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thumb_bob_morrisRemotely sensed imagery is rapidly evolving to become a primary and important information source for business decision making.To achieve this goal requires an understanding of the process involved and the right tools. V1 Magazine editor Jeff Thurston spoke with Bob Morris, President and CEO, ERDAS Inc. on this topic and how that company is meeting the challenge in the international marketplace.

V1: ERDAS is celebrating a birthday. Can you tell us a bit about the company history to date?

Morris: Yes – it is 30 years this year! The company originally began in 1978 as an outgrowth from work being done at Georgia Tech University. Lawrie Jordan III, Bruce Rado and Nick Faust began the company and operated it independently until Leica Geosystems acquired it in early 2001.

I joined Leica Geosystems in late 2000 to manage the GPS/GIS business, which ultimately became part of the GIS & Mapping Division and included ERDAS and LH Systems which were acquired after the formation of the division.

V1: What were things looking like when you arrived?

Morris: Leica Geosystems, through its acquisitions and various incarnations was a 180 -year-old company. As a part of Leica Geosystems, we were bringing ERDAS into a wider geospatial company. Leica Geosystems was transitioning from a sensor only company to include a considerably broader software side as well. Six years later, Hexagon acquired Leica Geosystems in its entirety.

Over the last two years under Hexagon, we have evolved further, changing the company name to the new ERDAS, acquiring several key geospatial software companies and growing as a part of Hexagon’s measurement technologies group.

V1: Our observation is that ERDAS has evolved more fully into a processing and distribution company, is that an accurate observation?

Morris: I would characterize our evolution as becoming a focused software company developing comprehensive desktop and enterprise platforms from which we are able to provide specific vertical solutions and comprehensive web services. As ERDAS, we are clearly focusing on the entire geospatial information value chain from sensors to delivery.

V1: At the time of the Hexagon acquisition, the company spoke about different scales of measurement. Now that some time has passed, how have those concepts been integrated into the new ERDAS?

Morris: You are referring to Hexagon’s view of the various measurement regimes…. nano, micro and macro-technology.

ERDAS fits primarily in the macro-technology environment. Our software solutions are able to consume data efficiently from each of the macro sensors produced by Leica Geosystems for seamless data ingestion to a variety of information products.

V1: How is ERDAS “defining the processes” for measurement to business?

Morris: The traditional view of remote sensing has been largely science oriented. We are interested in breaking down the silos to work toward more enterprise oriented approaches and build on the appetites for geo-content that Google and Microsoft have helped create.

Our goal is to connect deployed business systems with geo-content without being solely identified as a science, remote sensing or GIS company. Beyond measurement, we are connecting the Earth with business information. At ERDAS, we help organizations harness the information of the changing Earth for greater advantage, by creating Geospatial Business Systems that transform our Earth’s data into business information.
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V1: What are your thoughts about standards and interoperability?

Morris: Our company is developing products that are based on standards, with the goal of improving interoperability. We want to allow users to connect and use complex technologies through standardized and simpler interfaces that support their business and IT needs. Companies in any industry need to make technologies and products work together when they seek to integrate information systems from different divisions or subsidiaries, or when they purchase new software that must be made to work with diverse systems already in use within the company.

OGC Web Service standards, along with ISO standards, are the dominant standards used for deploying geospatially enabled Web services. Through OGC standards, different geospatial software systems and system components can work together over a network, usually the Internet. Without standardization, an enterprise’s applications operate independently, segmenting geospatial data and limiting organizations to only authoring within a single software package. Through vendors’ implementations of OGC standards in products, organizations may author, manage, connect and deliver geospatial information internally and externally through a wide variety of applications. Interoperability among diverse products provides customers with increased value and versatility, and it provides vendors with more strategic options.

As a Strategic Member of the OGC and actively involved in ISO, ERDAS continues to demonstrate its commitment to interoperability. ERDAS is part of the OGC Technical Committee, Planning Committee, Architecture Board, Board of Directors and various ISO TC211 committees. Additionally, ERDAS is continually enhancing the company’s technological developments to provide more extensive enterprise solutions to the larger marketplace. ERDAS is leveraging its standards-based interoperability, offering image processing, exploitation and sensor expertise to the larger OGC/ISO vendor community, and collaborating to provide our customers with multi-vendor, fully interoperable enterprise solutions.

V1: Can you provide more information on IMAGINE Objective?

Morris: We think that powerful information extraction technologies can provide a broad range of geospatial information, which can then be fused with other business information. Imagery definitely plays an integral role in providing useful information for business decision making. Fusing location based data with imagery helps drive the automated feature extraction process. IMAGINE Objective provides object-based multi-scale image classification and feature extraction capabilities for building and maintaining accurate geospatial content. With IMAGINE Objective, imagery and geospatial data of all kinds can be analyzed to produce GIS-ready maps.

V1: Is that process fully automated then?

Morris: We have automated the feature extraction process, based on the employed feature model. IMAGINE Objective’s collection of intuitive tools enable the authors of feature models to create custom workflows that then allow for wall-to-wall automated feature extraction. The alignment, fusion and synthesis of information are what we are working towards. If we can bring all of these together, then better decision-making can take place.

V1: Today society faces many issues like higher food production costs, climate change and sustainability. Where do you see ERDAS’ role under these conditions?

