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Ed Kennedy Discuses GIAC’s Past and Future

The Canadian geomatics community has been discussing and debating the importance of having a thriving and useful geomatics industry association.  In the past the Geomatics Industry Association of Canada (GIAC) has been both of those things but sadly not the last few years.

Industry

Today GoGeomatics Canada is talking with Ed Kennedy about the history of GIAC and about the future.  Ed Kennedy was the first President of GIAC, so his insights will be very useful in our discussion.  Currently Ed is the Principal of Kennedy Geoinfo Consulting, and a Senior Associate with Hickling Arthurs Low (HAL) Corporation. From 2003-2011, he was also the Managing Director of Canadian GeoProject Centre, a business network hub that helped to source spatial information business in target foreign markets, which was a spin-off of GIAC.

GoGeomatics:  Thanks you for taking the time to speak with GoGeomatics Ed. We and our readers appreciate you sharing your knowledge and experience of the Canadian geomatics community with us.  To get started let’s talk a little about your involvement in the creation of GIAC and the early years of the organization.  So how did GIAC get its’ start?

Ed Kennedy:   In 1987, the former Canadian Association of Aerial Surveying (CAAS) was renamed the Geomatics Industry Association of Canada (GIAC).  CAAS was formed in 1961 by Don McLarty, formerly President of one of Canada’s biggest aerial surveying and mapping companies of the time, Spartan Air Services.  At the time of the CAAS-GIAC transition, CAAS had a membership of approximately 30 aerial surveying and mapping firms.

GoGeomatics:  How and why did CAAS transition to becoming GIAC?

Ed Kennedy:   The transition came as a result of lobbying by the Canadian Institute of Geomatics (CIG) during my tenure as President of CIG in 1985-86 for the CAAS to open its membership to surveying and remote sensing companies.  The formation of a broad-based industry association was one of the key recommendations of the first ever study of the surveying and mapping sector, in 1985.  Under Don’s direction and leadership, the CAAS Board of Directors took on this challenge.  Key players and supporters of this change on the Board at that time were the Chairman, Guy Béliveau (then President of Béliveau Couture) and Past-Chairman, Hugh O’Donnell (then Vice President of Marshall Macklin Monaghan).

GoGeomatics:  How did GIAC decide to use the term ‘geomatics’ to describe themselves?

Ed Kennedy:   When the Board was considering a new name for the broadened association, Guy recommended “geomatics”, which was an umbrella term for the disciplines represented in the sector at the time that was gaining popularity in Québec (i.e., géomatique, a term originating in France).  And so GIAC was born.  Don wanted to retire and he contacted me to encourage me to apply for the position of GIAC President.  I did, was successful and arrived in Ottawa in April 1988 to take over the reins.

GoGeomatics:  Is it true that the federal government provided seed funds at the beginning?

Ed Kennedy:   Yes, funding support was provided by Industry Canada for the first two years of GIAC’s operations.  They had provided funding for the 1985 sector study and were receptive to providing support for action on this key recommendation.  Hugh O’Donnell, who had moved to Energy, Mines and Resources Canada (now NRCan) as the ADM of the newly merged Surveying, Mapping and Remote Sensing Sector (later renamed Geomatics Canada), was instrumental in accessing this funding.  However, the majority of GIAC’s funding came from membership fees, so expansion was a critical requirement.

GoGeomatics:  What were the initial goals of GIAC?

Ed Kennedy:   A high priority for me as President and the Board of Directors was a membership campaign.  This was critical from both a financial and optics perspective.  It was essential that the fledgling new association become financially self-sufficient and that it be, and be seen to be, representative of the entire industry.  Since this was before the era of commonplace GIS service companies, the primary focus was on the surveying and remote sensing parts of the “geomatics” sector.  The campaign was successful, and by the early 1990s membership peaked at approximately 130 companies.

GoGeomatics:  In terms of priorities did you focus on any others?

Ed Kennedy:   Other early priorities included: the organization of a committee structure to deal with concerns within different parts of the membership (typically along disciplinary lines); developing a closer relationship between the industry and government to have a more collaborative approach to opening up export opportunities; and continuing to advocate for maximum contracting out of production work by government agencies.

GoGeomatics:  Can you name a couple of successful projects that GIAC did in partnership with industry and government?  Where did GIAC make a difference?

