2006 July 13

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Editor's Introduction

This week's issue is shorter than usual because I am on vacation, skippering a 42-foot sailboat in the San Juan Islands, Washington. This week I follow up on the last two issues with an interview with Brent A. Jones about ESRI's "Survey and GIS" summit and some pointed comments by Al Butler on the use of GIS by surveyors. Plus, a few news items from press releases.

The latest issue of "Intersect" is now available on the GIS Monitor website.


ESRI Survey & GIS Summit

In San Diego, California, August 5-8, concurrent with its 26th annual International User Conference, ESRI will hold its fourth annual "Survey and GIS" summit—this year titled "Bridging the Gap." According to ESRI, "This conference brings together surveyors, engineers, and GIS professionals to explore business, technology, and collaboration opportunities." (Full disclosure: GITC America, this newsletter's publisher, is a sponsor of the summit.)

The program includes plenary sessions on the state of surveying and GIS technology; a keynote address by Wendy Lathrop—a long-time surveyor, author, and speaker; and a survey and GIS exhibit. Summit topics will include GPS technology; integrating survey data and GIS; survey and GIS technology case studies; implementing GIS; engineering and engineering design with GIS; GIS business opportunities for engineers and surveyors; surveyor/engineer synergies; survey and GIS integration; and geodetic control.

Following up on my interviews about GIS and surveying, I discussed the "Survey and GIS" summit with Brent A. Jones, PE, PLS, Survey Industry Manager at ESRI. Jones took this position last fall, succeeding Mike Weir. According to Jones, Weir "went to Topcon, a surveying instrument company, because of the growth of the GIS field that they see happening."

"Our focus this year for the Summit," Jones told me, "is 'GIS business for surveyors'—how do you actually make money in the GIS industry as a surveyor? We have a couple of key presentations. One of them is Robert Young. He's taken the next step in actually delivering GIS products from a surveyor's point of view. Other Summit speakers will include Robert Jones and Richard Gosselin, who worked for many years for electric and gas utilities and now works for an engineering and surveying firm. So, those are three really key presentations. We will close the conference with 'Intersect Live.' It's going to be kind of neat: Janet Jackson and Randy Rambeau, the 'Intersect columnists,' taking questions from the audience after they've had two days of submersion into GIS and survey technology merged together."

The Summit will also include an introductory session that is industry-specific to surveyors for GIS. "So," Jones says, "if you don't know anything at all [about this business] you can get started." Also on the agenda is a long session on geodesy. "Surveyors generally work in little pieces and assume that the Earth is flat," Jones explains, "but when we work in really large areas and want really high precision, we need to bring in geodesy. It is a really key component."

"The other thing that we are doing this year that is new and that I think is very cool," Jones told me, "is a panel with executives from Topcon, Leica, Trimble, and the National Geodetic Survey. They are going to take questions from the audience on their views of the GIS industry from a business perspective for surveyors."

I asked Jones for his thoughts on the debate about CAD vs. GIS for surveying. In his opinion, "surveyors are using GIS to help them manage all their data and manage their business." While, at one point, some thought that GIS would just replace CAD and some surveyors are using GIS in that fashion, "many surveyors are using it as a tool to manage the day-to-day collect and just do their drawing in CAD. Robert Jones really described it well: they take their data and they put it in this central server environment and then they can draw CAD drawings from that data, but they manage it in a GIS environment."

"If you think of the way a survey business operates," Jones says, "they have all these drawing files, all based on a very fundamental set of data that is stored in a GIS. When surveyors begin to work from a server level as opposed to an application level, they run applications from a server and then can add other server applications. For example, they can add an image server and offer a whole new line of services. That's one way we view GIS for surveyors: it's a whole line of business that a surveyor can enter into. It is not just helping them manage their business, but also opening up new businesses using the same processes."

On the question of accuracy, Jones sees a misunderstanding. "ArcMap 9.2 has 54-bit integer double precision, so the question is not the accuracy of how GIS handles data, but the accuracy of the data that's put into it. Large organizations in the future will still have a survey interface into the GIS to manage data the way surveyors manage it and let everyone else use it. Surveyors have all these rules they use to manage data in an accurate environment. They have a lot of checks and double checks and it drives them nuts when they get the data how they want it, and then someone just drags it around." However, Jones says, "there are new tools now that allow users to manage core data with 'survey topology' while still using GIS topology for analysis. The early versions of some GIS were incapable of managing data at a double-precision level, which is not the case anymore because of changes in how the database manages the data."

According to Jones, pre-conference registration for the Summit is way up over last year. "We expect way more than 400 attendees," he told me.

Letter to the Editor

I never cease to be amazed at the opinions of many surveyors and engineers on the topic of GIS. As you recently reported, persons you interviewed for the survey-grade GIS article said, "that they do not use GIS for data collection—citing habits, lack of training, and concerns about GIS accuracy." I've had surveyors and engineers claim for 20 years that CAD is so much better than GIS because the data in CAD are more accurate. What a bunch of [baloney]! You put the same data into both platforms, and you will get exactly the same level of accuracy. The issue is that people often don't put the same data into both platforms because they are generally applied to solve different problems.

