Is There Enough Turf for All Geospatial Professionals?

By Janet Jackson, GISP and Bill Moore, LS


The actual square footage of the Earth and surrounding skies may not be significantly changing, but there is definitely an increase in the “what, where, when, why, and how” the data about our Earth and sky is being collected and processed, and by whom.

I believe there is enough turf for all geospatial professionals, even as their roles, rights, and responsibilities shift, contract, and expand.  Not only are the educational requirements of the 21st century geospatial professional expanding, but so is the level of geospatial awareness and project involvement of most clients. 

New turf for clients: Clients require thorough and well-thought-out deliverables consisting of easy-to-understand spatial data. This should encourage the GIS professional and surveyor to work together. If they don’t know how to work together, then maybe a job is created for someone who helps facilitate that process. Web browsers allow clients to connect to their projects real-time, and as clients become more technologically savvy—and they are—project challenges can be handled more efficiently by specialized team members, thus expanding the employment turf. 

Technology is everywhere: By now you have a few favorite technology items (smart phone, total station, Toughbook, etc.) that you operate well enough to save time and money. The advanced and interoperability functions of these tools (technology sub-parts that talk to each other) are creating a need for more keenly educated geospatial professionals.  This is another opportunity for more educated professionals to be included in our geospatial world: professionals who have skills in information technology, data management, quality assurance and control, and digital cartography. 

Boom, not bust: The world’s thirst for data turned into information is increasing at an alarming speed, so it makes sense that geospatial professionals—who are at the center of the information expansion—become forward thinking and expand their minds (and skills) toward technology-based solutions. Efficient, well-run projects that are completed on time and within budget don’t just happen; it takes the combined skills of intersecting GIS and surveyors.  Geospatial technology in the hands of trained GIS and survey professionals is a boon to both professions, not a boundary that needs to be delineated!


There are two certainties in life: death and taxes. To these we can add another one: change. That is especially true these days. The need, inclination, and ability to innovate combine to give us new developments literally every day.

Is there enough turf? I think so. But we are not there yet.

Land surveyors define turf in providing geomatics-focused services to their clients. These include a lot of field observation and judgment. Surveyors have been known for these services for millennia. Over the past 25 years we have seen the manner in which these services are prepared and delivered change radically.

This is especially true in how spatial data is collected, stored, and presented. In this transition, new technologies and new practitioners have appeared in what was once previously considered surveyor turf. However, boundary survey findings are based on evidence and the law in addition to measurements. This lies outside the ordinary concerns of most GIS professionals.

Many surveyors have lost turf due to their failure to adapt to technologies such as GIS/LIS, GNSS, machine control, laser scanning, even photogrammetry and lidar. These changes have come as a natural course to serving the purposes of increasing efficiency and reducing cost.

Although surveyors are the sole providers of boundary surveys, technology has brought a slow erosion in demand for some of their ancillary services. When there is a glut of talent, the marketplace takes what it needs and leaves the remainder to fend for itself. If there is a shortage, it may begin to encourage the education of more individuals. It may look for talent that occupies nearby turf, hoping to retrain to expand their skills into the needed field.

Education takes time. If the process can’t prepare operators soon enough to accommodate change, the market by then might have turned to other solutions or to technically empower others to get the job done. Money drives this equation more than anything else, and that is what is at work here. If the current survey service providers can’t be competitive, someone else will figure a way to step in. The practice of using enforcement to preserve a vested group will work—for a while, anyway—until a less expensive but equally competent solution is devised.

The polar bear evolved to be a great hunter for food from sea surface ice. We have recently seen change in the Arctic Ocean: the melting of the ice from which these bears have taken their food in the form of seals. It would appear that if the trend continues, there will be a reduction in the polar bear population, unless they can adapt to other sources of nourishment. Similarly, the surveyor who can adapt to change, to learn to utilize new methods of acquiring and managing data and delivering it as a service, may be able to continue to thrive with changing turf and the slow return of economic activity.

There is enough turf, but surveyors must accommodate considerable change to keep theirs. Adapt and survive!

Janet Jackson, GISP, is certified as a GIS professional and is president of INTERSECT, a GIS consulting firm.   

Bill Moore is a land surveyor, licensed for 30 years in Virginia. He is currently president of Earth Vector Systems, LLC, a provider of Trimble GPS and robotic solutions to the surveying and MGIS community in the mid-Atlantic region.

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