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January 27th, 2014
What are the Top 10 existing and emerging disruptions brought on by advancing geospatial technology?

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We are decidedly in a period of rapid technology disruption, as reinforced by a discussion this week at the World Economic Forum on “The New Digital Context”. World technology leaders are concerned by the economic repercussions of companies that don’t quickly embrace these new technologies to develop a more services-oriented approach to their customer base. Those that don’t keep up are bound to shed jobs with local as well as global repercussions.

This age of disruption has been repeated here before, but this week the take is on the tech in the geospatial industry that has caused widespread disruption in the sectors that it serves. Following is a top-ten take on the advancements in geospatial technology that have caused great shifts in consumer behavior or the underlying business models of companies that use the technology.

1. Navigation

From its early commercial adoption in the sailing community, to ubiquitous access on our smartphones, the advent of global navigation system of systems (GNSS) has had a huge impact on the efficiency of travel. In a short time, we’ve gone from needing to purchase and decipher printed maps, and to often ask for directions from locals, to having our devices guide us along our way.

2. Real-time Location

The use of real-time location for delivering advertising information has been a long-explored area that is just coming into its own with hyperlocal marketing. We can expect more apps and services taking advantage of connecting us to what we want, and trading upon our actions associated with our location.

3. Monitoring

While GPS guides us, it also creates a record of where we’ve been or can report our current location. The ability to monitor moving assets, such as fleet management, has had impressive impacts on the trucking industry and other fleet operators for improved dispatch and fuel efficiency across the fleet. The ability to monitor is also making its way into the consumer’s vehicle with such approaches as use-based insurance — where you’re charged for the miles actually traveled.

4. Virtual Tours

With much of the world recently mapped from satellite images and street-view cameras, there are an increasing number of applications and services that trade on this virtual reality capture to guide us to things that we’re after. Beyond just an accurate and updated map are those that build data and services on top of that data, such as the real estate information provider Zillow with its property listing details and connections to realtors. This mapping platform, and the ability to preview properties, has had a dramatic impact on how we search for homes. With greater precision and more frequent updates made possible by expanding sensor networks, we can expect more tours for different pursuits as well as new tour and discovery oriented services.

5. Surveying

No geospatial segment has been as disrupted by technology advancements as has the surveying industry. Surveyors have tools that greatly speed and ease their collection methods, and yet the increasing ease of use and access has eroded some of their traditional business. The area of machine control has been the most disruptive with a detailed model of the landscape, coupled with precise GPS on earth movers eliminating the need for staking of new development. The laser technologies of LiDAR have been disruptive as well, because detailed scans eliminate the need for repeat visits to capture different elements of existing infrastructure. Drones may mark the end of surveying as we know it, with autonomous mapping at great accuracy and resolution.

6. Field Data Connections

The asset management market where GIS has most users has been gradually eroding the distinction between what can be accessed in the office versus what we can take to the field. Increasingly the same capacity and data is there in either spot, changing how we work, and empowering the field worker with more responsibility and autonomy. This disruption is as much about connectivity as it is about the map, but it makes it possible to more easily administer extended networks in remote areas, improving operations while also creating more satisfying occupations through a more vested interest in the field worker.

7. Free and Open Data

The growing move to make geospatial data free and openly available online is a disruption that greatly increases government transparency. While it’s an enabler for value-added services providers in the geospatial industry, it’s also a disruptor for some of these same companies that have traded upon the difficulty of gathering and aggregating this data.

8. Precision Prescriptions

Mapping existing conditions and prescribing plans to improve upon them is a recurring pattern that exists in urban planning, business trade areas, precision agriculture and elsewhere. This capacity trades on spatial analysis and our ability to discern patterns and to prescribe changes to improve performance. As data availability increases, our ability to prescribe and forecast improves, changing our approaches to how we manage and guide change.

9. Wearable Computers

The ability for heads-up display of data is fueled largely by the desire to visualize geospatial technology, delivering details in context of existing reality. This is a game changer for a wide number of industries. Geospatial technologies will evolve to harness these heads-up displays for both data collection and visualization. The ability to interface with these devices with voice commands as you do other tasks makes them ideal, and disruptive, for accessing and updating maps in the field or navigating virtual realities.

10. Advantage Earth

With increasing sensors taking a look at our planet, we’re gaining an increasing understanding of Earth systems, and there will be no place for bad environmental actors to hide. This greater awareness and understanding will disrupt every human pursuit as we move into more of a management mode with our environment rather than a response to historical impacts.

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