Surveying and GIS: Finding the missing link

Aug 2008 | One Comment

Gary A Jeffress

There still needs to be more dialogue between the GIS industry and the surveying profession so that each group better understands how cooperation can benefit all parties

The Shrinking Surveying Profession

Throughout the developed world there is evidence that the total population of qualified and licensed surveyors is diminishing. A similar trend is also happening in the Engineering professions. There has been an explosion of career opportunities brought about by the rapid advance of computing power, which has widened the career horizons of potential young professionals who have a liking for mathematics, physics, and computer science. Surveying also has the handicap of having a very low public profile. The general public very rarely needs the services of a land surveyor. Surveyors provide their products and services to other professionals (engineers, architects, lawyers, government administrators, and land developers).

As a consequence of the few people choosing to seek careers in surveying, the profession is generally growing older. The following graph and tables show the age profile of Registered Professional Land Surveyors in Texas. Some interesting trends can be seen from these numbers:

• The number of surveyors in Texas over the past five years has remained flat while the state has one of the fastest growing populations in the U.S. and demand for surveying services continues to grow.

• There are more active licensed surveyors over the age of 70 than there are under the age of 40.

• Fully 20 percent of surveyors in Texas are of retirement age (65 years or older).

Age Group 2004










2008 -2007


20 -29 25 20 14 26 26 0
30-39 178 180 191 211 223 12
40 -49 667 646 566 540 481 -59
50 -60 947 950 961 973 971 -2
60 -69 516 222 541 580 617 37
70+ 240 558 266 267 274 7
Total 2573 2576 2539 2597 2592 -5
<40 203 200 205 237 249 12
Company by Ms.Brianne,Rpls and Dr Gary Jeffress,Rpls

These numbers also indicate that while surveyors are declining in numbers relative to the general population, they are keeping up with overall demand for services thanks to those surveyors that choose to remain in the workforce beyond retirement age. Surveyors are also taking advantage of new digital surveying measurement equipment and software to increase productivity. It follows that the cost of surveying services are being driven higher and the demand for educated and licensed surveyors is being reflected in higher salaries being offered.


Accuracy and consistency of GIS database is very important

The differences among the Surveying and GIS community largely stem from alternative academic approaches to the subject. It is well understood that it is the quality of information that matters most in a GIS database. Top level decisions are being made based upon GIS databases. Any inaccuracy or inconsistency in those databases may result in serious repercussions.

Hence, the accuracy and consistency of GIS databases are of vital importance. In such a scenario, certification of the GIS database may become an issue. Professionals who are trained in database generation definitely have a significant role to play. Surveyors are the most competent professionals to provide and analyze the quality of spatial information. But if it is insisted that only surveyors have the rights to do so, then I think the argument is taken too far. If professionals from the GIS community are capable of providing spatial information and analyzing it to the required quality, then why not? The differences between the Surveying and GIS community also reflect the conflicts of professional interests. However, there is a definite need to reduce these differences.

Matthew Smith Leica Geosystems

Adding GIS to the Duties of the Surveyor

The land surveying profession has the expertise to assist the GIS industry manage the risks associated with accuracy and precision of geospatial data. Surveyors have a rich history of understanding the science behind measuring the location of objects on or near the surface of the earth and turning these measurements into legally admissible products and documents recognized by government and the courts. While many GIS products and services may not carry much risk, its value rising.

Young surveying professionals do have educated backgrounds, which include GIS, and are entering careers that see their services benefit GIS products. However, their number is very low. With the median age of surveyors being in the latter fifties, and many already being over the retirement age, we see the majority of the surveying profession in the latter stage of their careers and probably not interested in taking on the extra work associated with the growth of the GIS industry. In many areas there is more than enough traditional surveying services demand keeping surveyors gainfully employed.

While state boards, like BPELS, are concerned with protecting the public against the risk associated with geospatial data and information emanating from GIS, there seem to be few surveyors that have the desire to take on these extra duties; if mandated by board rules. There still needs to be more dialogue between the GIS industry and the surveying profession so each group better understands how cooperation can benefit all parties, including our clients. Though BPELS withdrew the proposed rules to make licensed surveyors responsible for the quality of GIS digital mapping products, the proposed rules did spark the dialogue between surveyors and the GIS industry. Ten years since BPELS proposed their controversial rules, we see the numbers of surveyors are less, while the GIS industry continues to grow. The more we learn and discuss these issues, the better we will be prepared for serving our clients in the future.


Accuracy and consistency of GIS database is very important

There is an opportunity for convergence of the survey market and GIS. Surveyors create maps for record plats and for as-builts used by civil engineers, and surveyors stake out projects for construction purposes using maps provided by engineers and architects. These maps have typically been prepared in either MicroStation or AutoCAD format. The GIS world has been dominated by the ESRI platform, which also can present maps accurately. The capabilities of these platforms in presenting 2D and 3D data have largely converged, but no single survey application solution has linked the user interface across all 3 platforms (ESRI, MicroStation and AutoCAD). Once this occurs, surveyors can choose to work in the platform of their choice and specifically can take advantage of the data links offered by the ESRI platform. Given the prevalence of ESRI in the government sector, and the fact that both survey platting and utility and infrastructure mapping is a data-rich environment, it is inevitable that surveyors will begin to consider ESRI as a mapping platform once familiar survey solutions are provided on the ESRI product base.

Bruce Carlson,
President and Founder of Carlson Software

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One Comment »

  • Surveyor @ Canberra said:

    A very thought provoking and balance view of the surveying profession by the authors. I also agree with Gary’s further comments on this “tension”. Well said.

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