Industry Roundtable

What’s next for geospatial engineering?

Geospatial Engineering speaks to Autodesk, Bentley Systems, Fugro, Leica Geosystems, KOREC Group, Ordnance Survey, Topcon, Survey Max, and XYZ Reality 

Industry experts discuss the future challenges and opportunites facing the industry

THE world is changing and geospatial engineering is changing with it. Advancements in technology – particularly around artificial intelligence and machine learning – are accelerating groundbreaking and transformational changes to the way we operate and deliver projects.

You have two options, to keep up or get left behind in the smoke. Sustainability and net-zero targets are top of the agenda and not only expected but impossible to ignore in today’s society. To realise future industry requirements, education and recruitment will be the keys to success. We need to look outside the existing traditional talent pool and break the mould of what the norm looks like.

To talk about these challenges facing the industry and the profession, Geospatial Engineering gathered a group of industry experts together from

to see what the future looks like...

A key trend in 2022, as highlighted by Ordnance Survey in Civil Engineering Surveyor February 2022 journal, was AI and, in particular, machine learning. Did you find this was the case? What are the key trends for 2023/the year ahead?

Autodesk: Yes, we believe that civil engineering practices will see dramatic transformation in the coming years thanks to AI. AI will enable civil engineers to take advantage of what computers do best, which is process endless amounts of data, detect subtle patterns, and suggest multiple solutions to help solve complex problems. AI can serve as a collaborator or assistant in the design process, with designers retaining their role as decision makers, controlling the creative process, and ultimately making the final call. While Autodesk believes AI holds promise for the industries we serve, making use of this technology with our customers’ data in the right way is a complex undertaking. It requires access to large quantities of quality data for accuracy and precision. Most importantly, Autodesk must pursue this in a way that preserves the trust our customers have in us.

Bentley Systems: In 2022, we have seen a growing interest in artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) initiatives, which have improved processing results for existing products and services, as well as for new start-ups. As digital copies of the world around us become the standard operational environment, the concept of a digital twin, and the identification of objects of interest in that digital twin, will become the topmost valuable features in tomorrow’s solutions. Furthermore, the interoperability between GIS and CAD will only improve; and with reality content permanently growing in volume, we will want to share that data between these two worlds and use it as a basis for integrated workflows.

Fugro: Yes, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) have been key geospatial trends in the past year. At Fugro we are now routinely using AI and ML algorithms to analyse lidar data as well as satellite/aerial imagery to automatically identify and classify objects such as buildings, roads, and vegetation, and their changes over time. AI and ML techniques can also be applied to geospatial data to predict future events such as natural disasters, infrastructure failure and urban growth. As for the key geospatial trends in the coming year, here are a few that are expected:

KOREC Group: Whilst AI and machine learning are closely connected, they are not the same. Simply, AI embraces the idea of a machine that can mimic human intelligence, machine learning does not. Machine learning aims to teach a machine how to perform a specific task and provide accurate results by identifying patterns. Here at KOREC, we most definitely regard both of these developments as key trends and with good reason.

Our challenge is how to turn this data into useable information and how to get it into the hands of those that can use it as fast as possible. (KOREC Group)2022 saw Spot, the autonomous, four-legged robot with a Trimble X7 3D laser scanning payload used in a number of commercial projects in the UK and Ireland. This AI system can sense and avoid obstacles and dynamically adapt to the challenges and hazards of a construction site. The X7 can undertake any number of scans, register them on site and then upload them, via the internet, for immediate use.

This system can be used to carry out repetitive tasks freeing up skilled engineers and surveyors to carry out other jobs, it can be used in perilous conditions not suitable for human intervention and generally increase overall site efficiency. Machine learning is another area where we are seeing noticeable growth. Our industry can now capture so much highquality, mass data from drones, mobile mapping systems and 3D laser scanners, that our challenge is how to turn this data into useable information and how to get it into the hands of those that can use it as fast as possible.

This is where machine learning can really deliver. We’re currently working with National Highways who are using machine learning to extract road defect information from mobile mapping data. Overall, we are seeing an increased demand from customers for machine learning and are now incorporating it into our portal functionality.

These are just two examples from 2022 and whilst there is certainly growth in these areas, there is also mistrust. ChatGPT is a great example of this. Impressive, but how will it affect our own ability to research information and how can we verify the truth of its responses? It’s therefore important to note, this technology is here to compliment the skills that we already have within our profession and if we can establish a gold standard approach to this innovation, we can truly make it adapt for our benefit.

To conclude, we expect key trends in 2023 to include AI and, machine learning along with further automation of processes (especially in monitoring) and better communication and data exchange for connected working between site and office assisted by the growth of the 5G network.

Leica Geosystems: The geospatial industry offers many different methods of data collection such as 3D laser scanning, mobile mapping, and UAV mapping, which will collect very large datasets. Using AI, machine learning, and other technologies, autonomy is bridging the data gap by putting this data to work. It’s all about the ability to learn, adapt, and ultimately predict the unexpected before it happens.

