In my book, geospatial technologies can act
as primary instruments for enabling a strategic federal sustainability
development strategy. Most countries are attempting to achieve
sustainability through segmented economic, environmental or social
approaches but an integrated approach is needed, a holistic approach.
Not only wealth in a monetary sense but a quality of life sense, can be
generated. Geospatial investment would create factors like viability,
healthiness, durability, adaptability, longevity and other similar
characteristics. And… it doesn’t take a pile of money, all it needs is
willingness, hard work and leadership.
The geospatial industry is fundamentally a
servant to people and society. The tools of geographic information
systems (GIS), computer aided design (CAD), remote sensing, global
positioning system (GPS), surveying and so on, have a primary purpose
to improve the quality of life for people and create wealth. Wealth is
generated through these tools and technologies by aligning them toward
the goals of society. If this is done correctly, then they will create
financial wealth as a derivative of meeting the needs of people and
In principle, the goals and priorities of society are oriented
toward economics, environment and social factors. Geospatial priorities
that support these goals is the objective. A mission that identifies
this connection might include :
- Establishing a national building and infrastructure initiative
whose goal is to reduce energy consumption by 50% within 10 years.
- Development of a national transportation and mobility network that increases public transport ridership by 50% every 10 years.
- Creation of a set of national health indicators that are quanitifiable and reducing by 10% every 5 years.
- Establishment of national energy strategy that is based on 80% internal energy generation.
- Create a national geospatial education strategy for the development of spatial thinking.
By simply creating a few leading mission statements, the challenge
becomes abundantly clear. Our health, energy, mobility and education
are key drivers and inter-connected. How can we achieve a reduction of
energy consumption, at these levels, all the while doing it internally?
How would you go about educating all the young adults across a country
to become spatially literate? What key health indicators best represent
gains as manifestation of our improvement in creating better
If we look closely at these challenges we can see that they mean
doing things differently, but they mostly mean that we would need to
priortize efficiency and how we would go about achieving that.
We not only need new trains, but we need them to run across the
whole country in an inter-connected way that is coordinated with how
and where we build houses and communities. We need to understand how
health and security relate to the design of infrastructure, while
saving energy and contributing toward efficient transport. We need to
figure out how all the energy we use daily can be efficiently
generated, conserved and allocated. And we need to be able to
understand why people can’t seem to solve the problems that need to be
solved spatially, and invest in helping them to understand the dynamics
of spatial thinking and how connected systems work.
At the present time we are developing trans-boundary IT structures
to share spatial information. Yet, do you see any college programs or
university courses teaching people about developing trans-boundary
spatial data infrastructures? Why is it that we seem to have all this
imagery of the world, yet so few people thinking about land use,
planning and environmental impacts for communities – as compared to
where the nearest hotel is?
If security and terrorism are major issues to most cities and
countries, why doesn’t the average person know basic information about
the spatial dynamics of contaminants in a community and their role to
GIS enables people to look at complex problems through graphics –
maps. It ties holistic information together to enable decision making.
It provides and enables a perspective to be realized (and developed)
that no other technology is capable of producing. Yet, do we see GIS in
every school in the country? Do we see politicians given training
courses on it as part of their jobs (which should be mandatory)? If
they can be shown their office, the parking lot and how the telephone
system works, then why not the most effective tool for managing data
throughout their organization?
By setting the goals high for energy consumption and development, we
are in effect required to develop a solution that lies beyond what we
already know. It implies change. But it also implies confidence to
reach further and to create a new way for realizing we can make a
And the geospatial industry can make a difference.
It is time to think beyond technology as existing alone. Ask
yourself what you are doing with technology and how you can make the
world a better place through using it.
In the current economic climate, a blank check for geospatial
spending is definitely wishful thinking. However, if the government
goes forward with various initiatives to stimulate the economy,
planning for information technology to support these initiatives would
certainly be money well spent. Geospatial technology investments would
help to increase efficiency and save money on the kinds of projects
proposed, while providing jobs, investment in a vital technology
sector, and increasing our understanding of our planet.
Infrastructure, energy and climate are the big three domestic
investment programs under discussion, all of which could benefit from
better mapping and monitoring. A peaceful resolution to the wars in
Iraq and Afghanistan are also top priorities of the incoming
administration, and a lasting technology investment to monitor the
stability of these countries requires geospatial investments.
