Vision for Professional Organizations

By Adena Schutzberg

URISA has been working on its image.In January the board of directors and some members sat down to figure out who the organization was and where it wanted to head.The longterm goal, according to URISA president Dianne Haley, in an article in the URISA News, included several themes: "URISA would be THE association, THE organization, for the GIS professional, with global influence and respect." In the short term the organization will tackle more manageable tasks including the "celebration of its successes" by "tooting our own horn," revamping the website, and perhaps adding a "Professional Development Track" to the annual conference.That's an interesting set of projects.Is that what you think URISA should be doing? Would that entice you to join and/or become more active? Would those things serve your needs? Will these move the organization forward to the goal of being "THE ..."?

To be honest, I'm more curious about "global influence." I'm regularly surprised by how few professional organizations in this space try to use their influence.I gave the Association of American Geographers (AAG) a bit of a hard time a few years ago when the AAG Council (not the membership) "spoke out" against the war in Iraq.I was frankly tickled the organization stood up as a body and took a stand, though I didn't quite agree with the way it was done.I'm regularly impressed with MAPPS, which is not a professional organization, but a business organization and thus has different goals and follows different rules set by the federal government.No one can argue that it has influence.I'm watching USGIF carefully and am pleased at its efforts to help build an education program to serve the geointelligence industry.What sort of influence would URISA want to have?

Joe Francica, who attended GITA this week suggested that it's time for URISA and GITA to come together.The topics the two organizations cover, for utilities and governments, are the same.Further, while URISA is considering a "Professional Development Track," it seems to me GITA has covered that topic for some time, though perhaps not via a track of that name.Further, GITA has for several years been reaching out to local government as a new member type, broadening its reach from just utilities and its AM/FM International days.URISA, in recent years, has looked to do more for its core user base: offer more focused conferences, push a certification program forward, and support use of GIS for those in need.These goals are all compatible, if in fact, the organizations choose to look at it that way.

There's a marketing issue at stake too.Consider a question I posed to a shiny new Autodesk reseller back in the early 1990s.He'd worked for another reseller for years selling both AutoCAD and MicroStation.Now out on his own he decided on just one (AutoCAD).I asked why.The answer took me by surprise as I expected to hear about how the product and vendor he selected was far superior to the other.He didn't say that.He said, "Do you know much money I spend having to differentiate between the two products?" In short, the cost of a sale was much higher, for both products, if he stocked both.Selling just one saved him money.Having but one geospatial professional organization to join might simplify marketing and perhaps lower the numbers of those potential members who simply "choose not to choose" and become members of neither.

Published Friday, March 11th, 2005

Written by Adena Schutzberg

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