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Perspectives Header

The economic situation of the last few years has brought into awareness the realization that the previous 10 years were a special time – a time likely not ever to return. New financial and investment rules, legislation and increased transparency have changed and adjusted the nuts and bolts that held together the growth processes of the last 10 years. Now we hear the words ‘new normal’  – what is that and how does it impact the geospatial sector?

The fallout of the economic crisis has resulted in major changes for financial operations, business approaches and transparency levels. This is forcing all of us to readjust, re-calibrate and to set a new course. The direction is not fully known, and our risk management tools, carried over from the past, may not be the most appropriate guidance for a time when the journey resembles that of early explorers with a compass. Going back to where we were, is not the answer. That has proven unsustainable. So the way forward is into new territory, or so it seems.

I think we are about to emerge into what I would call the ‘committed transformation future’ – a time when we not just talk about technology, but when we think about positioning our sector to make real transformative change.  While many of us might have argued that has been going on for some time, that is true – but more as a result of – rather than actively seeking to change.

Whereas the previous 10 years taught us to say “let’s use this technology to do that” or “we can save money using this technology” or even; “if we used geospatial tools it would be cool.” That worked then, but what will work in circumstances termed the ‘new normal?

Transformation built upon spatial technologyWe’re not interested in going back to previous times. The goal is ahead, and that means doing things in new ways. World economy seems to be re-calibrating from the bottom up, resource based economy’s are seen as tangible investments – coal, oil, iron ore, agricultural fertilizer, forest products, water and renewable energy etc.

Many of us already know how to apply geospatial technologies like GIS, CAD, GNSS and remote sensing to these application areas. Managing basic resources will depend upon spatial data, and increased efficiency’s are the outcomes desired. This is not magic, but it aligns closely with blue-chip investments at the foundation.  Accordingly, wherever these resources are located, there are opportunities.

The notion of transformation through spatial technologies suggests that we take a more active role. This means becoming more than tool and technology providers alone, and that we also consider to become more involved in positioning these technologies to discover, design, plan and initiate projects either individually or with others toward desired outcomes  – the projects do not necessarily find the technologies, but the technologies find the projects.

In a transformative approach we may think beyond integrated technologies to include integrated solutions. How do we consider, investigate, understand and act on our designs, our awareness and who else do we need to work with to make transformative steps in the right direction? We’ve talked often about multi-disciplinary approaches, integration and interoperability, but how rigid are the barriers between surveying, remote sensing, GIS professionals and others still?

Over the last few years I have heard many people say, “the technology capability is exceeding the action capability.” Many perceive that gap widening, which begs the question – “then what can we do about it?” Some are obviously doing better than others, but many people want to use the full compliment of their purchases over the range of functionality.

Transformative change means pushing into full functional technology use. The question we might be asking is, “how do we need to be thinking in our organisation that would engage everything we have purchased for geospatial applications?” Not that I am saying projects get designed from technology-first approaches, only that thinking about this question turns the reference point from what was, to what we might be doing.What is the ‘new normal’?

As long as government is heavily invested into business ownership I think the market is skewed and near malfunctional.  Once we begin to see small enterprises go to banks, borrow funds (or invest their own) and to establish and operate businesses in successful numbers, then we will be near the new normal. Even so, much of that will be built on transformative applications that can derive revenue through higher level services.

As it stands at the moment in the geospatial sector, many companies have been acquiring companies, loading their functional capabilities across their corporate structures. But while their functional capability has expanded immensely, the question remains about applying these integrated and expanded capabilities to large numbers of projects.

This is why we need to be thinking about more active roles in project development and how to partner and create business models that bring about transformative projects.  It is going to be more difficult to see governments developing projects where they are under strain from financial burdens across the board. In other words, private sector tranformation for society is the future, with governments taking a more traditional regulatory role.

The ‘new normal’ is not about waiting for government alone. Instead, it is about developing pro-active solutions, designed projects – that serve society  – while applying focused geospatial convergence to gain benefits and results. This may mean creative strategies for partnerships, financial models and even how people get employed.

So – how can we contribute toward building the future? The new normal is what we create.


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