Reflections on a Rewarding Geospatial Technology Career
As another year comes to a close, I look back with gratitude on many wonderful things the year has brought, including the addition of four employees and several new clients. The end of 2019 is particularly bittersweet for me, as it will mark my retirement after 36 years in the geospatial technology industry. As my final blog, the team at EBA asked me to share some thoughts about this incredible industry and how it has evolved throughout my career, as well as success factors in founding and leading geographIT, a 29-year-old geospatial technology firm.
The field has changed a lot in 36 years
During my graduate studies in geography with a minor in cartography in the early 1980s, academic research focused on “computer-assisted cartography” and development of algorithms to solve geographic problems using vector and raster data models. Canadian and U.S. federal agencies were researching and applying the technology to support census, natural resource, and environmental applications. It became obvious that traditional cartographic technology was about to experience a major transformation, and more importantly, digital maps could be used to solve geographic problems.
Today’s GIS software is capable of producing high-quality cartographic products that rival traditional cartography of yesteryear, but it is more widely recognized as a versatile and robust information technology capable of complex analysis and problem-solving. GIS is being applied in innovative new ways, such as:
- Notifying police officers about crime history associated with locations they pass on patrol.
- Alerting utility operators about abnormal flow meter readings that could indicate a water main break.
- Applying machine learning to predict the probably of crashes on highway segments.
- Combining with augmented reality technology for 3-D viewing of buried utilities in their actual underground locations.
These are just a few examples of a myriad of new geospatial technology applications that have been enabled by the emergence of the world wide web, cloud computing, mobile computing platforms, cellular broadband, and smart sensors.
NextGen 911 is an example of a location-based services application that tracks the real-time location of a smart phone that initiated a 911 call and dispatches the first responder assigned to the emergency service zone where the smart phone is located. The traveling public is also using location-based services in a popular vehicle routing app where their smartphones serve as self-reporting highway speed sensors and, in combination with crowd-sourced information posted by the user community, automatically re-route users around congestion while accurately updating the estimated time of arrival.
Organizations are now much more interested in leveraging the latest geospatial technologies and best practices to improve efficiencies of field operations, enhance organizational collaboration, and lead to better management insights. It’s an exciting time for our field!
Consider a career in the rapidly evolving geospatial technology field
The widespread societal adoption of location-based technologies has exposed the public to its usefulness and convenience, even if they are unaware of the geospatial technology powering the applications. General users can now monitor the location of family members and friends, find a lost smart phone, and discover and navigate to a nearby restaurant in an unfamiliar city. The gaming industry has even incorporated geospatial technology in gaming apps to the delight of dedicated gamers. This common awareness and adoption of location-based apps increases the demand for technological innovation and bodes a bright future for geospatial technology careers.
Working in the geospatial technology field offers opportunities to address unique client needs, which makes the work quite interesting. I always enjoyed enterprise GIS consulting, which involves working closely with clients to define organizational vision and goals, developing strategies to resolve organizational and technological impediments, and preparing implementation plans that provide a roadmap for organizations to achieve their vision. My career was a significant departure from my early cartographic ambition, but implementation plans are similar to road maps in that they provide a guide for reaching a desired destination.
On starting and running a business
One way that I have been proud to contribute to the field has been founding geographIT, a division of EBA Engineering, in 1990 and growing it into a thriving business that has provided well-paying, meaningful careers for many current and former employees over the years. Here are some perspectives for starting and growing a successful business, and these are not specific to geospatial technology.
Vision matters. Having a clear vision of the products and services you intend to market and the target market sector (prospective clients) for those products and services is key. Formulate and communicate a clear value proposition for why potential customers will want to purchase your products and services relative to the competition. Be flexible, and periodically adapt your business in response to market and technological forces that could either end your business or offer new opportunities to expand services into new markets.
Passion also matters. Maintaining a passion for your business and the services and products you market is just as important. Passion is effective when selling to prospective customers, helps to keep focus on why you started the business, and is a strong motivator through economic downturns. Your business will demand most of your waking hours, including weekends, so be passionate about it!
Value your clients. Provide your clients with outstanding customer service, and never take them for granted. A satisfied client will maintain a business relationship because they come to value the quality of your work, integrity of your business ethics, and customer experience they receive. Plus, they will provide excellent references to prospective clients. Excellent client references result in new clients!
Value your team. Treat your employees honestly, respectfully, and fairly, realizing that it is their talent, skills, and abilities that make the organization successful. Emphasize teamwork and collaboration so that a project can benefit from the blend of talent and skills each team member brings to a project. Encourage them to constantly learn and expand their skills, because it benefits both the individual and the organization. Recognize and reward their accomplishments, and use mistakes as learning opportunities. Empower employees to make decisions and take on more responsibility as they demonstrate good judgement.
And most importantly, enjoy the journey.
Bruce Stauffer is vice president for EBA Engineering’s geospatial technologies and asset management division. On December 31, he will retire after a 36-year career in the geospatial technology industry. He looks forward to traveling, volunteering, enjoying recreational activities, and exploring outlets for creative expression.