The geospatial technologies of Intergraph are now part of Hexagon Geospatial, providing a unified approach that aims to meet industry needs. The recent HxGN Live conference was a touch point to display this strategy and customer success, as well as to unroll new packaging for the products. Sensors & Systems (S&S) editor Matt Ball spoke recently to Mladen Stojic, president of Hexagon Geospatial about the company’s new software packaging, the trends that are leading to greater uses of geospatial information, and the new user types that are helping deliver more actionable information by better aggregation and analysis.
S&S: With Hexagon Geospatial’s new Power Suites packaging for all of its offerings, is there both a new alignment of technologies and a move toward a subscription model?
Stojic: Let me give you some context as well as rationale behind the repackaging. As you know, the portfolio in prior years consisted of seven key product lines that cover the entire span of the geospatial information lifecycle, each with its own corresponding brand, history, tradition and legacy. The idea around the new packaging is simplicity.
To distill the core technology around the key things people do with it, we have one audience of users that do a lot of data production, make a lot of maps, and do a lot of modeling for more people downstream to use the results of that for their analysis and in their work. There are a series of products that fit that user, and beyond that we see that audience moving toward more of a paid subscription model.
With the Producer Suite, we’re talking about a suite of products rather than individual products. This includes GeoMedia, ERDAS IMAGINE, and ImageStation. The Producer Suite is for those professionals whose business it is to take the data to produce something out it. We’re introducing an annual and monthly subscription licensing strategy so that customers can buy individual perpetual licenses for the product, but also subscribe. A lot of customers are working on projects where they require different tools, and we want to make it easier for them to get access.
The second type of audience that we cater to, largely in IT, is to take the data that is collected and make it accessible to others, thereby increasing its worth and value. The Provider Suite moves more toward the cloud, with data management and compression and storage facilitating sharing and accessibility to the data. The Provider Suite includes ERDAS APOLLO and the ECW technologies.
Lastly, the Platform Suite provides a means for our customers and partners to use our technology as building blocks, and create truly customized solutions. Our partners are readily building upon these technologies to meet specific vertical market needs. The Platform Suite includes GeoMedia Smart Client, GeoMedia WebMap, Geospatial Portal, Geospatial SDI, Mobile Alert and Mobile MapWorks.
With these three suites, we now offer what we are calling the Power Portfolio, consolidating many of the different geospatial software product lines of Intergraph, Leica Geosystems and ERDAS, now assimilated.
S&S: You mention that a lot of your customers are using your software to deliver content as a service, and that there are also those that deliver solutions. Could you talk a bit about the distinctions between these two approaches?
Stojic: Content as a service isn’t new in terms of what we’ve been doing for a while now. Some of our customers do this very well today. At the recent HxGN Live conference we highlighted Dotka Data, a successful organization delivering historic data and analytics through the use of our Provider Suite. They’re monetizing historical perspectives of The Netherlands for both professional and consumer users that subscribe.
Content as a service is also something that we are doing at Hexagon, with the recent announcement of the acquisition of Northwest Geomatics. They’ve been providing their data and content to customers online through their service, and what we’re now doing is connecting our customers to that content holding. It’s also an opportunity for our customers to upload and provide additional content through those content stores.
Content as a service is both a mechanism to access data and is also a strategy for organizations to upload and make their content available to a broader audience. We facilitate the connection of content to both products and solutions, connecting and providing a platform for either internal data sharing within an organization or to the broader marketplace.
Information as a service is where Hexagon Geospatial adds value beyond just providing data. We add the modeling to data, enabling you to extract information and deliver that information as a service. The service is not just in the form of a web service, but in the form of reports, or whatever context the end user wants. That’s really a strategic initiative that Hexagon has defined as a way forward. We’re working with different Hexagon entities to make that vision a reality now.
S&S: I was really impressed with the Dotka Data as an example, because they’re delivering property data that is well beyond what a government entity could provide. It feels like a next wave of geospatial data, with so much value added through analysis.
Stojic: I think we’re in a Do-it-yourself (DIY) model where we’re moving away from government agencies establishing a geospatial data clearinghouse or even organizations saying that they want to collect, maintain and buy all the data. Opening the data up makes it much more appealing to so many more commercial organizations that can test and find a fit within their decision making process.
Dotka Data has found a nice niche, collecting data from multiple sources, including historical data, and putting it together in an easy to find, easy to buy approach. I think we’ll start to see more of that, particularly with the explosion of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) where you can get the imagery right away. You fly it, you download it, you process it, you upload it, and it’s available to anyone on your network. You can provide that as a service.