Yes, I know that you can put cadastral data into both CAD and GIS, and that, somehow, the GIS data gets corrupted. It's not really corrupted; it is just altered to fit a different purpose. That's because the adjacent surveys don't match and someone—the GIS guy—has to make it all fit together because he is tasked with producing a map where each square inch of ground is in one and only one parcel. But before all the surveyors rise up in arms to defend their profession, let me assure them that it's not my goal to demean an honored profession. What I am saying is that GIS is normally intended to cover a large expanse of the Earth in a somewhat abstract manner that emphasizes relationships among spatially distributed phenomena. Surveyors, engineers, and the CAD applications they employ normally deal with things in a very concrete manner (pun intended), where the ultimate scale of representation is 1:1. I would like to see surveyors try to create a database of such fuzzy phenomenon as wildlife habitats, neighborhoods, and other poorly defined phenomenon that don't have a clearly defined location for someone in the world to measure to within 0.001 of a foot.

Sure, both GIS and CAD make things that look like maps by drawing points, lines, and polygons, but how that stuff got on the map is very different between the two systems. CAD can only repeat the actions of the human being that created the drawing (or collected the field data). GIS can make maps that no one ever drew. CAD must start from a foundation of digitally entering data describing the shapes that represent the real-world things that are to be illustrated, but GIS doesn't have to start with geometry at all. Most people do, of course; however, that is a limitation of thinking, not the platform. Most GIS datasets don't include any geometry, and never will. Things like voter registration roles, mass marketing lists, and the ubiquitous phone book are all GIS databases in that they include location as part of their content. Thus, by the common definition of GIS, which is any system with a spatial dataset, every surveying product is one. You don't have to put the data into a typical GIS platform to have a GIS.

Look, can we just quit trying to force people into a box when we don't have to? We all use geographic information systems. Some of us just happen to use surveying methods to compile the data we put into them, most likely because our application demands that level of accuracy. But not all applications need survey accuracy. Some of us can get by with a different method. The key is suitability for purpose. Let's accept the fact that not all spatial data have to be accurate at the 1:1 scale. There are more applications for our work than cadastral mapping.

Al Butler
Butler & Butler, LLC
505 E Esther St., Orlando, FL 32806-4023
[email protected]

News Briefs

Please note: I have culled the following news items from press releases and have not independently verified them.


    1. Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport has awarded a 10 million dollar contract for developing an enterprise GIS based on ESRI GIS technology to Woolpert, Inc., a design firm. The enterprise GIS will support Sky Harbor's planned $2 billion improvement project that includes runway rehabilitation, a new terminal, and a possible people-mover system.

      By 2009, Woolpert will equip Sky Harbor with a Web portal-based information management system that uses GIS technology to incorporate basemaps and data with more than a dozen key support applications. The finished system will integrate the airport's SAP business solutions software with custom, GIS-based lease, document, noise control, master planning, environmental, and facilities management applications.

      ESRI ArcGIS Server software will support the Web portal-based information management system. ArcGIS Server is a comprehensive platform for delivering enterprise GIS applications that are centrally managed and support multiple users. It will enable the airport system to deliver advanced GIS Web services internally and to other organizations; integrate GIS and other IT technologies using industry-standard software; and provide centrally managed, multi-user editing capabilities. The City of Phoenix, the fifth largest city in the nation, owns and operates Phoenix Sky Harbor, which ranks among the eight busiest passenger airports in the nation and continues to grow at a sizable 3 to 5 percent annual rate.

    2. The Revenue Commissioner's Office in Bullock County, Alabama, selected ESRI's ArcGIS Desktop software for its parcel mapping needs. Using GIS technology, the Revenue Commissioner's Office can now create custom property maps of parcels in the county. The maps include aerial images, detailed property lines, and land-class descriptions such as timberland and swampland.

      Cartographer Hawthorne Reed is using the software to maintain property maps and conduct parcel editing and analysis. By downloading ESRI's free ArcReader application, other staff members are able to access this data and increase the office's level of service. Bullock County is one of 36 county revenue offices in Alabama using ESRI software to satisfy mapping needs such as this. The office uses ESRI's ArcEditor software and an ArcGIS Publisher extension in addition to ArcReader.

    3. The Regional Municipality of Durham, Ontario, Canada has elected to deploy InfoWater Suite and InfoSewer Suite Pro by MWH Soft, by a provider of environmental and water resources applications software. The region plans to make the programs the foundation for a comprehensive ArcGIS-centric solution for modeling, managing, operating, and protecting its drinking water and sanitary sewer systems.

      One of the fastest-growing communities in Canada, the region encompasses an area of 2,535 square km and is home to more than 576,000 people. The region's Works Department provides drinking water to 145,000 customers through a system comprising of 6 surface water treatment plants, 21 groundwater wells, 2,223 km of water mains, 20 pumping stations and 22 water storage facilities. It also provides collection services to 140,000 customers through a network of 1,940 kilometers of sewer mains, 49 pumping stations and operates 11 water pollution control plants. The Department plans to harness the power of InfoWater and InfoSewer Suites to optimize productivity, capital planning, and coordinated decision making.