The goal is not about collecting as much data as possible, but about getting value from the data we collect. Autonomy enables you to put all of it to work, providing the advantage to shape unpredictability to your benefit – where you can be proactive, predictive, and even preventative.

The use of AI in the construction industry has the potential to revolutionise the way we build structures. The benefits will be wide reaching across many areas, security monitoring, construction execution planning, task management, and productivity enhancement within construction execution itself. AI can also be used to predict and intervene in cost overruns on projects based on factors such as project size, contract type, and the competence level of project managers.

The advances of AI application in the industry have birthed various well-known subfields of AI, including robotics, and automated planning and scheduling. By breaking down barriers between key stakeholders in construction, AI can create an ecosystem of services, tools, and solutions that will keep the industry competitive.

Ordnance Survey: Over the last 12 months, the use of artificial intelligence (AI) across the global geospatial industry has increased significantly. That’s why at OS we are continuing to invest and experiment with AI technology to support our surveying operations and where possible use technology to deliver customer solutions.

We are also exploring new ways to capture even more granularity in our data and will be relying more and more on automation to increase process efficiencies and extract more meaningful insights from location data. Using machine learning derived from remote sensing, enables us to provide accurate digital maps and insights quickly and efficiently, so that governments and businesses can make better-informed decisions and react quickly.

Geospatial and AI (GeoAI) is evolving rapidly and providing decision makers with predictive analysis that is vital for forecasting future changes and even suggesting solutions to specific business and policy challenges. (Ordnance Survey)A good example of this is how OS helped support the creation of an automated, digital base map of Lusaka, Zambia. We created a base map from aerial imagery using an automated process. Machine learning and artificial intelligence techniques enabled us to teach a computer system to look for and label features such as buildings, roads and water from imagery data which generated a new base map in a tenth of the time that previous traditional manual techniques would have taken.

The use of Earth observation data such as satellite imagery is a growing area for the application of machine learning and AI techniques. By using machine learning, the capability now exists to monitor large areas of land, multiple times a year and at low cost to deliver precision, accuracy and timely insights. In the past, only governments could afford to launch and use satellite-based Earth observations, mostly to support security and defence operations.

Now with the massive growth in satellite systems, and the cheaper cost of space-based imagery, we’ve seen democratisation and wider use by more organisations and governments.

To accelerate the uptake of this important monitoring tool, the UK government announced up to £200m of funding to invest in Earth observation and climate programmes. This investment will help us meet our net-zero ambitions as more than half of key climate data comes from space – making this a vital part of achieving them.

One use case developed by the team at OS, involves heat mapping. OS is collaborating with the National Centre for Earth Observation (NCEO), using satellite data to monitor and map heat in locations at greatest risk from global warming. The aim is to provide meaningful insights for policymakers to manage the impacts of climate change in hot spots across the UK and enable better decision making and planning to reduce environmental and physical exposure to heat stress.

Accurate geospatial data from the research project has provided useful insights so that governments are better able to protect vulnerable communities by identifying cool spaces or areas where safe zones are needed, optimise tree planting, and explore how planning could mitigate risk and ensure the land management measures being proposed will be resilient to future change.

Geospatial and AI (GeoAI) is evolving rapidly and providing decision makers with predictive analysis that is vital for forecasting future changes and even suggesting solutions to specific business and policy challenges. Whether that’s land management, or important environmental areas such as land use, habitat loss, vegetation health which is particularly relevant with climate change and knowing where to invest in green and sustainable solutions to prevent and mitigate risk.

Survey Max: The trend towards the use of machine learning is coming first in the post-processing of geospatial data, with the use of auto-extraction of features in large point-cloud and imagery data sets. The degree to which this is true supervised machine learning is growing rapidly.

Machine learning on the field data collection side is still in its infancy but will surely come in terms of real-time analysis and prediction of type and rate of change in monitoring. 

Topcon: AI and machine learning continue to develop at a staggering pace and will certainly have a hand in accelerating geospatial data processing and digital transformation automation. But we’re also looking elsewhere at the expansion of some of the broader mass markets including for Industrial Internet of Things (IIOT), eMobility, drones, automotive and autonomous vehicles, where geospatial technology has a growing role to play but which are yet to hit the headlines.

These markets are embracing geospatial data and automation for exciting and groundbreaking applications made possible by advances in geospatial technology. Simultaneously, growth in high-speed connectivity and multiple-sensor augmentations is allowing us to combine different technologies to provide more accurate positioning with complete coverage.

Topcon’s partnership with Vodafone is a key example of the significance of this in the autonomous vehicle market. The two companies have joined forces to create a precise positioning system that utilises location technology with greater accuracy than individual GNSS systems, a critical step towards the ‘vehicle to anything’ connectivity that enables vehicles to speak to other vehicles, road users and infrastructure, and will be a cornerstone of the mass market adoption of autonomous vehicles.

Driverless cars in their finished form are a long way off, and there’s a lot of regulatory work that needs to go on before we get there. But there’s no reason that we can’t start working with the technology now, and there are industrial applications where we’re already putting it into practice.