Morris: Different companies define different goals in different ways. We see a changing world where people need access to information acquired under changing circumstances that will enable them to make up-to-date business decisions. The role of our business is to produce solutions that transform raw data into information that identifies and describes those changes. Because the Earth is always changing, there is a need to identify, manage and analyze this change – a Geospatial Business System provides the tools necessary to do this, enabling businesses to make more effective decisions. ERDAS is known throughout the industry for its understanding of change, providing the most advanced tools for tracking the Earth’s changes and transforming data into useable information (available in desktop, enterprise, web and mobile environments) for the swiftest responses.

V1: ERDAS has become more involved in the processing and distribution of information. Can you explain this more fully?

Morris: At the end of the day, our technologies help put information in front of people. To apply our interoperable service oriented architecture (SOA) to business, many users want to consume information in the context of a service.

ERDAS TITAN is an online network for sharing data. This solution enables the sharing of geospatial data and web services with users and communities internal and external to an organization. ERDAS TITAN offers powerful features for discovering, visualizing and ultimately consuming geospatial data and web services. This 3D environment supports users and organizations that want to make their geospatial data available, while retaining digital ownership rights.

V1: You have your feet in the water already in that way. I am thinking of IGN in France, for example, who are using your technology. This raises the issue of supporting projects like INSPIRE in Europe.

Morris: We do. The real question becomes implementation, which includes all of the plumbing and tools, as well as the capability to manage the system, which we are currently working on. We are working on a better understanding of how these systems can operate through these types of services.

The French National Geographic Institute (IGN) selected ERDAS Catalog 3.0 to build and maintain a catalog of geospatial resources. With this catalog, the IGN will fully handle visualization requests made by end-users through the Gé ERDAS Catalog meets IGN’s in-house cataloguing needs, with the ability to feed the Gé with interoperable geospatial resources. In addition, the solution’s OGC/ISO compliance, including catalog services (CS-W) and access and visualization services (WMS), equips IGN to fulfill their geospatial digital broadcast strategy. The OGC/ISO compliance enables IGN to provide Gé partners with strong interoperability and performances meeting national spatial data infrastructure (SDI) requirements.
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V1: Do you see this type of approach as being useful for supporting SDI?

Morris: Absolutely. It is very much at the root of what we are doing. There is a growing need for standards-based geospatial data management solutions, deploying SDI and managing the lifecycle of enterprise data. When enhanced with OGC/ISO interoperability, these solutions fully equip users, making systems more flexible and accessible, therefore driving ROI for the enterprise. Providing government organizations and private companies the ability to deploy SDI is the root of where ERDAS is focusing its efforts.

V1: Where do you see ERDAS in terms of digital 3D cities?

Morris: It is about representing reality. This will require digitally rich content, and 3D digital cities remain the Holy Grail. Digital Earth representations provide the snapshots of information businesses need to be more effective—the authoring, managing, connecting and delivering solutions within the Geospatial Business System cater to individual and comprehensive Digital Earth needs.

In ERDAS TITAN, we provide the tools needed to build a personalized Digital Earth. Users can create a geographically enabled personal space, where they can upload their data, set permissions and share content with other network users. An individual’s personal space within ERDAS TITAN is called a MyWorld.

V1: What are your thoughts about real-time information?

Morris: This depends upon how one defines real-time. Simply put, people want more up-to-date information, quicker. We are seeing information products being delivered from data flows get ever closer to the actual data acquisition effort.

V1: Do you see differences for your business around the world?

Morris: It is fair to say that developing nations are developing solutions in different ways and in many cases in a more accelerated fashion. Some regions are considerably more mapped than others and in many, the base problems are different. This simply requires a broader set of solutions to address the various issues at hand.

V1: How are the changes at ERDAS going and what is the feedback you have received to date?

Morris: The feedback has been very positive. The approach we have been taking has been built on the strength of the ERDAS name. Even under the Leica Geosystems name, people often referred to us as ERDAS. We’ve always had a strong image analysis presence, but now people are learning to refer to us as the ‘Earth to Business’ company. We’ve had a lot of affirmation to address business problems with our geospatial technology and solutions.

V1: What is your relationship to Leica Geosystems and Hexagon today?

Morris: Nothing has changed….we are still part of the Leica Geosystems world and share a place in the macro group within Hexagon. Only our name has changed to better reflect our value proposition to the market and to clearly differentiate our competencies in software from the strong reputation of Leica Geosystems and Hexagon in measurement sensors.

V1: Do you see a shortage of skilled labour today?

Morris: On a regional basis, there are certainly shortages developing, particularly in select skill sets. On a global scale, not necessarily. There are a number of competencies that are more competitive than others to attain. The good news is that with companies like Google and Microsoft bringing geospatial information and tools to the attention of broader audiences, young people today regularly see the relevance of geospatial through a number of vehicles.

ERDAS has a long history of providing software to colleges and universities worldwide, enabling higher education to train students with knowledge and a deeper appreciation and understanding of how advanced geospatial technology can be applied to solve a wide range of business problems. This ideally helps foster the desire to enter into geospatial careers.

Bob Morris, President & CEO, ERDAS Inc.
With extensive experience in developing new businesses and product lines, Morris also has a broad knowledge of the geospatial industry and markets. His career began in forestry with various technical production and engineering roles, continuing into the private surveying and civil engineering sector. In 1990, he moved into product development for surveying, mapping and GIS solutions. Morris has held various senior positions in development, marketing and management with leading industry manufacturers including Trimble, Sokkia and Point. He joined ERDAS (then Leica Geosystems) in November 2000 as Vice President of GIS, later becoming President and CEO. Morris holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Forestry from Humboldt State University.

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