Get It Surveyed: ESRI Surveying and Engineering GIS Summit

July 22, 2010  - By

I attended (and presented at) the 2010 ESRI Surveying and Engineering GIS Summit (SEGS) last week, as well as the ESRI International User Conference (UC). I’m telling you, if you’ve never been to the SEGS and UC, just treat yourself one time. Make a mini-vacation out of it. San Diego is a beautiful place to visit. The weather is always moderate with low humidity and warm temperature. It was a little cooler this year than years past, but still absolutely beautiful with tons of sigh-seeing. My wife has accompanied me for the past few years and she always enjoys herself and finds something new every year.

I believe that if you just go just one time, your vision of surveying, engineering, construction and GIS will change forever. I know it sounds like an advertisement from ESRI, but I think my pitch is even better than theirs :-). Seriously though, there are so many people presenting so many different ideas, and they are all related to the kind of geographic data you work with on a regular basis.

But, like anything else, it’s not all good. There are some drawbacks, so I’ve come up with my Good, Bad, Ugly list with respect to the conference. I think its pretty objective.

The Good

  • The single largest gathering (13,000+) of GIS, surveyors and engineers in the world (although one could argue that Europe’s INTERGEO might be larger).
  • A pre-conference (SEGS) that is designed specifically to cater to the land surveying and engineering folks.
  • Ideas and technology are presented that you will not find anywhere else.
  • The opportunity to network and collaborate with a large number of peers that you will not find anywhere else.
  • In 2011, the national ACSM (American Congress on Surveying and Mapping) conference will be combined with the SEGS.
  • San Diego is a beautiful city with beautiful weather and lots to do within walking distance of the convention center.

The Bad

  • Since it’s a vendor-specific conference, ESRI competitors such as Autodesk, Intergraph, etc., are not invited. In fact, if you tick them off, they might not invite you back next year.
  • A lot of time away from work during prime field season (July).
  • You could be overloaded if you aren’t prepared for the barrage of information and technology.

The Ugly

  • The whole experience isn’t cheap. The conference registration is expensive and San Diego is an expensive place to visit.
  • The San Diego airport is horrible, but at least it’s a very short ride to the convention center.

The Surveying and Engineering GIS Summit (SEGS) is held the weekend prior to the massive User Conference (13,000+ people).

At the end of the SEGS on Sunday (July 11), ESRI and ACSM (American Congress on Surveying and Mapping) announced that next year ACSM will be combining its national conference with SEGS in San Diego. The attendance is expected to be ~1,200.

I’ve heard rumblings about this for quite awhile. Here are my thoughts.

The ACSM national conference is dying and needed to do something drastic. This year, it co-located with the GITA (Geospatial Infrastructure Technology Association) national conference in Phoenix, Arizona, back in April. I attended that conference, too. Even though I was disappointed in the lack of coordination between the ACSM and GITA technical programs in Phoenix, the technical content was very good. Attendance, on the other hand, was horrible. It wasn’t sustainable from a business standpoint.

Because the annual ACSM conference was on a quick road to nowhere; it had to make a move to team up with another conference. Who?

The GITA conference dissed ACSM (or maybe the other way around) and is flying solo next year in Dallas, Texas. I think the attendance at the GITA conference will be a disaster. They already have a GITA Oil & Gas conference in Houston.

Another partner choice would be ASPRS, but for some reason, ACSM and ASPRS can’t figure out how to put something together even though the conferences were at the same time this year. Someone’s ego probably got bruised.

Partner with Autodesk? No way. Autodesk is a $2 billion behemoth. They don’t need or have the time to deal with ACSM.

That leaves the ESRI SEGS. Attendance-wise, the SEGS has been flat, or even lost ground. It needed a boost. Bringing in ACSM was a smart move, essentially increasing its attendance from 300 to 1,200. For ACSM, it wasn’t the ideal choice, but it was the only choice. It couldn’t afford another solo event in some off-beat city. The bottom line is that conferences need a healthy number of exhibitors and commercial sponsors in order to be financially viable. For companies to be interested there needs to be a healthy number of attendees. It’s a vicious circle. If attendance wanes, then exhibitors and commercial sponsors start to pull out.