Ed Kennedy:   GIAC had a number of significant successes on behalf of its membership and the overall geomatics industry over the years.  During the early years of Hugh O’Donnell’s tenure as ADM of Geomatics Canada, industry-government relationships were at an all-time high, and considerable effort went into export strategy development.  Focused efforts in the Middle East, Latin America and Asia resulted in a number of high level government-industry geomatics missions that produced business for those participating.  GIAC was also instrumental in rallying industry support for the GeoConnections program to develop the Canadian Geospatial Data Infrastructure, making presentations to Cabinet Committees and organizing a letter writing campaign to key Ministers.  GeoConnections has funded in excess of $50 million worth of business for the Canadian geomatics industry since its inception.  A third significant  accomplishment, although unfortunately not an example of industry-government partnership, was GIAC’s successful opposition to the attempt by Geomatics Canada to become a Special Operating Agency, which would have created subsidized competition for the geomatics private sector.

GoGeomatics:  What factors have led to GIAC’s current difficulties that have left us without an industry association?

Ed Kennedy:   From my perspective, a combination of factors have led to GIAC’s loss of membership.  It is an oversimplification to say that GIAC has not been successful in delivering benefits of interest to its membership. I would argue that this is not the primary reason, because in its evolution over the past ten years, GIAC shifted from a focus on trying to leverage government-industry relations to a focus on government lobbying.  Neither focus produced the desired results – retention of existing members and attraction of new ones.  I believe the causes go deeper than that.

GoGeomatics:   Can you elaborate on some of those causes?  If the community is able to come together to create a new industry association these causes should be discussed.

Ed Kennedy:   First of all, when I became President in 1988, it was more common for companies in all sectors to join associations that were seen to be doing positive things for their industries (i.e., based on what I will call the idea of “good industry citizenship”).  Across all sectors, companies began to look more critically at association fees more from a “bottom line” perspective (i.e., what good is the association doing for me, rather than the industry as a whole).  Because of the nature of association work, it is often difficult to translate membership benefits into bottom line impacts for individual members, and GIAC was impacted by this difficulty.

Secondly, I believe the disparity of interests across GIAC’s membership was a factor in its gradual demise.  For example, it has always been difficult to reconcile the interests of the licensed land surveying professionals and non-licensed photogrammetric, cartographic, geodetic, GIS, etc. professionals.  This is evidenced by the challenges that land surveying associations have experienced in attracting those other specialists into their membership, and that Professional Surveyors Canada are currently experiencing in taking on a broader geomatics sector advocacy role.

Finally, I believe that GIAC’s difficulties are a reflection of the fragmentation that has taken place generally in the geomatics sector in Canada.  Many of the potential members that we were targeting when I was last directly involved with the association in 2006 did not consider themselves to be part of the “geomatics” sector.  They were primarily IT, engineering, environmental or space companies that were using geomatics data and technology as a tool, and felt more closely affiliated with those industry sectors.  This view has only strengthened as GI data and technologies have become ubiquitous and increasingly embedded in general purpose computing of all sorts.

GoGeomatics:   Do you believe the challenges faced by GIAC in the past are also sector wide challenges for other groups today?  Do you think the CGCRT can address some of these issues?

Ed Kennedy:   The sector is currently facing many of the some challenges as GIAC – fragmentation into disparate interest groups, a deficit of strong and visible leadership, and a feeling of loss of identity or fear of potentially being fully “absorbed” into the IT mainstream (although some see this as an opportunity, not a problem).  These challenges have been recognized by a group of sector leaders that have come together to form the Canadian Geomatics Community Round Table (CGCRT), including representation from GIAC. The work that the CGCRT has embarked upon to develop a Pan-Canadian Geomatics Sector Strategy is addressing these challenges, and I am proud to be a part of that effort.  I firmly believe that the “geomatics” sector, or whatever it is called in future, is at a cross-roads.  In one direction lies continuing fragmentation and decline as a recognized and respected sector; in the other is a revitalized and vital sector with a clearly recognized identity.  Considerable effort must be expended to turn the vision outlined in the CGCRT’s draft Strategy into reality, and I think a strong industry association is a necessary ingredient in the action that is required.  GIAC resurrected from the ashes?  The timing may be now or never.

GoGeomatics:  Thank you very much for speaking to us at GoGeomatics Canada and sharing your thoughts on GIAC and the geospatial sector in Canada with the community.

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