Inaugural ACSM Conference/Esri Survey Summit

If you missed this year’s inaugural combined American Congress on Surveying and Mapping (ACSM) annual conference/Esri Survey Summit, on July 7-13, you missed:
  • Many excellent presenters outlining in great detail how their survey businesses are surviving and actually growing opportunities for themselves now and into the future.
  • Some of the leading authorities in technological advancements describing where they see our profession in the coming years.
  • A civil but passionate series of head-to-head discussion between representatives of LightSquared and the Coalition to Save Our GPS.
  • If that’s not enough, you missed discussions and a final decision on the future of ACSM, the organization that co-hosted this event.
Clearly, this summit was unlike the annual conferences of ACSM’s past.  Being the first time ACSM has ever held its annual conference with Esri’s Survey Summit, the whole affair was far more future-oriented, focusing on the business and technology of successful firms that are not sitting still in today’s challenging business climate.

“These are exciting times for those surveyors willing to grow beyond their comfort zones,” immediate-past NSPS president John Matonich, PS, president of Michigan-based Rowe Professional Services Company, told those at his presentation. 

“Search out new markets,” he stressed. “Sell existing services to existing clients, sell new services to existing clients [consider hiring new employees with new expertise that opens up new markets], sell existing services to new clients, and sell new services to new clients. Don’t be afraid to reinvent yourself and your business.” Examples of new markets include wind farming, energy development, and pipelines.

He urged firms to allocate 1.5% of their budget to getting additional training in new areas for existing staff.  He also urged everyone to “partner with other firms on projects.  I’d rather have 20% of a project than 0% of it.”

Matonich said his firm has also had success getting business by attending trade shows entirely out of their comfort zone.  For example, his firm recently attended a show for the aggregate business. “None of our competitors were there, but we walked away with a lot of business.”

Keynote speaker Rand Knight of Critigen agreed that partnering is “the wave of the future. Yes, survey-grade data is the basis on which all else is based, but clients come to us [Critigen] because we’re not just a survey team. Surveyors need to embrace this. Look at the value of survey-grade data when you add all the other layers of data on top of it. You must look at what is possible if you link up with the other geospatial professionals.”

Knight demonstrated how his firm parlays survey-grade data into helping financial firms, businesses planning solar farms, companies requiring better asset management, and businesses that provide business intelligence. “It’s all about leveraging your data,” he concluded.

ACSM executive director Curt Sumner stressed, “Adaptability is the key in our profession. We need to be inspired and we need to look forward.”

Brent Jones, Esri’s global marketing manager for surveying, cadastre, and engineering, cleverly likened GPS technology to the technology and history of the clock.  When invented, the timepiece was valued and prized, like the massive clock towers built and admired in the squares of city centers. Today, timepieces are ubiquitous.  High-precision digital timepieces are available for a few dollars or included for free in most modern electronics.  “GPS is the Casio watch of electronics. GPS now appears in virtually everything.  It’s getting cheaper and more accurate,” he said.

Jones agreed with earlier speakers that the future is all about maximizing the use of data. “We’ve developed ways to share data in really solid ways.” One example of how surveyors could improve their role, Jones said, is that “surveyors could be hugely helpful in completing parcel fabrics.”

Juliana Blackwell, director of the National Geodetic Survey (NGS) said the biggest news at NGS is major updates in the National Spatial Reference System (NSRS). “Two ambitious projects underway at NGS will improve the NSRS by updating and refining the North American Datum of 1983 and the National Adjustment of 2011.”  More information is available at

The most topical and anticipated event of the weekend was the head-to-head discourse between representatives of LightSquared and an organization titled Coalition to Save Our GPS.  LightSquared is a D.C.-metro-area company created by investors and global telecommunications’ executives to “revolutionize the wireless experience in the U.S. by creating a powerful new $14 billion broadband network.” Opponents, including most in the surveying community, stress that, if built, this system will encroach and potentially disrupt communications on the bandwidth used by precision GPS, rendering much of today’s survey-grade GPS technology ineffective.

Summaries of both sides of the arguments presented by LightSquared executive vice president Jeff Carlisle and Trimble vice president Pete Large are on our website.

Amidst all the presentations and workshops, officials of ACSM and its member organizations were meeting to discuss ACSM’s future. On July 13, representatives of the ACSM Congress approved the following motion: “In the interests of leading toward a viable single organization, the ACSM Congress be disbanded and the dissolution of ACSM begin and in conjunction with the process, ACSM turn over all operation, control, assets and liabilities to NSPS.”

Clearly, this year’s inaugural ACSM/Esri event sets the stage for larger and more educational conferences in the years ahead.

About the Author

  • Neil Sandler
    Neil Sandler
    Neil is publisher of the magazine.

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