Surveying vs. GIS

Jun 2007 | Comments Off on Surveying vs. GIS

A big challenge is integrating the surveying profession with the GIS profession. There’s a growing tension between them. One of the bridges that I want to accomplish this year is integrating the technology so the surveyors can have tools within the GIS toolbox that allows it to create and manage surveys that can be directly used by the GIS people. The GIS datasets, in turn, can be refined based on survey information, especially transaction based survey. These two goals are separate and sometimes they run into a big confl ict about who should do what. I think I would be technically directing them and say these technologies can be synergist. There is a need to search out surveyors that want to grow their activities in the GIS areas and search out GIS people who want to have a strong survey inclination.

Jack Dangermond
President, ESRI
Coordinates, Volume 3 Issue 3, March 2007


WHEN Jack gave us the above statement we found ourselves wondering what other experts, from both sides of the stated divide, felt about the matter. We set ourselves the task to find out.

Here, two issues of Coordinates later, we present the views of government officials, industry experts and technology users on the percieved rift between GIS users and surveyors.

The gloves are on, gentlemen, go to your corners and when the bell rings, come out boxing.

Proper synergy between the two is essential


Brig MV Bhat
President, Institution of Surveyors, India
Surveying is the basic operation of collecting information- Where, what, when and how – defining position, attribute and temporal”. This information forms the basic input for the GIS operations. The Surveying fraternity should know how best the information collection can be exploited to derive results and reports needed to create and maintain the Decision Support System in day to day activities – the role of a GIS Application developer. Proper Synergy between the two is essential for a better life for the user. They cannot act in isolation and try to brow beat each other claiming supremacy.

Survey done without purpose will not serve any purpose. So, information collection should be based on the needs that information will meet. Avoid duplication of efforts in collecting information by defi ning who will do what and then understand what best method to adopt so that there is minimal effort required to transform the information to the computer. The GIS community also must realize that they must know in what form they want the information so that human intervention is minimum in taking the data to the computer environment such that most of the analysis is done through interaction between data sets, within the database created/generated by the surveyor. The conflictarises when one ignore the role of the other. Each must have respect towards the respective profession and understand the efforts of the other. “Collect once and use many times” is the key to reduce the confl ict and defi ne who will do what.

Surveyors, who are aware of the GIS capabilities can collect and provide information in a better manner than a person who doesn’t know GIS. Similarly, a GIS professional can better exploit the spatial data if he knows how it is collected and what is the effort involved. A GIS can perform better if the information in the data used for developing the application is as discreet as possible. If a surveyor knows this, he will ensure that he collects the information to enable maximum exploitation and derive as better a report as possible. For instance, if a Cartographer knows how to survey, with an eye to the ground, then he will do his cartographic job better and try to bring out the optimum by means of depiction of information. The role of a cartographer is synonymous to that of a GIS professional.

Technology societal interface is a must


P Misra
Consultant, Land Information Technologies, India
Fragmentation of technology is not good for society. Many times latest technology is considered as a ‘substitute’ to the previous ones but actually they are ‘add on’. Professionals should be aware of the problem-solving abilities of the technology. Just having knowledge does not help the society.

We have information and knowledge but the need is of a holistic and problem solving approach and methodology. The new generation of professionals need to be trained on various aspects of the technology. We have many institutes in India focusing on surveying, remote sensing or any other discipline. What we need is a University where not only the integration of various research disciplines in emphasized but a societal interface is also visualised.

The whole is greater than the sum of the parts


Craig Roberts
School of Surveying and Spatial Information Systems, University of New South Wales, Australia
The tension between Surveying and GIS presents a threat to the future of both professions unless it is soon recognised that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. Recently in Australia, the issue of fl agging membership of professional organisations in the surveying, mapping and spatial fi elds was addressed with the formation of the merger organisation called the Spatial Sciences Institute (SSI). It is not a happy merger with all manner of petty disputes limiting the potential of a united industry. Rather than focusing on the negatives, organisations need to recognise and respect their strengths and work together. No one understands measurement, datums, coordinate systems and can maintain the integrity of the cadastre like professional surveyors. Similarly, the power of the GIS database for data management, collation of spatially related information, querying, analysis and presentation of spatial products is the bastion of the GIS professional. What can we learn from each other? At the university, my students graduate with (hopefully) equal skills in both the surveying and spatial disciplines and want to combine these skills in their professional careers. Often they are faced with a choice of either becoming a surveyor or GISer; either joining the SSI or the Institution of Surveyors. They don’t want either/or, they want both! With a growing skills shortage, my students need to be welcomed into a united profession and given a chance to own and grow new opportunities into their career rather than pick sides. GIS databases should be used during fi eld capture just like survey and quality data should underpin all spatial databases. The sooner the old guard in both camps really accept this, the greater chance we have of offering a real career path for the next generation – or risk losing our talents to Engineering or IT.

An apparent convergence of GIS and surveying data is taking place


Brent A. Jones
PE, PLS, Survey/Engineering Industry Manager ESRI
It’s been said that there is a growing tension between surveyors and GIS professionals. I’m not sure if the tension is growing, but a tension remains that has existed for some time. Part of the tension stems from the divergent evolutions each fi eld has had. Although both are closely related geospatial technologies, GIS has matured through an entirely different ecosystem than surveying. Surveying is rooted deep in history (Eratosthenes of Cyrene (276-194 B.C) fi rst calculated the diameter of the earth) while GIS emerged as part of the rapid growth high technology era. Surveying has focused on precision and accuracy, while GIS has focused on data management, spatial analysis and visualization, and less on the spatial accuracy of data. Surveying has often been performed on local or assumed coordinate systems, while GIS has used standard projections and global coordinate systems.

Recently, GIS has moved from using relatively spatially inaccurate data (at least from a surveyor’s point of view) to being spatially accurate with double precision datasets, and the capability to manage and store surveyors’ original records and fi eld measurements in the GIS database. Surveying has also evolved from using only local coordinate systems with terrestrial instrumentation to global coordinate systems and GPS. This apparent convergence of GIS and surveying data is taking place automatically because of the nature of each discipline.

Is technology the cause of the tension? Technologies exist to bring these communities together, but history, traditional markets, and protectionism prevent rapid convergence. Professionals with established businesses and markets are hesitant to change too quickly for many reasons, many of which are good reasons. However, regardless of this resistance, technology is moving forward rapidly.

Jack Dangermond said that current technology development is focused on bringing survey data (both survey record and fi eld measurements) to the GIS environment and inject the accuracy which surveys bring. An additional focus is to work with GIS professionals to use surveys and survey data in their standard GIS work environment. This will serve both the surveyor and the GIS professional by providing new and better data management and spatial analysis capabilities while improving the accuracy of GIS data.

Early adopters are already beginning to work with new compatible technologies – surveyors are using GIS technologies to better manage their daily work and provide new services, and GIS practitioners are using the new tools to incorporate the survey record to best manage base data in GIS. Listening to these pioneers and their successes, they are beginning to acknowledge the convergence and relieve any tension that may exist between them. Following these leaders will provide the mainstream GIS professional and surveyor with new avenues of growth and prosperity.

Surveyors can make unique contribution to data sets


John Hannah
Professor, School of Surveying, University of Otago, New Zealand
Is there a tension between surveying and GIS? Not that we have detected in New Zealand. Are surveyors deeply involved in the GIS business? Yes! Are other professionals involved in the GIS business? Yes! At its most fundamental level, the GIS industry revolves around the use of spatial data sets, some of which are captured directly by the surveyor (e.g., land boundaries and local topography), and some of which are derived from other sources such local authority records (for street address data), photographs (for extensive topographic data), and satellite remote sensing (for broader environmental data sets). No one professional group is involved in the collection of all this data, nor does any one professional group have an overriding claim to GIS-related work.

Typically, however, and in comparison to professionals from other disciplines, the surveyor will not only have better access to highly accurate and detailed local spatial data sets, but also a better understanding of the coordinate systems used to reference this data. The surveyor is therefore in a position to make a unique contribution to national and international data sets, provided the motivation and the tools are present to do so.

Should this present tension? Not at all! Indeed, it should be viewed as merely another step in the data set evolution. As the surveyor contributes to these wider data sets and embraces the tools used to create and manipulate them, so he/she will fi nd new applications for the data and new products that arise from this data. This is not an issue that should lead to tension, but rather one that should lead to collaboration.

We need to stop turning a blind eye


Clare Hadley
Ordnance Survey, UK
Tension between ‘factions’ of our industry is nothing new – think of the disputes between the surveyors and cartographers 25 years ago when the term ‘GI’ was in its infancy. It is a constant underlying issue which we have learnt to live with over the years, rather like an irritating habit in a family member! Some would say that such tensions breed innovation in that each group is trying to get ahead of the other. What is important is whether it has an adverse impact on how we do our business – does it confuse our customers, does division of skills restrict what we can do? When the answer to this becomes ‘Yes’, we need to stop turning a blind eye and start doing something about it.

What binds us together? We are all concerned with spatial information – the collection, analysis and presentation of it. What separates us? The skills we need (to a certain extent) and, more importantly, the traditional views of role of ‘surveyors’ and other professional groupings. This does not always lead to an integrated and effi cient industry.