This is another key trend that we’re expecting this year – the industrial sector taking the lead on automation while the geospatial net broadens to consider other mass market applications such as geofencing for eMobility, and AI will obviously play a key role in all of this development.

XYZ Reality: As data becomes increasingly entwined in modern construction methods, it is reasonable to assume that we will see more AI and machine learning in civil engineering in 2023. There’s a glaring opportunity to improve construction efficiency with the support AI provides automating tasks, analysing data and solving complex challenges.

Engineers can already speed up the design process using AI to analyse specifications and turn them into designs. Machine learning also means AI’s design skills are improving as it receives feedback. AI also makes construction sites safer by analysing risks, both autonomously and with the support of more data and guidance from engineers on site. These technologies have already been applied to a wide range of other civil engineering tasks, such as predicting material strength, analysing traffic patterns, and optimising construction schedules.

I expect we will see more of this in 2023 and even more advanced applications as our understanding of how to use it grows. What’s more, the very nature of machine learning means it’s only going to improve over time, as will its use cases.

Other potential trends for 2023 could include the adoption of new sustainable construction materials and techniques, the use of drones, construction augmented reality (AR) and other remote sensing technologies for surveying and monitoring. For instance, AR is being increasingly used to eliminate rework in construction by allowing engineers to accurately place structures against design models. These technologies will also support the continued development of smart cities and infrastructure.

It’s worth noting that predicting trends in any industry is always challenging, and unexpected events or breakthroughs could dramatically alter the landscape.

How can the geospatial industry play a meaningful role in paving the way towards a sustainable future?

Autodesk: The digital transformation in the AEC industry requires that principal stakeholders involved in the planning, design, construction, and operations of building and infrastructure projects have access to the data needed to make better decisions, enhance project performance, and deliver better outcomes.

Information that identifies the geographic location and characteristics of the built or natural environment is critical to the success of this transformation. (Autodesk)And the information that identifies the geographic location and characteristics of the built or natural environment – information gathered and processed by professionals in the geospatial industry – is critical to the success of this transformation. By working together with owners and operators and the designers and engineers in AEC firms that support them, GIS professionals play a crucial role in helping the industry solve problems that can improve the lives of citizens and communities.

Because infrastructure assets do not exist in a vacuum, designers and engineers need to understand how their CAD/BIM designs fit into any existing network of roads, buildings, utilities, ground conditions, and so on.

For these stakeholders, it is important that they can connect their design information with GIS data to determine the impact of an asset based on existing conditions and geographic context – including topography, floodplain, environmentally sensitive areas, demographics, and socioeconomic data. Bridging CAD/BIM with GIS enables designers and engineers to gain a robust context model where geographic information and project designs are brought together, improving understanding about how assets interact within the context of what exists in its environment, both built and natural.

Working together, this seamless sharing of data and information between BIM design processes and GIS technologies enable the delivery of projects that can truly have a more positive impact to communities and the environment, reinforcing the role of the AEC industry as social and environmental stewards.

Bentley Systems: The existence of GIS is based on its purpose for a specific task.

GIS also plays a major role in managing natural resources, habitats, and protected environments. The availability of GIS and its data drives decision-making and makes it more reliable, faster, and well-supported by scientific evidence. (Bentley SystemsHistorically, these tasks were related to managing the public domain, permits, and property. GIS also plays a major role in managing natural resources, habitats, and protected environments. The availability of GIS and its data drives decision-making and makes it more reliable, faster, and well-supported by scientific evidence.

The increasing availability of continuously improving aerial imagery, lidar, reality content, and other resources provides continued improvement of that decision making process, allowing traditional GIS workflows to transition from a 2D context to a 3D context which is key for a sustainable future. People in charge have never been so well informed, and GIS will continue to play an important role.

Fugro: The geospatial industry plays a crucial role in promoting sustainable development and ensuring the responsible use of natural resources. By leveraging advanced technologies and data analysis techniques, the industry can help pave the way towards a more sustainable future. Here are a few examples:

KOREC Group: The data we are collecting and how it’s used can be key to sustainability. For example, we collect data from many sensors, such as GNSS, UAVs and remote sensing and this data can be used to create sustainable management plans and also live monitoring of environmental events. A number of our customers, such as Storm Geomatics, are already doing this and actively promoting their work on social media, which is important, simply because the more we see data being used in this way, the more we can appreciate the important part our industry has to play in providing the geospatial data that’s vital for a move towards net-zero.

The data our industry captures can also help in the design of sustainable urban areas that are more efficient, have reduced traffic and consequently less congestion and air pollution. To be successful, this type of product requires vast quantities of high-quality geospatial information and that’s our business!

Within construction, we are already seeing a greater awareness of sustainability with an emphasis on less waste, reduced emissions, different materials and the introduction of more digitised processes. AR, laser scanning and mixed reality can all assist with this.

