How Do You Define the ‘Geospatial Profession’?

by Christine Grahl

3 years and 10 months ago

Tagseducation, engineering, gis, mapps, professionalism, surveying

In a session on “Defining Our Profession” at the MAPPS Summer Meeting in Snowmass, Colo., I expected to hear insights on trends in surveying and mapping, and perhaps some ideas for an all-encompassing definition. Instead, the presenters primarily put forth a series of provocative questions.

Is professionalism still relevant? asked John Palatiello, executive director of MAPPS. And how do we define the term “geospatial”?

Are surveyors geospatial practitioners? asked Marvin Miller, PLS, RPP, PPS, SP, CP, senior vice president of business development for AeroMetric. Should those practicing in the geospatial disciplines be licensed? Should there be a national license? Is geospatial part of engineering/surveying? Should the profession be rebranded as “geospatial engineering” to regain its esteemed status? Why are so many post-secondary schools in the U.S. teaching GIS (an estimated 600-700) and so few teaching surveying/geomatics (approximately 65), despite Bureau of Labor statistics that indicate a much higher demand for surveyors (35 percent) compared to GIS practitioners (less than 10 percent) between 2010 and 2020? And why are so few of the surveying/geomatics programs (just 16) ABET accredited? Is ABET accreditation even important?

Brent Jones, PE, PLS, who is the global manager for cadastre and land records for Esri but was presenting his own viewpoints during the session, asked, What do we do when we know where everything is? Are we defining ourselves by our tools? What happens when someone else uses those tools? Where does data come from now, and where will it come from in the future? What impact will phones, watches, open street maps and other new tools have on the market? Are we becoming an economy of non-homeowners? Is a cadastre or at least an authoritative map happening? Are our own rules hurting us? Are we too fragmented? How can we take the lead and control our own future?

Each speaker offered his own views on these questions, and the audience discussed the pros and cons of various approaches without arriving at any definitive answers. For example, although everyone in the room agreed that professionalism is imperative, achieving that goal is perhaps the single biggest issue facing the profession. While there was a consensus that more effort is needed to draw students into surveying and geomatics and to bridge the disconnect between the education system and the needs of the market, no easy solution exists. And although everyone cheered the idea that surveyors should be taking the lead on key geospatial issues, how to do so effectively is a challenge.

“We have some work ahead of us,” said Miller.

How would you answer these questions? And how will the answers shape the future of the profession? Please share your comments below.

Christine Grahl

Christine Grahl is content marketing manager at Leica Geosystems. She can be reached at


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On July 25, 2013 Anas Malkawi wrote:

I’ve been asking this question for a long time and it seems that noone has the answer. I started my career as a Geodetic Surveyor in the Army and then transitioned into the civilian sector as a GIS Professional. The bridge between the two is very narrow but has alot of potholes. Some restructuring of the bridge is needed. Some Surveyors say that GIS is not accurate and it should stand for “Get It Surveyed” while I argue that GIS is as accurate as the data you put into it so it should stand for “Got It Surveyed”.

I personally believe that Geomatics Engineering or Geospatial Engineering should be the all-encompassing profession that includes all the other subfields. Standarderization is extremely important for recognition as a prominant profession. Surveyors can’t even agree on the licensing credential: is it PLS? LS? PS? RPLS? GISP is not even a recognized credential by any state. Photogrammetrists have their credentials that people barely know of.

Why can’t we be like Professional Engineers. Every state has the same initials -PE-. The test can focus on the specialized area (Electrical, Civil, Mechanical, Structural, etc). Can’t we do the same (PGE maybe).

The reason why I’m a GISP and not a LS (or whatever your state calls it) eventhough I spent more years surveying is because GISP actually gave me credit for Surveying work because it is relevent to the Geospatial field. The Surveying exam emphasizes on Boundary surveys because it is the main area where the stamp carries weight in legal matter of boundary disputes. Since I’ve never done boudary surveying then I’m scared to even take the exam.

If the exam can focus on specific areas then that would solve much of the problems. Combine the new GISP exam with the Surveying exam but make it specialized.