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March 11th, 2014
How will the need for geospatial skills change when there’s a search engine for the planet?

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There is an explosion of readily accessible imagery and video for the globe that will soon be coming online, thanks to upstart micro satellite companies, new imaging platforms, and advances in mobile data collection from smartphones. This new flood of information will be enhanced by high-speed online platforms that integrate these inputs for faster visualization and greater insight. A key element of success for this flood of information lies in the syndication and cataloging for comparison.

This “living planet,” as some have coined it, will usher in new accessibility, with far less maintenance and mapping needed from geospatial stewards. While this automation leads to an inevitability of fewer jobs, the jobs that will remain will center on the value of the information rather than the management of the information. This distinction is critical for those seeking marketable skills, because teasing out insights and creating applications that add portability to this data are key to career longevity.

Spatial Analysis

The mathematical world of spatial analysis can be daunting to most practitioners, particularly as presented in academic journals, with theory isolated from practice. Analysis of gesopatial data will really begin to shine when it is coupled with a collaborative system of system view that combines the knowledge and data from multiple disciplines for a holistic understanding of interactions. Gaining skills in spatial analysis now, along with a variety of tools and custom purpose-built workflows, will reap rewards in the coming years.

There are whole frontiers of spatial analysis that have yet to be explored. Consider all the coming new inputs from different platforms and sensors that can be tuned to purpose. The addition of time for 4-D GIS adds whole new analysis possibilities with the ability to understand change. With more detailed 3D data capture, a whole new area of exploration and insight will center on proximity and interactions in 3D space. A growing number of new sensors and sensor fusion combinations offer new opportunities for analysis. With greater inputs, the geospatial practitioner should focus on quicker insights, with even the possibility for finely tuned fusion and analysis in real-time that are tailored to the problem at hand.

Algorithm Experts

With an abundance of data, much of it being collected by robotic platforms, there are opportunities for experts that can calibrate this data and fine tune its calibration. The ability to validate and ensure accuracy and currency will grow in importance as we rely more heavily on this information, sometimes trusting it blindly. The need for skills of calibration and validation are universal across geospatial practice, yet reach their heights with the surveying community. While there will be call for fewer surveyors, the call for validated positions defensible in the court of law will place a greater prominence on the word of the surveyor.

Those with the added skills of algorithm creation will benefit as they create bots to crawl and parse information for their purposes. These algorithm creators have the potential to greatly streamline insight from all of this information, for better monitoring, more personalized solutions, and better management of risks on the back of better forecasting. The automation of data collection will be combined with other aspects of automation, such as with custom algorithms, to fit within workflows for better monitoring and understanding.

Apps as Filters

Provisioning applications with the right information for the job,and the tools to explore and exploit that information in the field, will continue to be a necessary objective given ongoing connectivity issues as well as productivity considerations. With the growing amount of information, these apps will act as filters to help the fieldworker remain on task rather than getting bogged down in information overload.

The continuing evolution of access to applications anywhere on any device might fly contrary to the prediction of apps as filters, but that’s because the data tsunami hasn’t hit just yet. Already our map applications are getting bogged down with the amount of georeferenced data and point of interest information, and this will only get worse. Apps will provide a more managed data endpoint with intuitive tools to aid navigation and the collection of additional details.

There’s an ongoing evolution of geospatial tools and data collection platforms that seems to accelerate yearly. The pace of change is such that the geospatial industry is becoming more fractured and specialized while mainstream use continues to grow. There may be an opportunity to circle the wagons around the next-generation of maps and mapping as these technologies converge, and the intrepid practitioner will follow this evolution closely to find the niches that fuel careers.


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