Another great example is the idea of Smart Cities. Post-construction, we can look at how we can better manage our cities using mass data collection (through remote sensing) and how we can combine this data with IoT sensors to better manage our living environment.

They are just a few examples that underline how important the data that we capture is to a sustainable future. As a company, KOREC reflects the aims of a lot of our customers. We have held an environmental accreditation for over 10 years and have pledged to halve our emissions by 2030 which has led us to examine all aspects of our business and ask how we can become more sustainable in all of them.

Leica Geosystems: The solution to the complex puzzle of global climate change is obviously not a simple one. The geospatial industry has a significant role to play when it comes to ensuring the well-being of communities and mitigating climate change. Its large environmental footprint stems in part from its waste-heavy and energy-intensive supply chains. Furthermore, frequent cost increases and delays due to highly complex workflows continue to plague the industry and affect housing affordability.

The geospatial industry has a significant role to play when it comes to ensuring the well-being of communities and mitigating climate change. (Leica Geosystems)Hexagon believes that its sustainability journey is determined by the role its products and solutions play in the market, as well as its own processes and actions. To achieve the greatest impact, Hexagon conducted a thorough analysis and risk assessment and has defined five key sustainability areas to focus on.

Humanity faces a critical moment of shared responsibility for the health of our planet and humanity. We are proud to support activities that reduce our environmental footprint; uphold human rights and safety; attract and retain talent; and mitigate environmental risks while fuelling innovation. As a sustainability partner, we participate in the climate plans and policies of our customers and of government agencies, inspiring others toward a greener, fairer approach.

In conclusion, the geospatial industry can play a meaningful role in paving the way towards a sustainable future by providing valuable information for decision-making, supporting sustainable land use planning and natural resource management, building resilience to disasters, and enabling smart city planning.

Ordnance Survey: The geospatial industry is expected to grow significantly between now and 2030 as recognition in the value of location data increases. Especially as geospatial data plays a crucial role in sustainability, supporting critical infrastructure for green transport and electric vehicles, planning renewable energy, managing climate change-related flood risk and drought, and improving waste collection and recycling.

Location and Earth observation (EO) data can be combined to better understand how our planet is changing, and develop potential solutions as we strive for a sustainable future. On its own EO data has limited content but add a map and suddenly you get a powerful picture of the changes happening in our environment. From tracking heat waves to coastal erosion, and reporting pollution to habitat restoration, we’re able to analyse the earth surface in a way that helps us improve the effectiveness of environmental programs.

Climate change monitoring projects can also benefit from using both traditional remote sensing methods as well as newer techniques enabled by advances in digital technologies such as drones (unmanned aerial vehicles) equipped with sensors capable of collecting large amounts of high-resolution imagery.

OS is testing how we can use these methods and new technologies to support nature-based restoration at landscape scale and understand what is required to provide the baseline of a site and verification of its restoration to support urgently needed high-integrity projects for potential private investment. Analysing complex supply-chain data is critical for organisations wishing to embed sustainability and climate-led decision-making across their operations – from stopping deforestation to ensuring ethical engagement and support for farmers and communities.

Pushing the use of this data beyond reporting requirements to implementation of climate action at scale is an urgent imperative, which is why the Supply Chain Data Partnership was formed with Ordnance Survey as a founding partner. The Supply Chain Data Partnership aims to inject transparency and trust back into the supply chain, enabling companies to understand their climate and environmental risks and impact through knowing the true, verified location of their supply chain assets.

In addition to supporting climate change monitoring and reporting, geospatial data can also be used to monitor and track changes in land cover, land use, and biodiversity. As a result of this monitoring, policymakers will be better informed about how their policies are affecting these important factors for sustainable development.

Survey Max: From an instrument supplier and manufacturer point of view, by driving sustainability in all aspects of design, manufacture, supply chain management and distribution. Designing solutions that are enablers for sustainability on the client side. Creating a culture of sustainability in our organisations.

Topcon: As businesses and as individuals in the geospatial industry, we’re in a unique position being able to use our knowledge and experience to take responsibility, start asking the right questions, and promote good practice. To do that, it’s important that we give everyone, from engineers to senior decision makers, the opportunity to contribute to this conversation and have a positive influence on projects that extends beyond their individual role.

There’s an opportunity for geospatial to lead a culture shift towards transparency and visibility when it comes to reporting our impact and sharing our efforts to reduce it. This will create higher standards across the board as the big players continue to demand contractors have the right credentials, and crucially understand their own impact.

This is where we can play to our strengths by collecting and leveraging data on our emissions and waste to reduce our own impact and help others to reduce theirs. Geospatial has an opportunity here as a sector, not just to do better in isolation, but be a driver of broader industry and policy change, because we have the tools to find and address inefficiencies. One of these is the Aptix Integration Platform developed by Digital Construction Works, now part of Topcon, which aggregates data from site management platforms and telematics systems that can then be used to make real-time improvements to operations.

To achieve this, we need to educate ourselves as an industry and create a base level of knowledge. The Carbon Literacy Project is a great example of an organisation pushing forward change, and they host a 2-day training course that is accessible to everyone and can help bring established teams up to speed on what they can do.