Even though there is some pretty good upside for ACSM and ACSM membership in combining the conferences, I think the general ACSM membership will suffer. The primary reason is because it’s stuck in San Diego for the next three years. The U.S. Mid-Westerners and U.S. East Coaster’s will hesitate to make the trip due to the distance and expense of the conference, especially with the poor U.S. economy. I think what you’ll see are the state association conferences becoming stronger as they have been in the last few years. I wish, somehow, that some of the energy and excitement from the ESRI conferences could make their way to the state conferences.

I may sound wishy-washy, but in the final analysis, I think this is a good move. For ACSM, it was the only move and for ESRI, a feather in their cap. It’s interesting to note that even though it’s a three-year agreement, either can opt out annually.

On to the technical part of the SEGS conference

I blogged about the SEGS while I was in San Diego. Click here to view my summary.

A few of points I’d like to quickly emphasize:

Crowd-sourced data. There’s a lot of buzz about this, and rightfully so. SEGS keynote speaker Nancy von Meyer commented on crowd-sourced data and the challenge of “authenticating” it. Crowd-sourced, or third-part,y data is coming in a big way. You can choose to ignore it, but the smart people will take the time to understand it and use it when appropriate.

On a related point, a Community Basemap initiative was announced at the ESRI UC Plenary. The idea is that you contribute to the “community basemap” and, in return, you receive a better basemap than you started with. Granted, you have the same “data authentication” issues as crowd-sourced data, but if you understand it, there is value.

Imagery (e.g. ,satellite images, aerial photography). From following t
he satellite imagery vendors, I’ve known that imagery is progressing. Its quality (pixel resolution) and availability is improving. But, I’ll admit that I was taken back a bit when Lawrie Jordan, founder of ERDAS (he later sold to Leica) said this is the most exciting time in his 40-year career in imagery. He said that in less than five years, every square inch of the Earth will be constantly imaged by satellites. Now, ground truth accuracy is another story…

On Sunday, I made the keynote presentation during lunch. The title of my presentation was Get It Surveyed (GIS). The title was said tongue-in-cheek of course. There were many directions I could have gone, but I decided on three topics.

  1. A GIS isn’t driven by spatial data accuracy.
  2. GNSS technology in the next 10 years is going to advance significantly faster than the past 10 years.
  3. The land surveyor’s role in the next 10 years is going to change significantly more than the past 10 years.

You may take offense to some of the details in #3, and I’m sure some of you did. I assure you, my intent was not to offend, but rather stimulate thought and consideration. Some comments I received after my presentation.

“You said what I’ve wanted to say, but can’t because my RPLS colleagues would kill me” (heard a version this from several people, two of whom are very prominent in the RPLS community).

“You are spot-on” (heard some version of this several times).

“Don’t forget about those who specialize in boundary surveys.”

“Your timeline of 10 years is too conservative; it will be more like five.”

A criticism I heard (not directly, but through the grapevine), was from someone who was particularly incensed by my presentation. I’m sure there were several people with this attitude. No doubt these criticisms are in reference to my thesis about land surveyors’ practices evolving and/or my comment that most RPLS’s aren’t qualified to manage a GIS. The criticism doesn’t surprise me. I’d be surprised (and probably disappointed) if it didn’t evoke any. Change doesn’t come easy and some will choose to give up rather than change.

No matter if you were at the live presentation or not, I’d love you hear your comments on it. You can download it by clicking here.

Lastly, during the Q&A after my presentation, I was caught flat-footed with a question about GIS licensure. I sort of stumbled and then stated that the technology is moving too rapidly and the bureaucracy of licensure couldn’t keep up. It didn’t take long for me to realize, and others to point out, that it wasn’t a very intelligent answer. Several people approached me afterwards and were able to express their opinions more eloquently and clearly. For what it’s worth, not one of them was in favor of GIS licensure. I will dedicate another article to this subject.

In closing, following are some photos I took at the SEGS. I hope you enjoy them.

Interesting slide from ESRI’s Brent Jones showing the attendance breakdown at the SEGS

Countries represented at the SEGS

Panel Discussion lead by ACSM’s Curt Sumner (Nancy von Meyer – VP Fairview Industries, David Cowen – NGA Committee Member, Wayne Harrison – President NSPS)


Thought-provoking slide from Brent Jones

Another thought-provoking slide from Brent

Opportunities for surveyors in GIS according to Brent Jones


Thanks for reading, and see you next time.

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