Prof. Arup Dasgupta
Today, survival is about solutions. Clients do not have the
time to buy a bunch of software and data and put together
a solution. They would rather pay little extra and get well
tailored solutions that can be deployed quickly.
Prof Arup Dasgupta
Managing Editor, [email protected]
Way back in 1978 I was travelling back to my headquarters after a field trip, carrying a roll of maps in my hand, when I was stopped at the security gate by a policeman who wanted to know what the roll contained. On hearing the word ‘maps’ I was immediately sequestered, and hauled off to the office of the Chief of Security. It was only after I showed my government ID, explained my work and referred them to my counterparts in the state that I could get away and board my flight. I was admonished not to travel with maps as these were secret documents! I am sure the mapping community, excluding the National Mapping Agencies, might have similar tales to share.
Times have changed. Quite apart from the changes brought about by technology we see a major change in society in terms of demand for maps. All smartphones are now map and GPS enabled. There are apps which help to locate friends and points of interest. In fact location is viewed as the next biggest commercial opportunity. Cars incorporate them to help navigate fast-changing urban landscapes. Driverless cars, the latest innovation to hit the roads, rely on them to navigate from source to destination.
NMAs the world over today have a much more enabling view of maps. The NMAs are up and running. Some have set quite a pace and embraced changes, others have been a bit slow but are catching up. Two areas demand their attention, the first is policy, an example of which I have given in my opening paragraph and the other is technology adoption. The two issues are intertwined because new technology challenges old policy and I may add, old mindsets, particularly about security. Technology is a great enabler and it is most successful when it empowers citizens and confronts bureaucracy with democracy. Consider OpenStreetMaps where cycle- borne, GPS enabled citizens mapped entire city roads and points of interest. It was started by a student who was told that he could not have the maps he needed for his project. Some NMAs read the signals and turned their maps into revenue opportunities but many are stuck in old mindsets of control of information through denial.
NMAs that are succeeding are those who are flexible and have changed their policies as they absorb evolving mapping technologies and rise to societal demands. The laggards are those that view new technology as a threat to their existence and use the fig leaf of national security to shore up untenable and outdated policies to deny information to the very people on whose taxes they have built their empires. Thankfully, they are very few and they are being rendered irrelevant. Some day these NMAs too will see the benefits of enabling and democratic policies and rise to the service of their citizens.
Today, survival is about solutions. As the geospatial industry itself is finding out. Clients do not have the time to buy a bunch of software and data and put together a solution. They do not want to mess with workflows and neither do they want a bunch of services to manage; because the rapid changes in technology makes such efforts inefficient, slow and low in profit. They would rather pay little extra and get well tailored solutions that can be deployed quickly. The geospatial industry have realised this and are forging ahead partnering with value adders who can make good use of data creating solutions for clients. It is a win-win situation for all.