XYZ Reality: Sustainability is likely to be one of if not the single most important factors in every industry over the next few decades. The geospatial industry incorporates observations of the Earth using methods like remote sensing, aerial mapping, and surveying and the data collected through these methods can be analysed using GIS techniques to provide real-time updates on humankind’s impact on the planet.

This lends a huge amount of power to the sector to revolutionise industries like construction to improve efficiency and become more sustainable. (XYZ Reality)This means we can track environmental impacts such as deforestation, ice melting and the rate of urban expansion. We can then use this information to inform actions to combat them.

Importantly, visualising this data in digestible ways allows the importance and magnitude of these issues to be widely understood.

The geospatial industry is also renowned for being at the forefront of technological advancements and innovation. This lends a huge amount of power to the sector to revolutionise industries like construction to improve efficiency and become more sustainable.

Here, one of the biggest impacts on sustainability is rework, leading to material wastage and higher emissions on projects, which can be reduced if accuracy and efficiency are improved.

Does geospatial engineering education need to change, and if so, why and how?

Autodesk: Economic, environmental, and social trends are driving the acceleration of the convergence of BIM and GIS in the AEC industry. How the entire industry is educated to the value of bringing BIM information and GIS spatial data together needs to change. Historically, for a GIS specialist to maintain current and accurate records of infrastructure requires working through field updates and as-built information, often requiring requests for information from another department.

At the same time, civil engineers experience a similar challenge when it comes to access to GIS data, data that can significantly impact the accuracy and quality of their design proposals. There is a better way. It is important that GIS and CAD/BIM design teams understand the value of working together – of how GIS informs BIM and BIM fuels GIS. With better coordination, GIS teams can better leverage design and engineering experts to help maintain data and provide a detailed understanding of specific workflows, and data relationships.

At the same time, they can provide CAD/BIM teams with access to valuable, centralised GIS so designers and engineers can more easily integrate accurate and up-to-date GIS data into their design projects – such as property lines, curb information, and other associated data.

The AEC industry needs to think about things differently. Integrating BIM and GIS can result in workflows that move data seamlessly from one system to another. More seamless collaboration allows everyone involved on a project to see what the impacts are and to consider alternatives. It enables greater engagement from stakeholders, leading to improved decision-making and better outcomes. 

Bentley Systems: Yes, traditional GIS workflows are being disrupted and improved with the addition of 3D and 4D digital twins enabling a transition from 2D GIS workflows to multi-dimensional workflows supported by survey, design and construction digital artifacts including; photos, lidar, BIM models, field scans, sensors and temporal information. This requires the field of geospatial engineering to adapt to these changes and keep up with the pace of this acceleration in capability for the GIS field.

Fugro: Geospatial engineering education may need to change in response to the rapidly evolving technologies and techniques in the field.

Geospatial engineering education should focus on solving real-world problems such as climate change, sustainable development, and disaster management. (Fugro)

Here are a few reasons why and how:

Incorporating these aspects into their education can prepare students to make meaningful contributions to the industry and society as a whole.

KOREC Group: As an industry we are facing a massive skills shortage. However, we feel that the responsibility lies across a number of areas if we are to attract a motivated workforce for the future. Our industry can offer technology that is a perfect fit for the tech savvy, early adopters of Generation Z who have grown up immersed in technology.

Virtual reality, 3D laser scanning, robotics, AI, reality data capture and data analytics are all a part of what we do and offer a wide choice of attractive careers in surveying and engineering. It’s therefore up to the colleges, the manufacturers, and the industry as a whole to promote this message.

We should start early and, in this area, Get Kids into Survey is doing a great job of inspiring future geospatial experts.

Whilst educational institutions are working hard to make their courses attractive to future intakes through revised modules that reflect how the industry has evolved and apprenticeship-style learning that combines an academic qualification with practical work experience and a greater emphasis on technology, numbers are still diminishing.

If we are to stop this fall out, we need to focus on the how much a career in surveying or engineering has to offer and we need to do this through social media and the channels favoured by the younger generation. Maybe school geography syllabuses can include this topic, field days with measurement or downloadable apps created using positioning, and of course industry representation at school careers fairs – it’s vital to start thinking how we connect the dots between a motivated tech-savvy, ambitious younger generation and an industry that can tick every box for a fulfilling career. 

Leica Geosystems: At Hexagon we can help to influence and guide the next generation of engineering surveyors. Hexagon is dedicated to helping train these new surveyors by supplying equipment to universities and colleges, as well as to dedicated training facilities such as The Survey School, operated by The Survey Association

Hexagon are always looking for new ways to be more active in education world. We believe the future of the profession depends on us all working towards a common goal. Several elements will contribute to that, firstly we need to explain what why and when, what do you need to do to pursue a career as an engineer or surveyor, why do we need more of these crucial roles and when should we be encouraging young people to choose this path.