How has the Survey/GI professional schism developed? One view, which I would put up for discussion, is that surveyors have been more successful in becoming part of a mainstream than ‘GI’ professionals have. Surveyors’ have found their niche in the engineering and property mainstreams in a way that GI professionals have yet to do. The input of surveyors is recognised. Where are the ‘GI’ people with respect to larger professions? Those dealing with GIS often see themselves as dealing with a ‘special’ sort of information with special software and systems. Whilst I would not deny that there are aspects of the data we deal with that require expert knowledge, the systems that use it are no longer special and should be part of mainstream IT.

In the UK, the surveyors’ professional organisation, the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS), has encouraged academics to bring the subject area of GI into more mainstream professional areas of practice rather than keep it separate as it has been in recent years, with positive results. At the same time, the number of pure ‘GI’ courses has fallen – is the market talking? Meanwhile there has been an upsurge in applications for RICS membership by ‘GI’ professionals. Could this be an example of the two ‘professions’ coming together in the UK? Time will tell. Clare Hadley has a foot in both camps, being a Chartered Land Surveyor and a Chartered Geographer with an MSc in GIS. Views expressed are those of the author alone. Thanks to James Kavanagh for input on the recent work of the RICS.

Need for integrating surveying and GIS


Stig Enemark
FIG President
Reading Jack Dangermond´s views in Coordinates on “Tension between surveying and GIS: A growing challenge” I have to say that I fully agree. We should build this bridge or, in fact, we should aim at integrating these two areas.

To some extent this integration is already the case at least in many European countries. The GIS profession in Central Europe is very much populated by surveyors working in close cooperation with geographers, architects, planners, and IT people. Visualisation creates understanding and analysing and modelling creates know knowledge. GIS this way bridge a whole range of professionals.

From FIG point of view, GIS or Spatial Information Management, is a core discipline in Surveying. Surveying and mapping are clearly technical disciplines (within natural and technical science) while cadastre, land management and spatial planning are judicial and managerial disciplines (within social science). The identity of the surveying profession and its educational base therefore should be in the management of spatial data, with links to both the technical and social science approach. The global surveying profession is truly interdisciplinary in terms of having this broad skill base. However, in some countries and regions, such as USA, the profile is more focused on land surveying and boundary determination while GIS is mainly an area for the architects.

The challenge of the future will be to implement the new IT-paradigm and introduce this new multidisciplinary approach into the traditional educational programmes in surveying and engineering. A future educational profi le in surveying should come from the areas of Measurement Science and Land Management, and supported by, and embedded in a broad multidisciplinary paradigm of Spatial Information Management. FIG is strongly promoting this profi le while of course recognising the diversity of the surveying profession in various countries and regions.

FIG is looking forward to work closely with ESRI and other partners in pursuing these aims.

No such tension

Jamil Ali
Surveyor General
Brunei Darussalam

In my experience, there is no tension between surveying and GIS. Surveyors need GIS and GIS need surveyors. I truly believe that it is only in the mindset of certain people that there is a tension between surveying and GIS.

Interdisciplinary knowledge is key


Linyuan Xia
State Key Laboratory for Information Engineering on Surveying, Mapping and Remote Sensing (LIESMARS), Wuhan University, Wuhan 430079, China. Department of Remote Sensing and GIS Engineering, Sun Yat-sen University, Guangzhou, China Surveying to my primary impression can be conventionally defi ned as determination or collection of point positions and their temporal changes within a predefi ned reference frame. Before the advent of GIS, commission of surveying within its initial category can meet people’s needs to a great extent since no extra analytical or management functions are supposed to be derived from it.

With the development of surveying approaches and increasing needs of GIS service, dynamic and complex information are expected from not only surveying, but also from other fi elds. At the same time, surveying itself shows the necessity of stepping forward from pure location calculation to active thinking. Surveying results are no longer expressed in form of data sets, but in carefully designed database so as to bridge required analysis and management roles, which can form an essential link for GIS to be developed based on surveyed information. Although this simple fact can help us to briefly understand the relation between surveying and GIS, the emerged gaps among varied GIS components and surveying are complex and it is hard to determine who should do what in the hybrid unit.

To further speak for this confusion, the daily developing LBS may be a good example for us to see the great challenges in which surveying, mobile computation, mobile GIS and mobile communication are involved. Perhaps the newly derived term “Geoinformatics” can give part of the answer. If so, we do hope it can develop into a practical branch to relate the tension of surveying and GIS in the near future rather than remain a nonfi gurative concept that needs concrete defi nition.

In my view, the synergism to integrate survey and GIS should be activated by both surveyors and GIS professionals. On one hand, there are multiple ways to assimilate location data from surveying, its potential application is now extending to current data mining and as far as knowledge may discover; on other hand, it is not easy for surveyors to synthesize their data sets or database into a versatile GIS as they often need to collect specifi ed data within appointed regions. Interdisciplinary knowledge of both and cooperation between the two form the key to dispute.

My coordinates
His Coordinates
Steve Berglund
Mark your calendar
May 09 TO DECEMBER 2009

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