These are the types of new opportunities that, once recognized by surveyors, need to be built upon.

About the Author

  • James Fleming, LS
    James Fleming, LS
    James Fleming, LS, owns Antietam Land Surveying in Hagerstown, Maryland.

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