To achieve this, we are often invited by schools, colleges, and universities to explain and inspire tomorrow’s surveyors with guest lectures or just showing them the possibilities and opportunities that working in this industry presents.

We can also play a part in supporting businesses by providing introductions to industry professionals in the larger geospatial community and assist in areas such as training, support, and education. This will also have the added benefit of businesses being in touch with many potential graduates, addressing the skill-shortage that may be affecting them, a mutually beneficial relationship for all parties involved.

Ordnance Survey: With the unprecedented growth of and need for geospatial information and technologies in our interconnected world, it is an exciting time for students and graduates entering this sector. The rise of emerging technologies means that the next generation of geospatial engineers will have the expertise in uncrewed aerial vehicles (UAVs or ‘drones’), intelligent 3D imaging, and Earth observation systems.

It is vital that governments and businesses therefore continue to invest in geospatial skills so there is not a shortage of talent, especially as geospatial data plays such a critical role in the public and private sector.

In the UK, OS is proud to be part of national curriculum and higher education and last year we launched our first virtual national work experience programme. As well as offering intern and graduate opportunities to gain first-hand experience, we are also running a Geospatial Data Science Programme with the government.

OS graduates become fully embedded in our geospatial teams with rotating placements, ranging from geospatial operations to data analysis and customer engagement. The programme will provide first-hand experience working on several projects from open data, smart cities, clean energy and sustainable infrastructure, housing and transport, to supporting EV infrastructure planning as part of the shift towards achieving net-zero.

There is lots you can learn in a classroom but at OS we are big on not just learning a technical skillset, but the customer-facing element about how to apply data science, the different datasets and how the products can add value, communicating with customers to better understand and find solutions that specifically suit their needs.

Topcon: The short answer is yes, and the change should start with raising awareness among the next generation and then making it a more attractive proposition as a sector. Everyone in construction is suffering from the skills gap, so we need to keep working to create demand in the next generation by promoting realistic and enticing paths into the industry for young people, and celebrating those who create them.

A big change that needs to happen is the understanding that talent acquisition doesn’t require significant investment or that there isn’t a significant return when we do invest. (Topcon)A big change that needs to happen is the understanding that talent acquisition doesn’t require significant investment or that there isn’t a significant return when we do invest. We need to be smarter and bolder with how we communicate with young people and make it clear that there aren’t just opportunities for surveyors, but for data managers and software engineers at the cutting-edge of the tech industry.

Surveying is now one of the most technological careers around, and we want to get people excited about it. That’s why we already work closely with institutions like Technological University Dublin, to support the next generation.

Our audience is already engaged with technology, and we need to go a step further and meet them where they are, earlier in their education journey.

Get Kids Into Survey is in the process of bringing its GEO Squad into the Minecraft video game, introducing geospatial technology and the concept earlier to young people, without a 50-slide lecture. It works like this that will create the demand for real training and development opportunities further down the line.

XYZ Reality: I think all education needs to change in alignment with the shifts that inevitably occur in the associated industries. Since the turn of the millennium, development and change has been occurring at unprecedented rates. The technology used today was science fiction only a few decades ago. Therefore, it would make sense for our education to reflect this change.

In my experience with geospatial education, there was a heavy focus on traditional geospatial methods. Albeit necessary for the developing well-rounded individuals in the industry, it also meant that I was left behind when taking my first job as a land surveyor straight out of university. I spent the first year learning how to collect data in the field with equipment that I had not been thoroughly exposed to at university.

I had plenty of experience using two-man total stations, calculating traverses by hand, and drawing maps, but, in many instances, this knowledge was rarely used going forward.

Instead, I needed to know how to use robotic total stations, digital levels, post-process the data I had collected, and convert this data into digestible drawings for clients.

I think it’s crucial that educators in the geospatial sector are aware of new trends in the industry and that they work these into the syllabus. Courses must be adaptable in order to consider new areas of learning.

Generally, education within the geospatial industry can last anywhere between three and five years. When a student starts their course, it’s commonplace for modules to be outlined at the beginning.

From what I remember, very little changed during this time. However, with the exponential development rate of technology, it’s possible 3-5 years could become a smaller and smaller time frame compared to technology’s evolution. Sudden technological breakthroughs may also mean the education system lags behind.

Going forward, leaving a module open every year to add in additional learning, based upon new developments in the industry would be highly beneficial. This would allow students to learn skills that will help them secure their first job in the industry and only increase development and innovation.

What’s required to face the digital transformational challenges of tomorrow and decades to come with confidence?

Autodesk: In the future, we may no longer refer to design data or GIS data, we may have one term to refer to the unification of this information. Integrated data and streamlined workflows can enable organisations to recoup lost productivity and improve data accuracy. Our ability as an industry to address the significant social, environmental, and economic challenges we face is predicated on our ability to work together. Bridging design, engineering, and geospatial disciplines, technologies, experience, and understanding can help us deliver a more sustainable future for all.