I think we’re getting to a stage where we’re not just talking about data. What will differentiate a lot of our customers and partners are what they’ll do with that data. We’ve talked some about analytics, but I’m less interested in the analytical engine, and more interested in what people are going to do with the data. I think that’s what will differentiate not only what our customers and partners do, but what the market does as a whole.
A lot of the new microsatellite companies are all going to be collecting great data. It’s hard to differentiate them on the quality of the content, but you can certainly differentiate them based on the frequency of content collection, the ability to task the satellite or generate global coverage. What will differentiate data providers, and those that make the information accessible, is the relevance of the data. The relevance is only defined by the information or insight that you can get out of it.
S&S: With this focus on the value of insight, what’s the value of the GIS analyst?
Stojic: I think we’re entering a new generation of information engineers and those that model and mine data to get information out. That will be a process. I don’t think we’ll solve it overnight. I think the market is just entering this chapter, and I think it’s moving beyond GIS and into a new generation of mapping.
I think you’ll see a whole new economy evolve from that. You’ll see organizations that are information engineers. It’s not just geospatial, it’s tapping into social networks and other information sources tied to location. It’s also designing that information so that it is relevant and applicable.
I see that as the new adventure that many organizations will go through to open up the market to many more uses going forward.
S&S: You mentioned microsatellite companies in the earlier question, and I think many have been amazed by how many of these startups have occurred due to the commercialization of space. What’s your take on the impact of these new imagery sources?
Stojic: I think it’s good for the industry to have choices. It’s good to have imagery choices whether satellite, airborne or street-level imagery, and also to have competition between those providers. It’s key to tie the data back to a key problem.
We have spent a lot of time launching satellites, creating the UAV platforms or creating new sensors, and then producing the data. We all like looking at nice maps made with this new data, but what is the information? I think we fall short as an industry because we throw the capacity over the fence and expect our customers to figure out what to do with it. I think there’s a real opportunity for us to figure out how to do something special with all this data coming to the market.
S&S: Can we talk about how you’re harnessing the cloud, and its benefit toward better serving the information engineers (I like that term).
Stojic: We’re certainly aligned with the progression that our customers and markets are taking. I noticed this year, talking to customers and partners, that budgets are being allocated to move away from desktop and toward the cloud. They don’t want to manage 100 licenses for individual products, they want to license access for a set number of users. We’re seeing an evolution there.
We’re also starting to hear customers ask for the connection to data and end-user applications, and to pull it all together for them. They don’t want to just buy software or buy data, they want to buy and subscribe to an information service or something that they get on a regular basis, based on their job. That’s more for specific markets, such as property assessment, urban planning, forestry, and other niches. There will still be the need for geospatial and GIS professionals to use the desktop system to produce maps for others.
We’re getting to a point where these vertical users have tried GIS and they like it, and they have one or two GIS professionals in their organization, but they also see a bottleneck in their ability to keep up with the mapping demand. They see the cloud as the ability to overcome many of the obstacles.
By spreading use to more users, you free up the analyst. They don’t get distracted by all the requests coming in, and it makes the organizations more flexible. The cloud is an enabling technology that allows you to combine data with software to do analysis and deliver information on subscription.
The cloud is not the end, but it’s certainly one of the means to the end to get to what our customers are interested in. They’re not just interested in a map. We’ve mapped what was, and we’re now mapping what can be, and what will be. You can’t leave that up to just an analyst, you need more inputs, and the cloud helps us aggregate and assimilate multi-source information, apply statistics and algorithms to analyze that, and with visualization and mapping we can open up the possibilities.
I’m keen on the information engineer concept, because we need those types of engineers to help us demystify all this data, and what you can do with it.
S&S: We’ve spoken about detecting change as a theme of yours in the past. Does that ability to detect and monitor change have a greater degree of automation now?
Stojic: Change detection has been around a long time, starting with really simple before and after datasets. I think we’ve seen through the synthesis of so many data types (raster data, point cloud data, feature data, public records, and other information) that when brought together in a modeling environment you can detect changes with a much higher probability and minimize the false changes. It improves the identification of what has in fact changed.
If you look at the organizations that are charged with providing fresh content, they spend a whole lot of time qualitatively and quantitatively evaluating change. We’ve done our part to automate that with our new modeling environment and workbench where we can incorporate multi-source data. The next phase, once you’ve prioritized the change, is to connect it to the fieldworkers for visual inspection. We’ve moved to detecting change to updating that change in the corresponding database.
That whole area of managing change has good and interesting things taking place in it right now. We’re seeing our efforts pay off with more tools to manage change now in our portfolio.
See the embedded video below for the Geospatial Keynote at the recent HxGN Live event: