There has been an ongoing evolution of Intergraph’s (now Hexagon Geospatial) geospatial software, with continued work to integrate across the suite, streamline workflows, and add functionality. Sensors & Systems (S&S) editor Matt Ball recently spoke with Mladen Stojic, president, Hexagon Geospatial about the Geospatial 2014 portfolio release, the organizational changes that include the new name, and the vision going forward.
S&S: To start, congratulations Mladen as this is our first conversation with you as the president of Hexagon Geospatial.
Stojic: Thanks. As you can imagine it’s exciting, and there certainly is a good deal of work going on to promote the Hexagon Geospatial vision and strategy.
S&S: Can you speak to the impetus behind the new branding?
Stojic: The rationale was to broaden the reach of our geospatial products and platforms, not just at Intergraph’s Security, Government & Infrastructure (SG&I) division, but to really provide a platform for all Hexagon businesses. When this announcement was made, there was a similar announcement of the creation of the Hexagon Solutions Division, which is focused on taking our platform (as well as other pieces such as sensor technologies) and stitching together the software with the sensor for very specific industry vertical solutions in agriculture, mining, and other industries. We’re looking at how to better merge sensors with software, targeted around specific solution areas.
Our part of that is to provide the geospatial platform that can be used not only by Intergraph, but by Hexagon Solutions, Leica Geosystems, and our global network of distributors and partners that use our tools to build custom workflows.
S&S: There are a number of hardware and software combinations within the Hexagon companies — I’m thinking of the Leica Geosystems LiDAR scanners and the Cyclone software that manipulates that. Do the tools stay within each division or do you get the oversight of some of those software tools as well?
Stojic: The software that you’ve mentioned is tightly tied to the sensor, and with each sensor that Leica and Hexagon deliver there is software that comes with it to produce data. There is a lot of collaboration, and I’ll elaborate on how this is accomplished with the Cyclone software that you just mentioned. There is a point cloud engine that is used by those products that is also being integrated into our core desktop and server products. While the core software is commercially made available with the sensor, some of the underlying technology is also usable by other Hexagon businesses. In addition to the point cloud engine, we provide our ECW wavelet compression technology to other Hexagon businesses. Things like semi-global matching and terrain extraction are other technology already being shared between Leica Geosystems and Hexagon Geospatial. At the platform level, there is already a lot of sharing of common technologies that are more horizontal across multiple industries. During development cycles, we try to collaborate as much as possible so that we’re not re-inventing the wheel.
I believe there truly is a point of convergence with sensors and software platforms coming together. The Hexagon Solutions division, in effect, is a customer of ours where they purposefully bring the software together with the sensors. Collaboration doesn’t just happen at the horizontal platform; for Hexagon it is brought to fruition when building custom solutions.
S&S: I had just downloaded your What’s New PDF, and was impressed that it’s a 35-page PDF with a lot of activity that builds on what you did last year. Last year we had talked about a lot user interface and normalization across products. I notice that there has been further simplification in terms of the offering, such as six products now down to three. Is simplification an ongoing goal of your software development?
Stojic: As you know, software companies have drastically changed over the past thirty years. Many legacy offerings were built and packaged independently as separate products rather than integrated, bundled offerings. As certain workflows and toolsets become commonly used, and commoditized, there is no longer a need for as many separate components or add-on modules. Today, customers would like access to more – which means greater integration from what was once niche into the core products. That’s really a testament to the maturity and adoption of what was once considered niche.
In response to this, we’ve adapted, and have evolved, integrating individual pieces into the core. It’s not just about a different skin or interface for these functions; with each integration we incorporate usability design into the process. We reinvent the workflow and scrub the underlying technology to refactor and modernize. This gives us the opportunity to update our core products, particularly big products like ERDAS IMAGINE and GeoMedia Desktop. There’s a lot of thought and rationalization that goes into each update.
S&S: As you’re doing that, are you normalizing for further customization by users and developers with your Software Developer Kit (SDK)?
Stojic: One of the areas of convergence that you’ve been seeing, and will continue to see over the next three to five years is the evolution of the Spatial Modeler. Now a part of ERDAS IMAGINE, this technology is transitioning from being a raster modeling environment to really a geospatial modeling and analytics engine. We started with the ERDAS Raster Modeler, and now have integrated point cloud, feature modeling, and will continue to add more modeling. When we modernized and simplified this, we also made it into an SDK. Now users can expand the modeler to support new data types, create operators or stitch and chain operators together to streamline the execution of analytical processes. We have also provided access to developers to integrate with other applications, whether on the server or a richer desktop environment.
S&S: We’ve just touched on extension of your software, and that relates nicely to today’s cloud computing trend. The companies within Hexagon Geospatial have some roots in Internet-enabled imagery and data serving for quite some time. How has the current understanding of “the cloud” impacted your approach to solve customer problems?