Given the many competing, and large-dollar, programs under
consideration, I think it makes great sense to weave geospatial
investment as a necessary support element, rather than pushing for
large-scale investment into spatial data infrastructure (SDI) for the
Geospatial technology provides a necessary decision support tool for
infrastructure initiatives such as roads, bridges and railways. Getting
back to building stuff requires precision measuring technologies for
engineering and construction, and a system that ties projects into
larger geographies for more precise planning. The growing move toward
4D construction, taking into account schedules with supply deliveries
and workers, is a compelling geospatial application that greatly
improves efficiency while also speeding a project’s schedule. And
there’s the added benefit of improved documentation and reporting with
far greater transparency.
With public dollars at work, the transparency component is one that
the incoming Obama administration seems to understand. Let’s harness
web-based mapping tools to support the investment in infrastructure by
providing greater government accountability and transparency. With the
incoming administration’s aim for high ethical standards, and an
interest in moving away from the pervasive presence of lobbyists,
geospatial technology can provide a framework for sharing details with
the public, while improving the building process.
Greater efficiency in our power generation and transmission capacity
means less energy cost and fewer emissions, which translates into a
healthier environment. Geospatial tools are ideally suited for the
siting of renewable energy resources such as solar, wind, geothermal
and hydro. Mapping tools coupled with remote and on-the-ground sensors
provide the data necessary to site new power plants and design new
There has been a call
for a new national smart grid network to efficiently transmit
electricity around the country. While the investment is a huge one, the
benefits for increased efficiency and the lowered need for power
generation should pay for itself by reducing the number of power plants
that need to be built, with the side benefit of dramatic emissions
savings. This new national grid will provide an impetus for much more
detailed electrical distribution mapping, similar to the findings of Xcel Energy with their SmartGridCity initiative.
Increased investment in renewable energy, and widespread application
of Smart Grid technology, will require considerable application of
geospatial technology. The federal government can spur this development
by providing incentives to utilities and home owners to be smarter
about their power use. An investment in a national transmission network
would also require a phenomenal investment in geospatial technology to
manage and maintain.
What’s good for our climate is often what’s good for business, but
incentives to boost action are often necessary given the need for
investment. It’s looking increasingly likely that a carbon tax or a cap
and trade market will be forthcoming from the federal government to
spur these investments. If a company is now taxed heavily on the amount
of carbon and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, they’ll need
to act to curb their output. The need to evaluate and determine a
company’s baseline emissions levels, and to constantly measure in order
to make improvements, means an investment in sensors and systems as
well as geospatial technology.
The widespread impacts of climate change throughout natural systems,
and on populations, will require a much better system of system. The
Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS) is a compelling
proposal, but so far the European Union is the only country to move
forward with a constellation of earth observing satellites. The United
States needs the funds to achieve an advanced sensor network to help
monitor the planet. This is the one area where I feel that a direct
investment in technological capacity would have the greatest impact on
the geospatial industry, the scientific community, and all citizens of
The peaceful withdrawal from Afghanistan and Iraq may be tactically
difficult. The current operations in both countries rely heavily on
geospatial intelligence to aid their understanding of enemy forces. I’m
hoping that there will be a plan in place to assist the Iraqi
government with technology transfer so that they can have the tactical
advantage over potentially warring factions.
Geospatial technology has proven itself repeatedly in the current
conflicts, improving the success of missions and reducing casualties.
While the technology has proven itself in time of war, it needs to now
be harnessed for promoting and monitoring peace.
Ultimately, investment in geospatial technology by the federal
government pays off in innovation and international business prospects
in a sector of technology development that is becoming of increasing
importance in the information age. The sales and services of this
technology provides considerable benefits to the economy in the form of
tax revenue and employment benefits. It’s necessary to think long term
toward the future of a more interlinked global economy, where
investment in geospatial technology and capabilities will provide an
increasingly larger engine for economic growth domestically and
internationally as foreign entities realize the importance of
Geospatial technology can provide a great deal of benefit to make
our nation more efficient. If we focus on projects first, we’ll build
the case for greater investments in geospatial data and infrastructure
in the future through proven and high-profile performance. Given the
realities of the current economy, let’s push toward funding of
project-based geospatial technology investment.