John Palatiello

A Fireside Chat with MAPPS Executive Director John Palatiello (without the fire)

Professional Surveyor Magazine recently sat with John Palatiello, executive director of the Management Association of Private Photogrammetric Surveyors (MAPPS), for a wide-reaching and insightful interview. Palatiello spoke in detail about the changes that have taken place in the geospatial professions—since his early days on the staff of ACSM more than 30 years ago to today when MAPPS is seen as one of the leading players in the geospatial community.

As part of this interview, Palatiello spoke about such topical issues as the highly controversial issue involving “Save our GPS” versus LightSquared, the outlook for the use of unmanned aerial vehicles, as well as the challenges of attracting bright, young talent to the geospatial profession.

The interview lasted for more than an hour; therefore, we are sharing only a portion of it with you here in print. View the entire interview on YouTube.

PSM: MAPPS focuses on the business of surveying, mapping, remote sensing, and GIS. How has the role of the professional surveyor changed in the nearly 30 years you’ve been in this business?

Palatiello: When I first entered this community the surveyor had a rather narrow role. It was primarily doing boundary work. There were some other disciplines: hydrography, control, engineering surveys, things of that nature. But it was much more limited than it is today.

The market is different; the technology is different. The licensing laws have changed, where you now have states that are licensing a much broader definition of what surveying is. So, a large number of MAPPS members are now professional surveyors because they’ve been licensed in those states. In many cases they’ve been grandfathered in, and in other cases they have become surveyors through the more traditional path. But a very significant percentage of our member firms now have a licensed professional surveyor on staff, and the role of traditional surveyors in the broader geospatial services has truly evolved in the 30 years that I’ve been involved in this community.

PSM: John, where do you see the geospatial professions and, specifically, surveying five years from now?

Palatiello: I think there’s a very bright future. I think you are going to see much, much more integration of data, and the distinction between a surveyor and someone in another geospatial discipline is going to become blurred. I think the mortgage crisis is starting to raise awareness of the importance of parcel data in this country, and, of course, that’s surveying data.

I see a growing market. The market, the client base, is going to change. The geospatial side of things is moving to much more of a consumer market. Historically [for] a mapping firm, a photogrammetry firm, his or her clients have been engineers, surveyors, government agencies who were a very technical market. With web-based delivery with cloud computing, it is now moving towards a sophisticated mass-consumer market, and that’s a challenge but it’s also an opportunity.

But it certainly means growth in a much larger market in the future, so I’m very optimistic. I think that’s where technology is going in terms of data collection, data processing, data dissemination … It’s all positive, and I see it as a spectacularly growing community.

That’s one of the differences I think right now with the way traditional surveyors are being impacted by the current economy and the way the broader geospatial community [is being affected]. There is a much broader market today for photogrammetry, for aerial and satellite collection, for the processing and the building of geographic information systems.

I’ve argued that if this recession had hit in the 1980s, the mapping side of things would be struggling as much as the surveying side is today. But the mapping side is a much broader market. And while the real-estate-related work is certainly down, that’s where surveyors are feeling it. There are so many other markets now, so many other areas that demand geospatial data that by and large our members have not been suffering as much as the traditional land surveyor.

Now that’s not to say that things can’t be better, and that’s not to say that everyone is doing well, but from what I hear from my members and what we see in surveys that we do of our membership, there are non-real-estate-related markets that are helping to sustain firms through this recession and doing much better than they would be if we were a very development-/real-estate-based profession as we were 20 or 30 years ago.

PSM: The very acronym MAPPS almost seems to have been outgrown, with your membership encompassing so much more than photogrammetric surveyors. Do you agree, and if so, was this expansion into related professions and businesses planned?

Palatiello: Yes, I do agree. We have been slowly doing away with the full name (Management Association of Private Photogrammetric Surveyors) because most people know the organization as MAPPS, and the official and original title is much more restrictive and no longer represents truly what our membership is all about. As the geospatial community has evolved, developed, and grown over the years and the depth and breadth of services that our members are providing has changed, we’ve changed along with it. So, we like to think of MAPPS as being the association of private geospatial firms, not just those involved in photogrammetry or surveying or any of the individual disciplines that are part of that larger umbrella.

In the future we will be known simply as MAPPS with a tagline that says something to the effect of “the association for private geospatial firms.” But the perception and the reality of MAPPS representing a multi-disciplinary, cross-cutting geospatial technology—and the firms that provide those services and products—is definitely the direction in which we are going.

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