After a very active acquisition streak that saw Leica Geosystems Geospatial Imaging’s acquisition of Acquis, IONIC and ER Mapper, the technologies are coming together and reaching the market in new and interesting ways. Vector1 editor Matt Ball spoke to Mladen Stojic, Vice President, Product Management and Marketing, about Leica Geosystems Geospatial Imaging’s technology strategy and the future of converged technologies.
V1: To start, I’d like to talk in broad terms about Leica Geosystems Geospatial Imaging’s enterprise strategy from a technology standpoint. All of the recent acquisitions were strategic as pieces of a broader vision. What is that broad vision, and how do your various products fit together to realize the vision.
Stojic: About three years ago, a group of us at Leica Geosystems started a market research team that eventually evolved into a business plan, with the goal to catapult and expand our reach into the market. As you know, we have a very strong position in markets focused on producing geospatial data from a variety of sources. If you go to most public or private sector mapping organizations, they’re using our remote sensing or photogrammetry products on the desktop to author maps, land cover datasets, spatial models, ortho images, terrain datasets and feature databases. For example, we have more than 35,000 seats of our core product, ERDAS IMAGINE.
To date, our customers exist within several departments of large enterprises. These same organizations have approached us to extend the utilization of geospatial content to the rest of their organizations. Our customers have made large investments in producing source content used to feed a variety of business systems. In order to increase their return on investment they continue to look for ways to extend and serve this data as on demand information products to support a diverse number of decision support systems.
We, therefore translated our customers business problems into a strategy that would allow us to provide comprehensive geospatial business systems, not only for producing source content, but also for maintaining, updating and delivering value added information products based on that source content. Understanding our customer’s information value chain allows us to identify gaps in current products within our industry, while offering new innovative solutions based on highly scalable and interoperable geospatial business technologies.
As part of our growth strategy, we understand that we need to extend our customers geospatial business systems across the enterprise. This, of course, requires new technology, a new business plan and a new growth strategy. We understand where we’re strong and where we need to grow and strengthen our core domain.
We’re very strong in creating geospatial data and maps and delivering that content to customers very rapidly. Based on this position of strength, we solidified our vector editing and topological vector data handling capabilities. That’s where Acquis came into the equation. They’re very strong on multi-user topological editing everywhere. This includes support for mobile, Web and rich client desktop environments. We saw a gap and essentially addressed this by bringing Acquis into our organization.
We also recognized that in order to extend the usage and exploitation of content within an organization, we needed a secure, open, interoperable and scalable business-compliant geospatial platform that allows customers to extend geospatial deployments from one or two departments, to an entire agency.
IONIC provides an open, interoperable, secure and scalable geospatial platform in the RedSpider suite that serves as the “heart” of the geo-centric enterprise. IONIC’s market position and strength in the Open Geospatial Consortium/International Organization for Standardization (OGC/ISO) standards allows us to extend our geospatial domain expertise to everyone within an organization. IONIC adds strong OGC Web Service and ISO metadata support, along with a business platform for us, our partners and customers to build vertical market solutions.
The third area where we saw a need to solve customer problems was delivery. We solved part of that with the OGC-compliant data delivery with IONIC RedSpider, but another part of this is rapid image delivery across the enterprise. Fast image delivery is a component that most of our customers expect, and was necessary for us to extend to more customers. You must be able to deliver imagery very swiftly over the Internet or to a desktop or mobile application.
ER Mapper’s Image Web Server (IWS) provided the benefits of rapidly delivering imagery to thousands of users in a variety of Web and desktop applications. We brought them into the fold to solve the delivery problems all of our customers have experienced. We also have the consolidation of two world-leading remote sensing image-processing products, ER Mapper Professional and ERDAS IMAGINE. Both will gain and grow in strength as a result of this integration.
