A robust workforce, the possibility of an early authorization for unmanned aerial vehicles, and market trends were the buzz during the MAPPS 2013 Summer Conference held July 22-26, 2013 in Rockport, ME.
Sessions at the conference focused on regulatory and market influences that will have an impact on geospatial businesses over the coming months and years.
Panelists from the private sector and the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) were hopeful, but not optimistic, that certificates of authorization (COA) will be issued for a small UAV class by the end of 2013. MAPPS has developed a relationship with AUVSI to educate lawmakers at the Federal and state level on the benefits of UAV implementation. Attendees were provided insight into the Federal Aviation Administrations (FAA) regulatory processes that continue to impede the legal operation of UAVs for commercial use and the progression of sensors to be utilized in the geospatial market.
One of those impediments that stretch beyond the UAVs is privacy concerns. Dr. Harlan Onsurd, Spatial Informatics Faculty at the University of Maine provided insight into the difficulties of keeping the balance between individual privacy, the creation of laws and regulations, and the emergence of new technologies. His presentation focused on the ever-growing consumer demand for smart information, while maintaining individual privacy. He outlined the difficulties this presents both to regulators tasked with providing protection and businesses seeking to develop technologies that the market is driving.
Education was the common theme throughout the conference. Much of what has created hurdles and roadblocks for geospatial are politics, regulations and the lack of consumer knowledge and understanding about geospatial technologies and the societal benefits that can be realized.
Dr. Jim Page, Chancellor of the University of Maine System and former MAPPS Director, provided a different education perspective focusing on the future workforce. He shared insight on the changing tide in education, from K-12 to the university level. He said the traditional model of a university professor standing in front of a classroom and giving a lecture has become obsolete. Students today are more interested in experiential learning and being actively engaged in the education process, Page said. Student expectations entering the workforce today are radically different than they were a generation ago. He noted that the university systems themselves are changing by hiring more leaders from the business community.
It was noted that government agencies at all levels are implementing the map it once, use it many times concept working together in the current budget climate to accomplish projects. In addition, presentations about maturing markets including underground mapping, transportation and coastal applications provided insight into future business opportunities for firms.
Additionally, a presentation on professionalism and the use of terminology showed how a firm saved more than $70,000 in state sales taxes by demonstrating it provides a professional service, not a taxable product.
MAPPS provided an overview of two different findings conducted to provide principals with information about the business market.
An overview of the MAPPS salary and non-cash benefits survey, conducted earlier this year, was presented. The survey provides geospatial businesses a benchmark of compensation levels throughout the U.S. The study included salaries for a variety of technical and business development positions and employee compensation including noncash benefits such as health coverage and paid leave. MAPPS members who did not purchase the survey can do so for a $250 fee and non-MAPPS members can purchase the survey for a fee of $500.
The results of an economic poll of attitudes on the current business climate, was conducted once again. MAPPS has conducted this study of its members twice a year since 2009. MAPPS members indicated that commercial business continues to be the strongest growth area and firms working at full capacity is up from the prior six months. However, there is guarded optimism for increasing the workforce and there continues to be a rise of government insourcing that is impeding business growth.
Conversations during social events, coffee breaks, and other time periods apart from the formal presentations focused on the state of the economy, the impact of political activities and policies in Washington, DC, including sequestration, mergers and acquisitions in the geospatial market, and the rapid transformation of technology. Many MAPPS members discussed the fact that photogrammetry is declining as a technological line of business in many firms, being replaced by LIDAR, scanning and other data acquisition methods, and that the make-up of the MAPPS membership has moved to a broader base of firms in a wide spectrum of geospatial collection, process and applications.,
MAPPS meetings provide an intangible return on investment that is much harder to measure than simply evaluating the knowledge gained. The business relationships that are created through the unique networking events at MAPPS meetings are counted as the most valuable benefit to members of the association. That is a view experienced and articulated by several non-member guests in attendance at the Maine conference.