ACSM/GITA Conference Coverage

May 4, 2010  - By
Image: GPS World

The annual ACSM (American Congress on Surveying and Mapping) isn’t what it used to be. Attendance was way down and the number of exhibitors is way down. The technical content, however, was still pretty good. In fact, I’ve included links to several videos I recorded at the ACSM/GITA conference.

This year, the ACSM conference was co-located with the GITA (Geospatial Infrastructure & Technology Association) annual conference. This made the trip worthwhile. By themselves, both conferences are becoming too small for most attendees (and therefore, exhibitors) to attend.

GITA is a GIS conference targeted at the global geospatial community, but in reality it attracts infrastructure geospatial users such as electric/gas/water utilities and local government.

This mix of ACSM and GITA is interesting and was a great opportunity for surveyors. While the economy is starving surveyors who are in the typical boundary and land development markets, the GITA crowd, in my estimation, are in dire need of a GIS-versed land surveyor.

There are many topics that were interesting and I thoroughly enjoyed most of the ones I attended, but there are two points I want to address about this conference:

  1. Surveying/GIS collaboration discussion
  2. Surveying Body of Knowledge discussion

If I can write fast enough, there is a third I’d like to tackle regarding the Driven By Data discussion. If not in this column, I’m sure I will touch on it in a future column or maybe in my Geospatial Solutions Weekly column.

Surveying/GIS Collaboration

One of the major benefits of co-locating the ACSM and GITA conferences is that it gives attendees a chance to mix it up with the “other side.” History has consistently demonstrated that it’s always easier to view the “other side” with a certain level of antipathy from afar. However, when one learns more intimately about the adversary’s intentions and struggles, that antipathy eventually turns towards empathy and appreciation. I recall listening to a US Veteran of World War II talking about fighting the enemy. I’m paraphrasing, but it went something like this:

“I believed in what we were doing and fighting the enemy was just doing my job. In those circumstances, we were enemies. Under peaceful circumstances, however, we may have been neighbors and we may have even been good friends.”

Land surveyors and GIS folks should be good friends. They both have a lot to gain from a positive relationship and a lot to lose with an adversarial relationship, with the former standing to lose the most.

Rudy Stricklin presented a very good session entitled “Professional Land Surveyors and Geospatial Professionals Building Bridges in Arizona.” In the presentation, he describes the process surveyors and GIS folks went through in Arizona to collaborate and find a common ground to work from. I’m not saying I necessarily agree with everything that was presented or enacted in Arizona, but Rudy’s consistent and often used terms like “collaboration” and “inclusive” certainly conveyed the team-building spirit and positive attitude needed to build a long-term relationship. The bridge-building process presented by Rudy is a model that would be difficult to go wrong with in a similar endeavor by another state, province or local/regional government.

I recorded the presentation in its entirety. It’s in five parts with each being about 10 minutes in length. I suggest listening to the first segment as he paints the broad picture. However, the entire presentation is well worth your time.

Part 1 – Professional Land Surveyors and Geospatial Professionals Building Bridges in Arizona (9:10 minutes)

Part 2 – Professional Land Surveyors and Geospatial Professionals Building Bridges in Arizona (9:23 minutes)

Part 3 – Professional Land Surveyors and Geospatial Professionals Building Bridges in Arizona (9:39 minutes)

Part 4 – Professional Land Surveyors and Geospatial Professionals Building Bridges in Arizona (9:12 minutes)

Part 5 – Professional Land Surveyors and Geospatial Professionals Building Bridges in Arizona (9:59 minutes)

There was also a discussion panel entitled “GIS/Surveying Geospatial Collaboration.” On the panel was Gene Trobia, Arizona State Cartographer, Jack Avis, PLS, and Bill Coleman, PLS. Jack and Bill are both land surveyors who offer GIS services.

Gene has some great stories about the early ESRI years and GIS challenges. He recalled there were 37 people at the first ESRI User Conference he attended.

Watch this 85 second description by Gene of the challenge faced by GIS managers explaining why some are myopic.

I posed a couple of questions to the panel.

The first was the subject of a National Parcel Database with references to the First American parcel database.

Part 1 – National Parcel Database discussion (2:26 minutes)

Part 2 – National Parcel Database discussion (8:36 minutes)

The second question I posed was how can a small surveying firm that is focused on boundary and mortgage surveys (and is starving) can transition to offering GIS services.

How Can a Small Surveying Firm Transition to Offering GIS Services (9:55 minutes)


Surveying Body of Knowledge (BoK) discussion

  • Josh Greenfeld, Ph.D., PLS
  • Earl Burkholder, PLS, PE (New Mexico State Univ)
  • Wendy Lathrop, PLS (Private practice)
  • Joe Paiva, Ph.D., PLS (Geomatics consultant)

The focus of this presentation/discussion was to define the role (Body of Knowledge) of professional surveyors in the 21st century.

Why develop a Surveying Body of Knowledge (BoK)?

