Why Using the Word Geomatics Sucks in Canada
A few months ago, GoGeomatics asked a number of distinguished Canadian writers to share their thoughts on a controversial subject. We asked them to think about whether or not we should continue to use the word “geomatics” to describe our industry and sector, or if we should look to a more fitting alternative. We now have four well-though out articles on this subject. You can skip my jibber-jabber and scroll right to the bottom to see those articles.
For those of you who are not familiar with this debate, we’ll try to give you some insight into one of the reasons why this is a topic worthy of discussion.
The term “geomatics” has been used to describe our industry and what we do for quite a while now. I’m not going to bother with the history of the term, as it is not crucial to the current discussion. We need to deal with the here and now.
In Canada, the term “geomatics” was widely accepted for the most part, and if you were doing GIS, surveying, remote sensing, geodesy and such, you were doing “geomatics”.
So, what’s the problem?
Well, if you’re reading this article, you are almost certainly a geomatics professional or student. How do I know that? I know that because if you were not one of us, chances are you would have no clue as to what the term would mean, and thus not be reading this article, as you would have no interest in it.
I’m going to draw on an example that most of us have run into as we progressed from student to professional in geomatics.
Have you ever tried to describe what you did to your grandparents or a friend? Conversations tend to go like this:
Granny – “So, after all that book learning, what do you do now, sweety?”
Grand-kid – “I’m a senior geomatics specialist, Granny.”
Granny – “A what?”
Grand-kid – “I’m a GIS specialist”
Granny – “A what?”
Grand-kid – “I make maps”
Granny – “That’s nice, dear, but you’re going to have to get a real job someday”
Grand-kid – “Yes Granny” Rolling eyes
As you can see, those who aren’t already in “the know” about geomatics find the term to be alien. Other than make our job titles sound lame why is that a problem? At least our community knows what it is we do, and that kind of makes us an insider’s club. But if we use the term “Geomatics” to describe ourselves it does not resonate outside of our own group. So we have a communications problem.
As a geomatics marketing specialist I quickly realised it’s hard to market geomatics by using the word “geomatics”. It works if your market is the geomatics companies, but as soon as you go outside that group, your audience has no idea what the term means, so you have to educate them.
So now not only do you have to try to sell your service, you have to explain to your potential customer what it is that you do.
Imagine you’re the CEO of an oil company in Calgary (nice job, if you can get it). You need to figure out “where” your next pipeline needs to go in order to get your product to market. To whom will you bring this problem? You’ve gotten some promotional material about geomatics, but you’re unclear as to what that means, so you’ve skipped over it. Now you also remember you got some material about “mapping.” Eureka! That’s what you need. A company to help you sort out where your pipeline needs to go. You give that mapping company a call.
Yes that was very simplistic. Simple can work to get the point across. Using words and phrases your market does not understand means you spend more time (and dollars) educating. It’s something I’ve learned to deal with as part of my job. It seems to stump others.
For the most part, the great unwashed masses don’t know what geomatics is. What alternative word can we use? Does it even matter if we change the word? If we use a word like “geospatial,” is that going to fix this problem? (I doubt it. Again, most people outside of our club don’t know what “geospatial” means, either).
I don’t know if there is a perfect word. I doubt very much there is. The closest words that I can think of are “location” and “mapping.”
Perhaps we need more than one word. We could keep using “geomatics” for those of us in the know, but then use another word for our public-facing work. The surveyors have a big advantage here, as surveying has been going on forever. Check this article out on that topic Top Five Canadian Explorers/ Mappers/ Surveyors. So, surveyors can lean on the word “surveying” if they want as just about everybody knows what they mean when they say it. But what can the rest of us use?
I don’t have an answer. I think that it’s going to be a combination of words and terms. Those words and terms will depend on what audience you are addressing.
Here are four articles from geomatics specialists who have more insight than I do on this subject.