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Change is the only certainty

Arup Dasgupta
Prof. Arup Dasgupta
Honorary Managing Editor
[email protected]

In June 1997, an eight-page newsletter titled [email protected] landed on my desk. I scanned through the issue and admired the chutzpa of the publishers in bringing out a newsletter on GIS in India. GIS at that time was an oddity in government R&D laboratories. Natural resource scientists were divided in their opinion on the utility of geospatial technologies. Arguments flew thick and fast but publishable articles were few. I was trying to get the newsletter of the Indian Society of Geomatics off the ground and knew the paucity of articles and news from the geospatial scene in India. To think of publishing a newsletter in this milieu was nothing short of foolhardiness – or so I thought. A meeting with the moving force, MP Narayanan, who paid a visit to Ahmedabad was instructive. “Those of us driving this technology need to stick together and work for the popularisation of this technology” was his message. When I met the publisher-editor duo of Sanjay Kumar-Ravi Gupta and experienced their enthusiasm, I changed my opinion about the foolhardiness part and was willing to observe their progress. And observe I did – with diminishing scepticism and growing respect. Later, I became involved as a contributor. Another person who impressed me with his ideas and commitment was Maneesh Prasad who took over the editorship from Ravi and charted new avenues for the magazine and from whom I took over as an editor. Therefore, as I write this editorial for the 150th issue of GIS Development magazine, I marvel at the journey from an eight-page newsletter to this bumper issue which we hope will be a collectors’ item to be preserved and used as reference material.

GIS Developmentmagazine started as geospatial techniques were just being experimented with in India. The journey of the magazine thus also reflects the journey of several institutions as they grappled with the technology and tried to convince a recalcitrant bureaucracy and technocracy that GIS works. Antediluvian regulations born in the colonial era had to be battled to get data into the hands of the users. The trouble was that many of the users had to be convinced that the data was worth fighting for. In our section ‘Past Perfect’, we trace our journey from a eight-page newsletter to a bi-monthly and later a monthly magazine. We cover our first steps beyond India to Asia, the Middle East and Africa with regional editions. Each issue covered technology, applications, education and policy matters. Working in tandem with the map series of conferences, the magazine soon became a thought leader and the conferences a ‘must attend’ on the diaries of bureaucrats, technocrats, scientists, students, researchers and anybody who had an interest in the geospatial world. However, the past only shows the road already travelled. It points out mistakes and missed opportunities and at best can act as a guide.

A linear extrapolation of the past into the present and then to the future is an act of foolishness. Geospatial technologies have grown exponentially and applications have been developed which were unthinkable in the late 90s. I recall an engineer downplaying the importance of the new fangled workstations in the early 90s. Within a year of this pronouncement, most vendors had come out with Unix workstation-based GIS products. The section ‘Present Continuous’ shows that three disruptive technologies have pushed geospatial applications on to a different plane. These are the Web, GPS and mobile communications. In this section, CEOs of leading geospatial companies speak about the current status and the possible future scenarios in the arena of geospatial systems and applications. Has the regulatory environment been able to keep up? In some cases, may be just, but in most cases technology has left the regulators far behind. One desirable outcome has been the recognition of the need for standards and interoperability. The zero sum game of the GIS vendors in the 90s has given way in the new millennium to a more pragmatic live and let live, or as some put it ‘co-optitive’ attitude; an attitude of ‘let us do things together’.

So, will the Future be Perfect? In this section, we let visionaries from all over the world and areas of work speak about their insights. One thing is clear, geospatial is here to stay and grow into areas hitherto not considered; for example, analysing the geospatial context of human conflict. An exercise we hope will lead to early detection of conflict situations and their prevention. In all this, will technology be prominent? At least one author thinks not! This is the classic dilemma of the technologist or the change agent. The change also anonymises the agent of change. Technology becomes unobtrusive and ubiquitous and therefore successful. To a large extent, we have seen this happen with GPS enabled handphones and PDAs equipped with rudimentary GIS functionalities. This predicts a sea change in the market from device and software oriented marketing to service oriented solutions. The boundaries, pardon the pun, between geospatial and aspatial are blurring and will blur even more. The other trend is of participation and democratisation. This has already started, will increase and become formalised in some way.

Whatever may happen, GIS Development will be there to record, interview, analyse and publish your thought and ideas. As Ravi says, the 150th issue is only a precursor for 150 and more issues. We will endeavour to provide food for thought, a market for ideas and a platform for showcasing cutting edge technologies and applications. As technologies change so will GIS Developmentas change is the only certainty. This is one fact we can endorse: the GIS Development of tomorrow will not be the GIS Developmentof today just as the GIS Developmentof today is a far cry from the eight-page newsletter of June 1997.

Let me not forget the people who have brought GIS Development from the eight page issue to what it is today and who will, I am sure, continue to work tirelessly to bring issue after issue to you. I salute the staff of GIS Development past and present for their enthusiasm, originality, innovation, dedication and commitment.

So, here is wishing our readers a Happy New Year and years full of interesting reading.