How Can Surveyors Use GIS to Enhance Their Interactions with Clients?



GIS JANET says …

The popular phrase “a picture is worth a thousand words” is one you’ve heard all your life. And, of course, it makes sense to you. But what if you changed that phrase to “a picture is worth a thousand dollars?” From a business standpoint, does that make even more sense? 

Most positive client interactions are a result of thinking from the client’s point of view. And an easy first step in that process is to show clients their project progress, instead of just telling them about it. Displaying a large, colorful map of combined project data layers, created in GIS, that highlights the challenges of the project is a friendly and highly interactive way to bring any project obstacles to your client’s attention. Right away, your client can see for him/herself the progress or challenges that need to be addressed. Your progress meeting has just reached a new level of interaction and communication because you are talking about challenges that both of you can clearly see and understand. Your large, hard-copy GIS maps also offer a great place to note your interactive conversation and any documented changes to the project.


A picture is worth a thousand dollars of future work won.

We all know too well that email has become our most convenient method of client communication. And, in some cases, communicating through email is difficult, as the email “tone” can be easily misinterpreted. However, email is so convenient that it’s not appropriate to say don’t use it. My suggestion is to enhance your emails by attaching a few simple screen shots from your GIS data or layout view to illustrate your key points. This type of digital interaction allows the reader/viewer to fully understand your communication, even if your email is short or your subject is complicated.

Finally, clients are interested in working with you because you are the expert, so you are the one who needs to take the lead and show them how their project can be done efficiently and within budget. Clients truly expect you to offer suggestions on how their projects can be managed bigger, better, faster. Using technology, especially GIS, that complements surveying, is a great way to keep your firm’s costs competitive and your clients interactively informed. Time and money are saved when your communications are clear. That is what I mean when I say a picture is worth a thousand dollars; a thousand dollars in cost savings and a thousand dollars of future work won. Well-known presidential speech writer James Humes said, “The art of communication is the language of leadership.” So why not take the leadership role with your clients? Show up at your next progress meeting with a few large and colorful GIS maps under your arm, prepared for a highly interactive exchange that will leave your client thinking about ways to employ your professional skills again.


As one member of the map-making profession predating GIS, I agree that a picture is worth a thousand words. I would even revise that old saying to “a map is worth a thousand words.” Additionally, I would say that “an accurate map could be worth thousands of dollars.”

I understand Janet’s views on the added value of GIS data to create a “large, colorful map of combined project data layers.” Let’s not forget that the value of that “large, colorful map” could depend on the base map and survey data provided by the surveyor. While the added GIS data and layers can present the information in a visual manner that is more easily understood, emphasis also needs to be placed on its accuracy. When you are analyzing project obstacles, it is important that the data shown on the maps be accurate so that the significance of those obstacles can be determined.

If the value to the project is apparent, obtaining the GIS data should be a given.

Certainly having accurate maps with additional GIS data included on them is an excellent way to enhance your relationships with your clients. Twenty or thirty years ago it was difficult, or at the very least, labor intensive, to create colorful and data-filled maps for presentations or proposals. Creating colorful maps for presentations was done using colored pencils or felt-tipped markers, one feature at a time. 

Today is a much different world in map making. With the amount of electronic data available from GIS and other sources, and with the ease this data can be used with computers and plotters, surveyors and engineers should use this data on maps and in reports to enhance client interaction. These maps and reports should also be used for presentations to government agencies involved in the review process to more clearly present the facts to those agencies. Your successes with review agencies will certainly enhance your client relationships. The approval process for projects has so many components and can take months to be completed. If this process can be shortened by the surveyor providing more accurate and more complete mapping, including the use of GIS components, the client will benefit greatly. And if your maps are easily interpreted and understood, an additional benefit could be the enhancement of your interactions with the review agencies. 

I encourage surveyors to use the available GIS data to enhance their mapping where appropriate. If the value to the project is apparent, obtaining the GIS data should be a given.  The other side of that equation is that I encourage the GIS folks to include surveyors and our services to improve the quality and value of their GIS mapping for the benefit of their clients. Both professions working together can enhance our interactions with our clients at a time when it is critical to maintain and keep our clients.

While Janet and Randy may not see eye to eye on all surveying and GIS issues, they do respect each other’s perspective and point of view and attempt to “intersect” their professions whenever possible. Randy and Janet invite you to submit your questions to “Intersect.” Contact them via email at or 919-417-0894.

About the Authors

  • Janet Jackson, GISP
    Janet Jackson, GISP
    Janet is certified as a GIS professional and is president of INTERSECT, a GIS consulting firm.
  • Randy Rambeau, Sr., PLS
    Randy Rambeau, Sr., PLS
    Randy is a geomatics office manager with McKim & Creed, an engineering, surveying, and planning firm.

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