Bentley Systems: With management and decision-making processes relying more on digital twins, it is important to eliminate data silos, stop duplicating volumes of data, and make data accessible. Organisation, availability, and content disclosure are key to feeding these decision-making processes and making sure that the people making the decisions can rely on the best data available. This data should be open, interoperable, well organised, and easy to manage.

Fugro: Here are a few thoughts from the perspective of a large organisation around staying competitive and thrive in the digital age:

KOREC Group: It’s our business to not just promote the advantages of digital transformation but also to be aware of the barriers to adoption and to work towards over coming them.

We constantly talk to our customers and are aware of their successes and also the challenges they face. Cost of investment, workforce training in new technology, how to handle, store, share and keep data safe – these are all very real concerns, but solutions do exist.

Data security can be improved through special authentication processes as per the Trimble users on high security nuclear sites, training costs are minimised because solutions have been developed for people who have been more at home with a pencil, a drawing and a tape measure and portals (such as the KOREC Portal) provide secure storage in a single source as well as viewing capabilities and other customisable functionality.

It’s also important to understand that each part of a business faces different challenges. Overall, there will be a need to increase profitability (around just 3.9% for construction in the UK), sustainability and effectiveness; in the office there will be a focus on data quality and how to use, share and store that data; on site the emphasis will be on working effectively, accurately and safely.

Digital transformation can assist in all these areas. We’ve already come a long way with progress in the office and the BIM Level 3 mandate is a good example of how this can be achieved because poorly detailed 2D drawings are becoming a thing of the past. However, no such legislation exists for technology progress on site and consequently, there can be a massive discrepancy between the two.

However, I think the biggest challenge to digital transformation is a mindset that holds back progress because ‘we always done it this way’. Kodak is a great example.

Despite inventing the first digital camera, the company chose to ignore this technology because the business of films and paper was very profitable at that time. The company filed for bankruptcy in 2012. As a Trimble distributor it’s our role to introduce digital construction/ engineering solutions and help our customers to adopt new workflows that will help them to work faster, spot clashes, reduce rework and errors and cut down on materials wastage.

In short, we need to ensure that the rewards of digital transformation are evident and achievable because the alternative is simply, to be left behind.

Leica Geosystems: If we look back at the evolution in surveying technology over time, the shift from traditional theodolites to robotic total stations was quite a long, drawn-out process. Nowadays, advancements are happening at an exponential rate.

Looking at the last 10 years from where we were then to where we are now, that speed of change has accelerated massively. Just 10 years ago, surveyors were lugging around heavy, cumbersome pieces of kit. Today, we’ve launched equipment which collects 600,000 data points per second and is the size of a Coke can. The speed of change is driven, of course, by demand, but also by an industry-wide desire to be more sustainable, safer, and more efficient.

Although the shift in the workflow of traditional surveying has meant that we’re capable of collecting mass amounts of data, we don’t necessarily know what to do with it. In today’s automated and hyperconnected world, data collection is outpacing our ability to leverage it - most of it sits unused and unconnected. Smarter technology is presenting new opportunities for the survey industry. Namely, the ability to push into new markets that weren’t traditionally relevant to surveying.

Although the industry skills may be changing, they are not being phased out of the smart revolution. The introduction of robots that can be programmed to move around a survey area and collect data automatically has led to a whole era of hands-free surveying.

It is a cost-effective and efficient method of data collection that has the potential to improve the quality of survey data while reducing the time and effort required for data collection Hands-free surveying has many benefits, including improved accuracy, increased safety, time and cost savings, and access to hard-to-reach areas. As technology continues to evolve, the possibilities for hands-free surveying are endless.

Ordnance Survey: Location data can play a vital role in detection and monitoring, but more importantly provide the trusted analytics for timely and critical decision-making. The key is ensuring that trusted and authoritative geospatial data is easily accessible. OS recently announced our most significant digital transformation milestone in over a decade, providing faster and easier access to location data for customers across the public and private sectors.

With OS Select+Build, customers have the ability to create customised data selections and pick and choose data as and when they need it from a simplified data structure. This will accelerate efficiencies and enables organisations to make critical decisions and implement viable solutions, as well as automate workflows and reduce data management so they can operate more sustainably.

As location data is used to tackle critical challenges, the need for reassurance and trust is key. For example, sustainability projects need to be built on accurate and trusted data, the future of driverless and autonomous cars depends on accuracy in positioning and location. It is no longer viable to have fit-for-purpose data – it’s about ensuring national consistency with authoritative and accurate data.

Geospatial technologies contribute to improved environmental decision-making by providing timely access to critical information about climate change risks. Investors and fund managers want due diligence in place so they’re not acquiring climate change risks. With geospatial analysis is possible to better understand where vulnerable populations live so that they can be protected. We can better plan where urban environments can be protected from heat events by making decisions on where to plant trees or analysis roof materials on buildings to mitigate temperature change.

Our research and innovation teams are creating the future intellectual property and capability that will power our next products in a diverse range of areas, as well as exploring ways in which to collaborate on new ideas and solutions.