According to the committee (the folks above plus Bob Burton, PLS, PE and Bob Dahn, PLS), the Surveying BoK was developed to:

  1. Formulate a scope of the surveying profession.
  2. Promote recognition for the need for college education.
  3. To help surveyors in business development.
  4. To develop a surveying scholarship
  5. To help promote the surveying profession.
  6. To define the distinctiveness of the surveying profession.

The Surveying BoK Committee has defined the surveying profession to encompass the following disciplines:

  • Positioning
  • Imaging
  • GIS
  • Law
  • Land development

The discussion was led by Josh Greenfeld with Earl and Joe presenting on Positioning, Josh presenting for Robert Burtch on Imaging, Wendy presenting on Law, Josh presenting on GIS, and Wendy presenting on Land Development.

Often referred to as the world’s second-oldest profession, it’s ironic that land surveyors are trying to redefine themselves after thousands of years. But, technology has forced them to face reality. I can’t say I wouldn’t do the same thing. I would say, however, that it’s late in the game for this. Of course, hindsight is 20-20, but this effort really should have begun 10 years ago. Someone dropped the ball.

Regardless, I think they’ve got the right idea. The BoK committee consists of pe
ople who are highly respected in the surveying profession. The BoK document is not perfect (and they recognize that and are looking for input), but it’s a step in defining the future of the surveying professional.
I think expanding the horizons of the land surveyor to include the five disciplines (positioning, imaging, GIS, law and land development) is a great idea. This would expand the profession significantly as it would paint a much more current and accurate picture of the knowledge and skillset a student could strive to achieve if they chose surveying as a profession to pursue. A Surveying Body of Knowledge (BoK) doesn’t exist today so it’s difficult to paint a picture and describe the knowledge and skillset much beyond that of boundary surveyor.

Kudos to the committee for devoting the time and energy to assemble the BoK document. Although I don’t have a link to the detailed Surveying BoK that was handed out at the presentation, click here to view a Surveying BoK paper that Dr. Greenfeld presented at the FIG (International Federation of Surveyors) conference about one month ago.

However, I want to make what I feel is a very important point

I mentioned this during the discussion and I’ll write it here. If one of the purposes of this document is to take it and run to the state legislature to have it legally define the land surveyor’s domain (and therefore eliminate others from operating in that space), I would vehemently oppose it. Honestly, I got that weird feeling when Dr. Greenfeld made a comment early in his presentation that one of the Surveying BoK purposes was to be used “to define the distinctiveness of the profession against those who are trying to encroach on our profession [because] there are a lot of cases like this.” In other words, he’d like positioning, imaging, GIS, law (as related to surveying) and land development to be the exclusive domain of the land surveyor. That would be a mistake, a HUGE mistake. After the discussion group, I asked Dr. Greenfeld about this remark. He dismissed the premise with the thought that laws can be changed and that a larger group with more resources could overturn such a law if there was enough dissent.

The reason I think it would be a huge mistake is because it limits competition. It’s common knowledge that competition breeds innovation. Henry Ford said “you can have any color (automobile) you want, as long as it’s black.” Without competition, you may still be driving a black automobile without air conditioning. Of course, all-out competition is not the answer either. Just like in politics, the right answer is not at either extreme, but somewhere in the middle.

As a side note, here is a short clip from the audience regarding the importance of communication skills in the education of land surveyors.

The importance of land surveyor communication skills (4:36 minutes)


To give you a flavor of the rest of the conference content, following is a partial list of technical presentations at both conferences.


  • The Surveyor’s Role in the FEMA Flood Insurance Program
  • Hydrographic Surveying
  • Understanding the Statistics Used in GPS Surveying
  • Development, Implementation, and Future of the National Spatial Reference System
  • The Surveying Body of Knowledge
  • The Surveyor’s Role in Boundary Conflict Resolution
  • Introduction to GIS for Surveyors
  • GIS, Geodesy, and the Ghost in the Machine: A Workshop for Surveyors and GIS Professionals
  • Professional Land Surveyors and Geospatial Professionals Building Bridges in Arizona
  • Panel Discussion: Driven by Data: Who Pays? Who Plays?
  • GNSS Technology Update (presented by Yours Truly)
  • The Truth about an RTK Localization/Calibration


  • How the Evolution of GPS is Transforming Surveying and Mapping (presented by Yours Truly along with Pam Fromhertz of NGS)
  • Geospatial Solutions to Address Aging Infrastructure
  • GIS/Surveying Geospatial Collaboration
  • Geospatial Solutions for Preparing and Responding to Natural Disasters
  • Spatial Analysis in a CAD-driven GIS
  • Geodata Creation and Sharing
  • Location, OGC, and the Smart Grid
  • Spatial Law and Policy
  • Building a Facilities Information Infrastructure to Support Public Safety
  • Offshore Wind Energy GIS Development for the Gulf of Maine
  • Haiti, Open Source Mapping, and the Collaborative Environment
  • Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport Enterprise GIS – Managing Signage Infrastructure and Content
  • Streamlined Methods to Collect and Maintain GPS and Attribute Information for Utility Assets


Lastly, if you’re interested, here’s a link to my “GNSS Technology Update” presentation I made at the ACSM Technical Session.

GNSS Technology Update

Thanks and see you next time.


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