We’ve clearly established ourselves as number one in geospatial imaging. We are starting from a position of strength and we are preserving and improving our customers’ investment to produce fresh, accurate and reliable geospatial content to other parts of the information value chain. This means extending the utilization of source content to solve location-specific business problems customers encounter on a daily basis.
V1: Where does your visualization capability fall into the overall strategy? Leica TITAN product is relatively new, and I understand that you were the product manager for that software.
Stojic: I can certainly weave that in. Leica TITAN was an organic development that wasn’t part of an acquisition. As you know, we’ve been doing 3D visualization in ERDAS IMAGINE since 1994. Then we came out with the IMAGINE VirtualGIS product, which is a direct solution for authoring and exploiting a 3D scene within a desktop environment.
Our second generation of visualization solutions focused on deploying 3D scenes within a centralized client server environment. Leica Virtual Explorer allows organizations to author 3D scenes and rapidly deliver them over the Internet to a variety of Web-based and desktop client applications.
Our third generation of 3D visualization solutions is Leica TITAN; however, this product does more than just visualization. It is more about data sharing and using 3D as a common exploitation environment for people to find data, view and retrieve data and geospatial content within an online secure network of users. Leica TITAN’s Geospatial Instant Messenger is a bridge connecting a global network of users to one another, enabling rapid sharing of data.
V1: You spoke a bit about using the Web to deliver vertical market solutions. Is it Leica Geosystems’ intent to deliver solutions as well as provide platforms and tools that others can utilize to create solutions?
Stojic: Given the new enterprise technologies we have brought into Leica Geosystems, we have a platform to build solutions that we sell to our customers who have a specific vertical market need. We also have partners who take our platform to build vertical market solutions. Part of our strategy with the acquisitions was to complete the platform to extend our customers geo centric and business centric needs.
Now that we have that integration in place, we are working to prepare the platform for our internal customers (developers) and our external customers (partners), whether they’re integrators or value added resellers taking the platform to build vertical-market solutions.
We’ll continue to build solutions where we’ve always played, especially in the defense arena. We also build vertical market solutions for customers in the public sector, whether they’re national mapping agencies or other levels of government. We’ve also built vertical solutions for the oil and gas industry.
We not only play a hand in both building the platform, providing the tools and building solutions for specific verticals, but also providing a platform for partners to build vertical market solutions. It’s a diversified strategy, that supports a variety of business models for us.
V1: What is the role of sensors in extending the reach of a platform, such as in a multi-disciplinary decision support system?
Stojic: With the IONIC, Acquis and ER Mapper acquisitions, we gained the ability to support live dynamic data coming from the field, whether it’s through a traffic sensor, tsunami sensor or fire sensor, to monitor an event or change. Within our industry, we currently have decision support systems that are static. With our open and interoperable service oriented architecture, we dynamically enable them by integrating live sensor feeds so the decision support system is alive and continually updates itself with fresh content.
Our strategy, moving forward, is to maintain dynamic decision support systems by integrating sensor content from the field to continuously update information where there is change. Whether it’s for monitoring environmental impact, flood areas, weather or whatever that may be.
We’ve always been in the business of maintaining decision support systems, but they need to be dynamically enabled. The IONIC acquisition gives us the OGC interoperability to integrate live sensor feeds. The Acquis acquisition gives us an entry point into the mobile and wireless space. The ER Mapper acquisition provides a rapid delivery mechanism.
V1: Do you see an immersive decision support environment with 3D and 4D visualization as a large part of your research and development?
Stojic: If we look at the progression of visualization technology in our industry, we started with a fast 2D viewer. The ability to view maps, images, features, models and CAD files was really cool. Then we got into 3D and textured buildings and that was cool. But these were and continue to be static visualization systems.
Back in the 1990’s many organizations had a viewer in their price list. These days, “viewers” have become a commodity. You can’t go out and sell just a 3D viewer anymore because it’s an expected capability across products. Users expect additional value with a 3D visualization system. These systems need to do more than simply viewing 3D scenes
Moving forward, we’re introducing time and other business-critical information to make 4D and 5D systems. These are de facto parts of the overall system, people expect not just a 2D view of the world, but a dynamic 4D and 5D view of the world that ties business information to location.
