The Importance and Future of GISP Certification

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Recently, my application to become a GISP (Geographic Information Systems Professional) was accepted. It took about 8 hours to complete application process including filling out the form and compiling all the documentation. After I submitted my application, there was a fair amount of back and forth with the organization about my qualifications. In some cases, items I submitted to support my qualifications were not counted, while other items were deemed more valuable than I had expected. I am very happy the process is complete and am excited to continue my relationship with the GIS Certification Institute (GISCI).

Professional Engineers (PE) and Professional Surveyors (PS) must be certified and\or licensed to accomplish the vast majority of their work. Certifications are voluntary and managed by NCEES while licenses are mandated by law and granted by state boards. The vast majority of practitioners are certified, but the determination as to whether a license is necessary is dependent upon the severity of consequences for a poor work product. Serious injury, death or a large settlement could be the result of a Civil Engineer not adhering to best practices, while IT Network Engineers are deemed less of a risk. Generally, IT Network Engineers are certified while Civil Engineers are certified and licensed.

The GISCI has done a wonderful job of supporting and anticipating the trajectory of the GIS profession. GIS has become integral in the workflow of virtually every large organization worldwide. GIS Professionals often aren’t required to be as spatially accurate as surveying or engineering software. If a first responder is within three feet of a fire extinguisher he\she will find it, but thee feet is way outside the margin of error for most measurements required by engineers or surveyors. GIS is also designed to leverage relational databases, Service Oriented Architecture (SOA) and close integration with other complementary enterprise information technologies. GIS is interdisciplinary in a way that surveying and engineering isn’t and from a technological data integration standpoint, Engineers and Surveyors have more autonomy.

Should GIS professionals be licensed by the state? It may become appropriate as GIS continues to be used by homeland security, law enforcement, fire prevention, dispatch, federal defense and intelligence efforts and other mission critical services. The unfortunate situation below is from a recent news article titled, “Shelby County 911 district board to hire mapping expert,” and would support the argument that GIS professionals should be licensed.

“We need one base map that covers the entire county that is seamless,” said director Raymond Chiozza at a recent Shelby County Emergency Communications District 911 board meeting. “Our backs are against the wall. We have to do it now.”

In 2003, the Memphis Fire Department sent ambulances to the wrong address despite receiving the correct address three separate times from callers. Jim Wagner died later at a local hospital after it took 26 minutes for an ambulance to arrive to The Billiard Club.

Dispatchers sent an ambulance 10 miles south of the correct location to 2686 Kirby Road at Langsdale Cove — rather than to 2686 Kirby-Whitten. Memphis annexed that section of town about six months earlier. The location is a block south of Bartlett’s city limits but Bartlett did not respond.

Getting certified as a GISP was an onerous task. No one likes to be judged or to be placed in a situation where they have to prove their skills– let alone tediously filling out forms when they probably have “real” GIS work to focus on. We, as GIS professionals, should understand that these certifications will bolster our personal work prospects and raise the status of our industry. Many of our coworkers view GIS Professionals (whether certified or not) as support staff for key decision makers. We create maps while others interpret them and make decisions based upon them. Obviously this didn’t work in Shelby County. There was a disconnect between the real world, how this change affected the data, and the real-time data accuracy needs. Our industry has matured to the point where we can move beyond being solely support staff, to become spatial experts and technical system integrators. We need to understand all the variables, consequences, workflow and industry best practices which go into ensuring the type of incidents outlined above don’t happen.

I appreciate the work of the GISCI and I urge them to keep the standards for excellence in our industry high.

JustAWonderfulStory Zen

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2 Responses to “The Importance and Future of GISP Certification”

  1. Anonymous Says:

    GISP is worthless without a test

  2. Wright, David E. Says:

    I keep going back and forth on this, and while I see the feeling that being GISP as looking good compared to all the AICP, RA, RLA, PE, RLS and the rest of the alphabet soup I still see many companies and agencies that don’t see the benifit or need for it; as they won’t support it as a continued career path compared to a RA etc…

    I myself was certified by Autodesk for the longest time, this meant I had demostrated the skills and knowledge to use the tools to meet practical production uses. At the same time, most companies and agencies didn’t care, because it was just a arbitrary body saying Yay/Nay…

    Now, I question the same thing with the AICP, being a certified planner does not convey experience where life/death are dictated by a bad zoning determination.

    Contrast that to to a RLA, RA, PE who can, by not using good sound engineering and design principals can result in serious injuy or death. This makes sense to be certified and licensed.

    Now I am a seasoned GISP (not certified by this body, but meaning a GIS Professional) that does deal with much of the same needs and tasks that any of my certified counter-parts do, does my experience, skills and credibility shrink because I don’t have that certification? Not to any of the companies, agencies or departments I have worked for, who are more interested in who, what and where I have been and who values that work.

    Sure, in the case of the quoted article having a person who is knowledgeable in GIS can help keep the city boundaries, street network and geocoding and routing services up to date; but does that require a GISP? Not to me and my work with law-enforcement at the City/County/State/Federal level say its proven practical experience, not how many class credits, MA/BA/BS in Geography/IS etc that gets you there.

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