Why should an engineer attend a GIS conference?

April 2012 » Columns » CE + GIS INTERSECT
Janet Jackson, GISP

GIS perspective
Jackson: Short answer: to become a better engineer. But I don’t recommend just attending a GIS conference; you should prepare to wholeheartedly participate, as it’s the best place I know to see, ask, do, and discuss all aspects of geographic information systems. GIS professionals are great at sharing. After all, that’s what GIS is all about — creating data and respective maps so they can be shared. Conferences are some of the best places I know to share your knowledge and experience with GIS professionals.

It’s the best place I know to see, ask, do, and discuss all aspects of geographic information systems.

GIS technologies are changing quickly, and so are the complementary programs that use GIS as either middleware or as the end tool. Knowing how these technologies fit together is challenging. Often, conference vendors and information technology experts offer hands-on demonstrations of how their products work. A conference exhibit hall is the perfect time and place to ask competing vendors specific questions about your specific challenges.

Thinking about attending a GIS conference but don’t know if your return on investment will be immediate? Then volunteer to do a brief presentation that highlights your successful engineering project that utilized GIS technology. With a little bit of planning, it’s easy to get a roomful of prospective clients interested in how GIS applies to their engineering work. And don’t forget that the time you spend at the conference is applied toward your continuing education hours. So get an immediate ROI — points for presenting and points for attending.

Janet Jackson, GISP, is president of INTERSECT (www.intersectgis.com), a GIS consulting firm. She travels the country talking about the importance of intersecting GIS with other professions to create effective solutions for clients. She can be contacted at jjackson@intersectgis.com.

Civil Engineer perspective
Jones: As I write this, I have just gotten off the phone with an engineer at a large international design/build firm. We were discussing a project management system the firm built using GIS technology. The conversation reminded me that I am continually amazed at engineers’ creativity when presented with a new problem. It also reinforced my belief that GIS gives engineers new tools to enhance that creativity, and that a GIS conference is the ideal setting to explore the GIS tools available to engineers.

For example, GeoDesign (see “GIS Solutions,” CE News, January 2012) provides a design framework and technology to leverage geographic information, resulting in designs that more closely follow natural systems. It is something that we engineers intuitively incorporate into our thinking. However, the supporting analysis models and systems of GeoDesign deliver a more scientific approach that can, for example, describe impact during the design process instead of calculating impact after a preliminary design is completed. At a GIS conference, an engineer can learn these new techniques to take further advantage of GIS technology.

About 80 percent of the ENR 500 firms have GIS. However, many of them do not incorporate GIS capabilities into the engineering workflow and miss out on the rich analysis tools GIS can add to the civil engineering design process. Again, attending a GIS conference is a great way for an engineer to learn the capabilities of GIS and how it fits within the engineering domain.

I am continually amazed at engineers’ creativity when presented with a new problem.

Engineers spend considerable resources developing new clients. These clients are the operators of the infrastructure we design and build. GIS is used in operations and maintenance of infrastructure. Consider that almost all electric utilities with more than 100,000 customers use GIS to manage facilities. When we, as engineers, develop our GIS expertise, we are able to extend our services to those clients that we have spent our resources developing.

Brent Jones, P.E., PLS, is the global industry manager in AEC, Survey and Cadastre for Esri (www.esri.com). With more than 20 years of experience, he oversees worldwide strategic industry planning, business development, and marketing activities. He can be reached at bjones@esri.com.

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