History of GIS in Indiana Part II: The MSE Perspective

From left: Sol Miller, Bill Muench, Barney Yoshioka

Read Part I of this blog series.
Read Part III of this blog series.

It’s interesting to think back to some of the accomplishments made by these 400+ GIS professionals who for a period of time all worked for Sol Miller, President of MSE. I believe I bring a unique perspective to this history since I worked at Mid-States Engineering (and all its subsequent incarnations – MSE Corporation, MES-TEI, MSE-EIB, MSE-ids, MSE-ASI, and finally ASI) from 1975 to 2002. For almost 27 years my daily drive to work and my daily job of “making maps” hardly changed, but how I was doing that job transformed itself every few years into a whole new world – from hand drafting maps, to Automated Mapping (AM), to Automated Mapping and Facility Management (AM/FM), to Geographic Information System (GIS). Thanks to the vision of Sol Miller and his talented staff, we never had to look far for new challenges; they simply came to us as we all worked together to be the best at what we did. I dug up a few pictures to help us start down memory lane. Here is a picture of Sol Miller (on the left) in the MSE booth at the ~1994 AM/FM International Conference. I took this picture, and as I recall Sol is holding an award letter with Bill Muench and Barney Yoshioka from Hawaiian Electric that recognized their project with MSE as the top national AM/FM project for that year. It was not unusual for MSE clients to dominate annual awards like this.

The first big “AM/FM” project at MSE began with IMAGIS base mapping and the subsequent mapping of the utility company overlays for Indianapolis Water, Gas, Sewer, and Electric systems. The problem is that you can only map your home town so many times, and early on it became clear that to feed and grow the MSE mapping machine we had to expand our client base not just outside Indianapolis or Indiana, but to the entire United States and internationally.

About the same time MSE became very successful working for the US Army Corps of Engineers making highly accurate photogrammetric maps and developing comprehensive AM/FM systems for US Army, Air Force, and Marine bases across the country and around the world. A military base is like a small city, with the entire infrastructure inside the fence managed by the military, so having detailed accurate digital maps became an important tool. These projects eventually led to MSE developing the standards, databases, conversion software, QA/QC tools, and utility modeling applications to be used by any engineering firm working at a military base belonging to the US Army and Air Force across Europe. Then the Berlin Wall came down, and everything changed again!

By then MSE had established a strong reputation in the utility industry for AM/FM records conversion, and through a strong partnership with the leading AM/FM consulting firm in the nation – UGC Consulting (owned by a former MSE employee – Glen Montgomery, with all his senior consulting staff graduates from the Indiana University School of Public and Environmental Affairs), the MSE mapping machine grew at a staggering pace.

At that time most new hires at MSE were new to mapping and to AM/FM/GIS, so most new hires had no experience and idea what they were getting into. It was not unusual during growth spurts for 20 new employees to start work as trainees on a Monday morning, and if they survived the first week of training they were assigned to a project and became temporary employees for the next 60 days. If they then survived this first 2 months they became full-time employees. It sounds crazy, but many did survive, and with the opportunity to learn and work with leading-edge technology and work on complex projects around the world, the cream rose quickly to the top, and many new careers in AM/FM/GIS were started and advanced quickly.

MSE Alumni at the 2006 IGIC Conference

Just to prove that “you cannot swing a dead cat at any GIS meeting in Indiana without hitting a dozen ex-MSE’ers” is true, here is an impromptu MSE Alumni picture taken by Jim Sparks at the ~2006 IGIC Conference.

When I left in 2002 there were only six GIS staff left in the Indianapolis office of ASI, and all of these folks worked for ids (information delivery service – which by the way still exists today). Before heading for the door I took a few of my old MSE/ASI phone directory lists that had been taped onto my desk for the last 10 years. I scanned some of the pages for this blog, and you can see them here –

I’d love to see some posts from ex MSE’ers about where you are now and how your tenure at Indiana’s “GIS technical school” (as Jim calls it) impacted your career. My next post will be about the technology.

– Phil Worrall, Executive Director of the Indiana Geographic Information Council

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