Surveyors have been around since the earliest recorded times and have undertaken small- to large-scale projects, some with the most extreme engineering of its day. SAGI epitomises this most noble profession and it’s constantly evolving dynamics in the industry. Richard Jansen van Vuuren speaks to SAGI president, Peter Newmarch, about the institute, its members and the services they render.
Please explain the background to the formation of SAGI
The South African Geomatics Institute (SAGI) is a voluntary public benefit organisation of statutory registered persons working in the domain of land surveying, engineering surveying, photogrammetry and geographical information systems (GIS), and land management, including the associated aspects of planning and remote sensing. SAGI was formed in 2004; however its foundations are built on much older institutions such as the various provincial land survey institutions and ITESSA (Institute of Topographical and Engineering Surveyors of South Africa), which represented the technical surveyors. Over the decades, various changes have developed at an organisational level so that today we have (through the amalgamation of the above institutes) one body that represents the interests of all geomaticians– the modern term for surveyors.
Please outline the structure of the institute
SAGI is represented in South Africa through a system of five branches that cover the nine provinces. This is necessary so that members, clients and the public can have the best possible service and access to SAGI members at a relatively local level. Surveying is a very specialised field and there are not many surveyors in South Africa – our branches thus reflect an equilibrium between surveyors in all provinces.
Our structure is such that these regional branches are administered by committees, which are elected by the local members. Our national council is drawn from representatives from these branch committees.
What are the main industries that SAGI members supply products and services to?
Everybody needs a surveyor at some point, so it’s hard to distinguish the main entities since we service a wide sector of the economy. From a public spend perspective, the main industries for surveyors are municipalities, provincial and national government departments, engineers, architects and construction companies. From a private sector perspective, it would be developers, home owners, mines and private business.
What reputation does the local geomatics industry have?
South African surveyors (geomaticians) are recognised the world over as being among the best, a trait we continue through our SAGI activities and membership requirements. SAGI only admits persons registered in terms of the PLATO Act (Professional and Technical Surveyors Act 40 of 1984), which covers students, newly qualified candidates and fully registered technical and professional surveyors. The latter two categories being the only categories of surveyor entitled to work for their own account. As in most professions, we are facing challenges with this aspect as well as from persons operating outside of the provisions of the PLATO Act.
In addition to this we have very strict conduct rules and only attract members that are passionate about geomatics, through this we ensure that the public is protected and we further enhance the reputation of a SAGI surveyor.
What are the current trends and new technologies being adopted in the geomatics sector at the moment?
Advanced GPS systems, sophisticated robotic laser total stations and terrestrial lidar scanners are becoming mainstream equipment for surveyors. Likewise, sophisticated software developments have made image recognition and point cloud processing available to the average surveyor. Surveyors are constantly on the lookout for better solutions and the current technological environment offers a range of future technologies that are almost at the market place. Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) are on our doorstep and will allow members to supply additional services such as environmental monitoring services, rapid response photography in disaster management, documentation of informal settlement growth (on a daily basis if need be), aerial accident scene photography, mapping, land use monitoring and planning enforcement, amongst others – all at a remarkably cheap cost in comparison to traditional methods.
What does SAGI do to further the advent of these in the marketplace
SAGI will run workshops from time to time on these new technologies. We also have Facebook and LinkedIn accounts in which information is debated and disseminated for the public at large. We are also embarking on a program of having articles placed in the CESA newsletter to better inform engineers on advances in processes, best practice and technology. While UAV technology is available, there are some regulatory issues still to be finalised, which SAGI is addressing.
Some technologies are extremely expensive (such as aerial and mobile lidar mapping systems) and in this regard we encourage networking among members so that they can offer the most appropriate solution to their clients.
How can the services of SAGI and its members benefit municipalities?
As mentioned earlier, SAGI is a voluntary organisation and as such attracts surveyors who are passionate about geomatics – people who want to stay abreast of the latest technology, legal issues and best practice. SAGI only grants membership to people registered with PLATO, our statutory governing council, and thus municipalities can have peace of mind that they are dealing with competent persons.
With these new technologies, what additional services can be offered to municipalities?
Using these new technologies and advancements, there is still huge scope forrapid turnaround times and cost-effective solutions in infrastructure mapping, asset registers and road condition surveys .UAVs, when they become available, will offer additional possibilities.
Can the local geomatics market expand and develop in the short to medium term?
There are massive prospects for growth in both the private and public sectors, but corruption is a large factor in this. Such growth is also dependant on SAGI informing officials and the public at large on what’s technologically possible – it’s amazing how many people don’t see the benefits getting a registered surveyor to recommend the best method and solution.
Why should municipalities use registered surveyors?
As an organ of state, one has a duty to ensure that where the government has established statutory bodies to oversee excellence and expertise in any particular domain, only such registered members are used.