One way in which we do this already is through our Geovation accelerator programme, supporting start-ups across the location and property industries as these entrepreneurs are key to unlocking a new approach and fresh ideas to overcome preexisting challenges, especially in relation to sustainability and climate change.

Geospatial technologies provide tools for understanding how our planet is changing at every scale so that we can anticipate what impact these changes will have on natural resources such as water supply quality; agriculture production; biodiversity conservation efforts; transportation routes and infrastructure planning.

At OS we continue to invest in new technologies and solutions to add value for our customers because we know the power of geospatial data and how it underpins critical customer business functions, delivering insights and operational efficiency across the public and private sector markets.

The volume of data is increasing exponentially, be it the proliferation of satellite data or the harnessing of millions of data from connected technology and devices, including sensors, vehicles, and phones. Accessing and aggregating this data will be increasingly complex, leading to organisations and governments to seek trusted location providers such as OS to solve big problems, such as sustainability and net-zero.

Survey Max: Of course, this is partly a question of education, both academic and vocational. It also seems to me that digital transformation is the ultimate call for interoperability, commonality, and seamless data exchange.

Digital transformation is the ultimate call for interoperability, commonality, and seamless data exchange. (Survey Max)We must find ways to protect the commercial interests of developers to allow investment in solutions but ensure that common formats allow for competition and multiple players. The future should not feature monopolies. We should all be ready to change and embrace new ways of working while always remembering that digital transformation should start and end with the customer.

Topcon: As we have learned from the consumer space, convenience is the key to digital transformation.

The typical approach for digital transformation for businesses has been to bring in consultants who talk about organisational culture change and mind shifts from prior methods or manual ways of doing things. They require stakeholders to align and define a digital business objective and ensure organisational alignment and outcomes.

From a practical everyday human behaviour perspective, this is not our approach. For example, as consumers, we started using our mobile phone cameras years ago and storing our photos in the cloud because it was easy and effortless.

We started using music streaming services like Spotify or Apple Music because we love the convenience. It is just something we started doing in our everyday lives. It was simple. Significant parts of the construction industry have already gone digital.

The challenge is correctly integrating technical capabilities into convenient automated data flows for our industry. We can do this with the Topcon Aptix Integration Platform. Now consider the convenience we can add by integrating the many existing software applications used today to provide smooth data flows connecting the site and the office.

It is important to stay open to integration with the various vendor software used across the entire construction project lifecycle – from the planning and scheduling to design and modelling to the job site operations, including machine control and telematics. Innovative software applications will continue to pop up.

Leveraging Aptix is the best scenario for using what you already have and connecting to the latest and greatest. By integrating current software and data with Aptix, we open a whole new world of efficiencies for customers. We help automate what would previously be a manual process and integrate workflows, enabling faster and more efficient project management, thereby saving time and money.

Design models, schedules, and project actuals are much easier to track and helps customers to automate workflows for exchanging design, schedule tasks, and production data. It is very simple to do. The results of the automated workflows are then communicated to all stakeholders in near real-time dashboards showing essential project information to address the ever-changing business costs.

Offering convenience by integrating software and making data flow is key to digital transformation for today and the future, and this can be achieved with Aptix.

XYZ Reality: Industries like geospatial engineering are going to change, incorporating new technologies and different ways to interact with and use them. If industry leaders don’t keep up with the shifting high-tech landscape, they will be left behind.

To keep up in the race into a more digitalised future, thorough research into what developments are taking place today and those on the horizon is critical.

Of course, not all change is good, and it’s understandable that many businesses and organisations do not want to take a leap of faith with every new ‘digital innovation’ they hear about. It will take time for confidence in new technologies to grow and ongoing research and development to prove new use cases, adding weight to any claims about benefits.

Similarly, as time goes on, the adoption of new tools and software will provide evidence and lessons about potential returns on investment. It’s a fine balance of keeping an open mind and an open eye, while ensuring any decision-making is well-informed to protect investments. That being said, we are on the clock against the climate agenda, and significant investment is needed in any technology that can boost the efficiency of industries to reduce our emissions and environmental impact. 

Industry round table with Autodesk, Bentley Systems, Fugro, Leica Geosystems, KOREC Group, Ordnance Survey, Topcon, Survey Max and XYZ Reality


Autodesk: Eric DesRoche, Director, Infrastructure Industry & Business Strategy Bentley Systems: Dustin Parkman, Vice President of Mobility

Fugro: Pooja Mahapatra, Global Lead – Geospatial KOREC Group: Mark Poveda, Managing Director – Ireland Group Commercial Director

Leica Geosystems, part of Hexagon: Helen Gilmartin, Regional Marketing Business Partner and Jonn Hicks, Managing Director

Ordnance Survey: Donna Lyndsay, Sustainability Lead

Survey Max: David Price, Director

Topcon: Mark Burbidge, Director Emerging Business; Dave Bennett, Director Corporate Communications; Leighton Davies, Regional Senior Manager and Sander Jongeleen, Senior Director – Product Management

XYZ Reality: Stephen Webb, Field Operations Manager