      Built atop ArcGIS with native geodatabase support, InfoWater and InfoSewer offer a single, geocentric solution for analyzing and managing the most complex water distribution and sewer collections systems. An integrated geospatial framework applies GIS intelligence to engineering-accurate information, coupled with advanced numerical computation, hydraulic transient analysis, genetic algorithm optimization and object-component geospatial technologies in the marketplace.


    1. "GIS & Social Networking to Solve Crisis Response Needs," a Homeland Defense Journal training workshop, will take place October 3, from 8:30 am to 4:00 pm in Arlington, Virginia. The conference will focus on defense and homeland security information-sharing among local, state, and federal groups and connect the world of social networking with location content for situational awareness. Location-based social networking for crisis response allows users to share and find information about a crisis area, connect to groups with similar interests and shared information needs, and break down barriers to rapidly achieving situational awareness.

      Social networking services like MySpace and YouTube have been successful because they are easy to use and allow people to contribute information as easily as they consume it. They also provide continually-updated services that get better the more people use them and where people are constantly consuming and mixing data from multiple sources. This same technology can be applied to improving coordinated responses to many types of crises, from natural disasters to terrorist acts. This conference will explore the cutting edge of this new technology.

      Agency executives and managers of GIS departments, decision makers that support GIS, first responders, executive level managers and administrators (network, systems, infrastructure, security, and LAN/WAN), and any geospatial professionals should attend. Participants will learn the importance of social networking in geospatial systems; industry trends and visions, including next generation wireless and P2P networking for crisis response; new ways to gain situational awareness; lessons learned; and best practices.

      Confirmed speakers include Edward Hecker, Chief, Homeland Security Office, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers; and Twyla McDermott, GIS Manager and Corporate Strategic Technology Planner, City of Charlotte, North Carolina. Invited speakers include John Crowe, Senior Geospatial Advisor, USGS-GIO, and Joseph Klimavicz, Deputy CIO, National- Geospatial Intelligence Agency. Sponsors include The Carbon Project, Telemus Solutions, Homeland Defense Journal, and IT*Security Magazine.

    2. The Honorable Pat Bell, Minister of Agriculture and Lands, British Columbia, will speak on Wednesday, July 26, at the GeoWeb 2006 conference, which will take place July 24-28 in Vancouver, British Columbia. Organized by Galdos Systems Inc. and supported by the Geospatial Information & Technology Association (GITA), the conference will feature nearly 70 paper presentations, 13 workshops, keynote addresses, plenary sessions, and an exhibit floor—all focused on the convergence of extensible markup language (XML), Web services, and GIS.

      Bell plans to talk about some of British Columbia's innovative geographic data and technological approaches as well as the province's strategic gateway position at the junction of the world's two economic power blocks, Asia and North America.

      Before becoming Minister of Agriculture and Lands in June 2005, Bell served as Minister of State for Mining. He has chaired the Small Scale Salvage Review Committee and sat on the Government Caucus Committee on Natural Resources, the British Columbia Task Force on Mining, and the Legislative Select Standing Committees on Education and Crown Corporations. He currently serves on the Treasury Board. Prior to becoming a minister, Bell owned a trucking company and co-owned a logging company.

    3. GeoSpatial Training Services LLC, a provider of virtual and instructor-led GIS training courses, is about to release four new short virtual training courses, including "Geocoding with Google Maps," "Reading Databases and XML Files in Google Maps," "Web Services 101," and "Reading ArcObjects Object Model Diagrams," designed to provide educational content specific to a narrowly focused topic of interest. The course delivery method allows students to view audio and visual lectures in a Flash movie format from the convenience of their home or office.

      "Geocoding with Google Maps" provides an overview of the recently released geocoding capabilities built into the Google Maps API. This short course will teach some fundamental geocoding concepts and how they are applied by the Google Maps API in the form of the GClientGeocoder object. In addition, students will learn how to cache addresses on the client-side browser through the GeocodeCache object to increase the performance of their applications. The course will also explore the use of the HTTP request for submitting server side geocoding requests through AJAX.

      The "Reading Databases and XML Files in Google Maps" virtual course introduces participants to AJAX (Asynchronous JavaScript + XML) and the functionality it provides for reading XML files containing points of interest that can be plotted on Google Maps applications. In addition, the course will cover how to read points of interest from relational database management systems such as Oracle or SQL Server. Each of these methods provides a way of storing large numbers of addresses to service Google Maps applications.

      The "Web Services 101" course introduces students to the increasingly popular subject of Web services and will attempt to clear up some of the misconceptions surrounding the subject of Web services. Participants will discover the technical characteristics of Web services as well as their definitive characteristics and will view Web services from a business perspective to gain an understanding of how organizations can benefit from the implementation and use of Web services. In addition, the course will take a look at the current state of GIS Web Services.

      "Fundamental ArcObjects Concepts" provides participants with an overview of various object-oriented programming topics as they relate to the ArcObjects programming library. A necessary pre-requisite to learning how to program with ArcObjects is an understanding of some fundamental object-oriented programming concepts, including classes, objects, COM objects, and how to read an object model diagram.

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