Surveying has a future?

Oct 2008 | No Comment

While there are many opportinties for professionals working in the field of computer science and engineering, etc. many consider surveying has low profile and ‘less rewarding’. Some feel that the total number of qualified and licensed surveyors are diminishing. Does surveying profession has a future? Experts speak

Technology has grown but not the profession

Prof P Misra,

Consultant, Land
Information Technologies,

Surveying is a service oriented profession, by making maps we do service to the society. The more you serve the society, the more the profession will be known. In a country like India, there is a huge requirement of professionals in the domain of surveying. In the 1970’s a study was done to assess the requirements of the country and even then it was felt that there was need forthree Survey of India (SOI). Unfortunately, not much organized effort was made in this direction. Since the work done has not kept pace with the needs, the visibility of surveyors and organizations like SOI has been reduced.

There are many impediments for the growth of surveying profession in India, because of which it has not been able to achieve higher levels. The restrictions on aerial photography and digital mapping have had their own set of adverse consequences. They have limited the generation of data, its dissemination and ultimately its usages.

Another issue that has affected the growth of surveying profession in India is the lack of a marketing culture. Even when data was available with SOI, not many were aware of the kinds of data available, due to lack of marketing and advertising by SOI. Even today, marketing efforts leave a much to be desired and a lot of work needs to be done on it.

In this context, we also need to understand that the market is big but not huge. To make the market grow further, private organizations have a major role to play. Unfortunately, the policy scenario does not offer a very conducive atmosphere for them to participate in this process. In addition, they suffer from their own set of problems like lack of trained professionals.

The private sector could have played a major role in updating the data.

But, in India, the emphasis by SOI was on the accuracy of data, and the importance of the currency of data was not appropriately recognized. Even today, consideration can be given to constructively engage geography students, postmen, etc. to update the data.

A very interesting fact that has emerged regarding the surveying profession in India is that the technology has grown but not the profession. It was said that aerial photography was five times more effective than plane tabling, still in India, the surveying profession could not take the advantages of the technology to increase their productivity. There may be many reasons like the policy, willingness, education, etc. but the matter of the fact remains, that even today many projects, for example in the field of infrastructure and cadastral mapping, still depend on plane tabling survey. Some of the organizations might be using the advanced technologies; still critical mass is yet to be reached to make an impression.

P Misra, John Hannah, Simon Kwok, William Patrick (Paddy) Prendergast

While there are many opportinties for professionals working in the field of computer science and engineering, etc. many consider surveying has low profile and ‘less rewarding’. Some feel that the total number of qualified and licensed surveyors are diminishing. Does surveying profession has a future? Experts speak

In the face of global demand of surveyors, will we find sufficient graduates?

John Hannah

Professor, School of Surveying University
of Otago Dunedin,
New Zealand
In a single emphatic word, yes! However, before elaborating further, it is useful to begin by clarifying what we mean when we speak of a “Surveyor”. The Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS), using its United Kingdom model, includes specialisms such as antiques valuation, quantity surveying, and estate management under its surveying umbrella – all of which are seen as being entirely separate professional activities in most other countries. These are not included here. For the purposes of this discussion, the core competencies expected of a surveyor will be those of the collection and management of spatial (geographical) data, spatial measurement, land boundary demarcation, and land tenure arrangements.

Perhaps the best approach for this discussion lies in identifying some of the major global trends that are likely to unfold in the next decade and to identify where surveyors might influence this activity.

The first clear trend is the need to build, upgrade, and replace urban infrastructure. Demand for freight and passenger transport in most developing and transition countries, for example, is growing 1.5 to 2.0 times faster than GDP – the bulk of this increase being for road transport. All such projects require surveyors with their specialist positioning expertise. In Australasia it is already clear that national goals for economic growth over the next decade are unlikely to be able to be met unless the number of surveyors is at least doubled. Similar issues are able to be identified in most western countries.


The second trend is the demand for higher food production from the shinking global base of arable land. As global temperatures increase, desert regions expand, and population pressures increase, the production pressure on the remaining supplies of arable land will likewise increase. There is clear evidence to suggest that the ability to allocate rights in land to private owners leads to higher levels of economic activity. The ability to allocate rights, however, necessitates some mechanism for defining the extent of those rights (i.e., boundaries) and managing the resulting data – activities that are a core part of the surveyor’s expertise. In addition, some of the more efficient farmimg methods now have at their heart GPS positioning technology – the development and use of which is again the domain of the surveyor.

The third trend is linked to the second in that global population growth, combined with the demand for an ever increasing level of economic activity will drive the demand for commodities.The extraction of minerals and the demand for energy, both of which are needed for economic growth, necessitiate input from surveyors, whether with specialist mining expertise or special hydrographic surveying expertise. Such activities will also demand better management information systems such as can be developed using GIS technology.

