Thoughts on GITA 2010

I spent most of last week in Phoenix at the GITA conference.  I had never spent any time in Phoenix before other than the airport so it was interesting to get a little bit of a fell for that city.  I was fortunate to be able to give a presentation on Building a  Facilities Information Infrastructure to Support Public Safety.  Both the presentation and the paper are available on the PenBay Solutions Web Site.

The overall attendance of this year's GITA conference was about doubled from the last time I attended when the conference was held in Seattle.  This year the boards of GITA and ACSM chose to collocate their respective conferences.  The concept of bringing these two communities together was terrific.  The GIS and Survey communities have had a difficult relationship over the years to say the least.  As spatial measurement technology improves dramatically from year to year, the line between surveyor and GIS professional is becoming increasingly difficult to determine.  

I am not a surveyor, but I tend to think of the surveying profession as being divided into two broad groups.  There is one group of surveyors that is focused primarily on boundary survey work.  This group is critical to the documentation of property rights and will likely see a legally protected market for the foreseeable future.  This group can afford to be relatively disinterested in GIS as the real value of their profession is in establishing a legal record of property rights.  Whether a particular boundary survey agrees with its neighbors or improves the overall quality of the municipal parcel fabric is not the concern of the property surveyor.  

The second group of surveyors focus on the science of spatial measurement in support of engineering design and construction work.  This group is in the midst of an amazing transformation as they work to deal with the disruptive technology of LiDAR.  Suddenly, there are devices on the market that are capable of collecting a half million measurements a second and delivering those measurements at sub-centimeter accuracy.  Furthermore, some of the new mobile data collection platforms are capable of delivering nearly this level of fidelity while driving down the road at highway speeds.  The changes to technology platforms, business models, and the economics of spatial data collection to support engineering requirements are enormous to say the least.  This group of surveyors has both a lot to teach the GIS community and a lot to learn from them.

Unfortunately for all involved, the event planners for GITA and ACSM did not focus on the opportunities for cross pollination between the two disciplines they way they could have.  There was no listing of each other's conference agendas in the program a participant received and relatively few sessions that focused on bridge-building between the two communities.  I ran into several surveying friends that were disappointed that they did not know of some of the sessions happening on the GIS side.  I shared similar frustrations as a GIS registrant.  I think that the concept of having the ACSM and GITA conferences held at the same time, in the same place has great potential for the industry.  Hopefully next time, the respective conference committees will spend more time together planning how to enable conscious bridge building between these two communities.