I think Google has established this expectation, as has Microsoft with their Live Local implementation. 3D just has to be there.
V1: So it’s a decision support tool with a strong mobile component. Is mobile delivery a key part of your strategy?
Stojic: Moving forward, we have a notion of everywhere. We don’t want to limit ourselves by dictating whether a customer needs a mobile, Web or desktop client. The reason we chose our system architecture (J2EE) is that it allows us the flexibility and scalability to deploy our solutions on a Web browser, in a mobile client and in a rich desktop client or on a cluster of CPUs that are supporting a distributed processing factory.
Mobile update of content is something that we’re getting with Acquis. We just released a new version of Leica ADE that supports the mobile enterprise update of location-specific and business information. It’s our first step into the mobile arena. We have a fully integrated mobile application with Leica ADE that allows our users topological editing in a live environment in the field.
V1: This sounds like much more than a standard mobile application on a single handheld. Is the aim to fit into the whole enterprise workflow?
Stojic: If we look at the idea of updating and maintaining a fresh land base or decision support systems, you have to update the location-specific content, along with any other business information tied to location. We also have a mobile solution, for someone that may need to update field information such as a fire hydrant-updating location, taking a picture and putting it in a database and distributing it to other users. That’s accomplished through our Leica ADE product.
We’re agnostic when it comes to maintaining, updating and creating a fresh geospatial business system. We have desktop solutions, enterprise solutions, Web solutions and mobile solutions. With ER Mapper we can deliver imagery to all solutions very rapidly.
V1: What types of vertical markets are you looking at in terms of enterprise solution delivery?
Stojic: If you look at any vertical market that has to do with land or the value of land, we’re seeing interest-insurance, real estate, tourism, economic development, banking, and natural resources. These markets have been implementing geospatial solutions for a while, but they still are dealing with static implementations. Additionally, these markets need to monitor change, including change in environment, infrastructure, utilities and land.
The first era of satisfying these vertical market needs is getting them the data they need and that works appropriately. Customers want to get additional information from source content, whether it’s visual information through qualitative means or some quantitative information about the land. We see a huge push right now for fresh and dynamic data and information products.
V1: Some of the automated tools are really coming to the fore, to make the rapid refresh of information possible. Is automation a large part of the data freshness picture?
Stojic: We’re actually rolling out a new feature extraction module next year. Again, looking forward, when we talk about the delivery of information produced with feature extraction, it can be on a mobile, Web or desktop client.
V1: The vision has been there for an enterprise decision support system, but the data hasn’t been there to support the vision. We’re seeing a convergence of technology that is an added enabler. Have a lot of the pain points gone away for geospatial enterprise decision support systems?
Stojic: They’re beginning to go away. Data is always a huge problem. We look at data as geospatial fuel. Without it, you can’t do anything, and there’s a huge cost associated with getting it, maintaining it and making sure that it’s fresh and up to date. If you don’t have fuel, you can’t get anywhere.
With our systems, going forward, we’re positioning ourselves as the igniters to that fuel. We can maintain the fuel, update the fuel, keep it fresh and deliver the fuel, whether it is to mobile, Web or desktop users. We go a step further by making it dynamic and igniting it with additional value-added information.
We essentially allow customers to get more than simply static maps, we allow them to get things like, how much green space has changed over the course of the last three years, or the percentage of impervious surface on my land. Additionally, where can I land my helicopter in an E911 situation? Where is the slope of the land less than 4%?
Customers want live and up-to-date information, they don’t want to look at an elevation model that was created fifteen years ago with a 15M resolution. They want and expect more.
The update of spatial information on the fly is now possible, and we’re dedicated to enabling that.