Stojic: The big challenge that many of our customers face is that they have a lot of existing data. As they collect even more data, they experience the same problem of finding where the data is, accessing the data, and trying to get that data streamed effectively through limited Internet bandwidth, and ultimately use it in the field. We call that whole thing “Big Data Management.” The Cloud is really helping our customers solve that problem.
The Cloud allows customers to take our products and use them in a public environment, whether Amazon or Microsoft Azure, providing an opportunity to deploy our systems. We also provide the means for them to setup internally with a private cloud.
We’re seeing more organizations budget for a public cloud environment, particularly in the private sector. Over the last 12 months, adoption has really increased, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see it continue to grow at the same pace.
Our responsibility as a vendor is to make sure that the products that our customers purchase can work on a cloud instance. We have started with our server products, and we’re looking at taking our desktop products and being able to deploy them in the cloud through a monthly subscription model. We are evaluating all of those options.
S&S: Building on the theme of flexibility of software functionality, Hexagon continues to introduce vertical market solutions, such as for water, agriculture, mining, etc. Is there a continued emphasis on the integration of software and tools to serve specific markets?
Stojic: Going back to the rationale for creating the Hexagon Geospatial group, Hexagon sought to provide an organization within the company that provides a core platform to be productized as Commercial Off the Shelf Software (COTS) or be taken and integrated as part of a larger, integrated solution. Intergraph’s SG&I division is doing that; they take the core product and add specific customer requirements along with professional services to deliver a tailored solution to a customer’s problem.
Hexagon has recognized that there is a need to tie a sensor system with the software platform to deliver a dynamic solution where information is being collected as things change, and ultimately being delivered to system operators or end users. As mentioned earlier, the Hexagon Solution team will take the software platform we build and use it to develop specific workflows and solutions for customers in agriculture, mining, smart city applications, and there are several others now being worked on. The idea is to take the core platform with the sensor systems that Leica provides, and provide a custom solution.
Smart Agriculture is a solution that has been developing very nicely. We have several instances in Brazil where farmers have taken GeoMedia as a traditional GIS and have extended that with Leica sensors on machines to improve productivity. We are already seeing some results of this collaboration paying off in different parts of the world.
S&S: Last year when we talked we touched on templates for improving the user experience. I think of that as a parallel development, where solutions for a specific industry can be further tailored with templates for specific workflows. Is that a correct assumption?
Stojic: We use the term templates across two product lines today. One is ERDAS IMAGINE, a big product with a lot of image analysis depth. For a dedicated image analyst, having access to all the functionality makes sense, but there are others that don’t need all of the capability. We are working on templates for a given workflow, like urban planning. We know that planners want to look at change analysis, and plan for potential development sites. We are looking at the steps that they go through, and call that a template. This template sits on top of the 600 functions of ERDAS IMAGINE and walks them through the six steps needed to get to the result.
The second product with templates is GeoMedia Smart Client, where we have specific templates that are smart in the way they know how to pull the necessary data for an analyst, tie that data with some rules, and combine that with some software steps to be delivered from the server to the software. You’ll see more of that as we look to extend beyond the traditional GIS user and extend our reach to industries or vertical markets that use geospatial to do their jobs.
S&S: We touched on the idea of data to the field previously, and a lot of the workflows where a vertical market might utilize geospatial data happen in the field. What kinds of things are you developing for mobile devices?
Stojic: With the release of Mobile MapWorks, we have the ability to extend the data from ERDAS IMAGINE or GeoMedia into the enterprise. They can update geometry and attributions in the field. We are working to extend the traditional desktop through the server and the cloud and down to mobile devices through apps.
S&S: A big part of your messaging is being able to understand change and take the right action. Is that a function of spatio-temporal analysis?
Stojic: The heart of our strategy is being able to take data from multiple time periods, and analyze change. It really starts with being able to understand the data that you have, and we’ve made strides on cataloging data with ERDAS APOLLO.
If you have the data, and you have the metadata that goes along with it, you know what you have for a given time slice, and you also know what you can pull and fuse together to do the necessary analysis.
We’ve done certain things to ERDAS APOLLO to be able to index and query against multiple data sets over a given time period, but beyond that we’re looking at how to analyze change over time. The last part of the vision is the ability to see 3D and 4D, where our viewers are four dimensional.
Many of the static legacy systems, and many of our customers, are still doing their work primarily in 2D. We haven’t moved beyond visualization in 3D. All the 3D viewers get a bit boring after you’ve flown around a bit.
One of the key challenges, and I hear it all over the world, is that users like to look at 3D. A 3D scene is nice to have, but it’s very expensive to maintain, because once you create it it’s static. There are a lot of limitations there, and we’re now working on the analysis of 3D and into 4D, where we look at change over time. We look to leapfrog 3D and move into 4D analysis, because that’s where use cases get really compelling.