Finally, the trend towards urban living appears set to continue. It is expected that most of the population increase during 2000-2030 will be absorbed by the urban areas of the less developed regions. Here the surveyor will find an important role in defining boundaries and in planning and designing sustainable urban environments.

The real question is not, ”Does the surveying profession have a future”, but rather, ”In the face of the global demand for surveyors, where will we find sufficient graduates?.”

P Misra, John Hannah, Simon Kwok, William Patrick (Paddy) Prendergast

While there are many opportinties for professionals working in the field of computer science and engineering, etc. many consider surveying has low profile and ‘less rewarding’. Some feel that the total number of qualified and licensed surveyors are diminishing. Does surveying profession has a future? Experts speak

Users should gain from our services

Simon Kwok

Chair, Geomatics Faculty, Royal Institution of
Chartered Surveyors
Hong Kong
Surveying profession has a future and we should shape our future. Our profession serves the society in many aspects. The services and products of survey not only support the property and construction industry, they also add value to other professions, such as legal, town planning, environmental protection, tourism, observatory, civil aviation, emergency services, public health and law enforcement. Since we are now operating in a global environment, I think surveyors should get themselves ready for serving the community in a multi-discipline and multi-nation context like the monitoring of the effect of global warming, flooding, crustal/ground movement, sea level rise and spread of disease. We should take up the opportunity to serve our clients and the society, and by doing our work well, we should make ourselves known and be understood. More importantly, we should help the users to gain value from using our services.

The production and supply of GI has moved from national
agencies to private organisations

Dr William Patrick (Paddy) Prendergast,

CDepartment of Spatial Information Sciences,
Dublin Institute of
Technology, Ireland

Yes, most emphatically it does, but not in the traditional sense. The centre of gravity for the production and supply of geographic information (GI) has moved inexorably from national public agencies to private organisations at all levels during the last few decades in both primary data capture and value added services roles. Our world has undergone a proliferation of data sources from the phenomenon of Google Earth to Microsoft’s TerraServer and all the other data suppliers who are spatially enabling our world. GIS use is moving from power users to mainstream public use and there are indications of significant increases of this during the last decade or two. Old concepts of GIS using layers of static geographic information are being supplemented with live feeds to dynamic display systems for such things as vehicle tracking or environmental monitoring. One of the remaining frontiers of this geographic information sector is location based services for our mobile phones.

Government agencies are also increasingly converting their paper databases into digital format and issues previously hidden in the paper archives are increasingly more visible which is driving reform of data quality specification and evaluation. Increasingly the application of new techniques and the development of new procedures are necessary to deal with these issues in a dynamic manner. The integration of these abundant public and private datasets regularly give rise to particular challenges for which surveyors in collaboration with IT and other professionals need to develop new solutions.

Spatial Data Infrastructures are being developed and re-developed at all levels (global, regional, national, state and local) to formalise agreements and the define technical standards necessary to integrate these various geographic information successfully. The European Union’s INSPIRE Directive, coming from an environmental background, is driving the development of a European SDI in Europe. However, there seems to be an inconsistency between the trust placed in GIS visualisations by the general public and the quality of the geographic information used within the GIS to create the visualisations. The assessment of ‘fitness for use’ of geographic information for an application becomes far more important in the digital environment due to the enhanced accessibility of the results produced.Other initiatives such as the EU PSI Directive are driving openness and accessibility to Public Service Information including geographic information. The philosophy behind this Directive is linked to e-Government and the development of an Information Society by significantly increasing access to the information required by citizens whilst going about their daily lives. These two policy initiatives INSPIRE and PSI – are providing the means necessary to access and combine information from many public sources.


But there are dangers in the area of privacy of personal information. Certain types of information traditionally held in paper records were hidden by virtue that paper was difficult to access. Once these records are made available in digital form this information is readily available, for example in Ireland, land records previously held the amount of a mortgage taken out on a property, and this information is now visible over the internet. There is a need to review what information needs to be recorded and the reasons for doing so, and access policy to specific items of personal information.

The main challenges for the future in the geographic information sector are educational, institutional and policy reforms. The roles and structures of traditional public institutions need root and branch review to provide for the needs of information society. Policy review is necessary to develop a balance between information access, economic models of data supply, and privacy of personal information. Educational reform for surveyors is vital to deal with ever increasing variety, complexity and use of geographic information and to have the skills to offer quality professional service at local and international levels.

My coordinates
Mark your calendar
May 09 TO DECEMBER 2009

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