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Deutschland Leads the Way

Infographic: Germany economy and space technology trends - click for a bigger image

Germany has been the engine of growth in the EU, almost single-handedly pulling Europe out of the economic recession. Innovative instincts, coupled with consistent government policies and investments are keeping the local geospatial community at the forefront of a technology revolution.

Germany is the largest national economy in Europe, the fourth-largest by nominal GDP in the world, and fifth by purchasing power parity (PPP). Since industrialisation and beyond, the country has been a driver, innovator, and beneficiary of an ever more globalised economy. It is the largest contributor to the EU budget and among the top five contributors in the UN. And it was the Deutschland’s sustained economic performance which helped haul the euro zone out of recession last year after a long 18-month contraction. Even now, as the single-currency euro zone is yet to recover fully, it is the stern, business-like German Chancellor Angela Merkel who is expected to yet again lead the show to pull Europe out of its misery.

It is the strong fundamentals and a highly innovative, knowledge-driven approach that kept Germany on its tracks even when the entire world nosedived during the global economic crisis. Its highly skilled service sector has made the country one of the world’s most influential economies, alongside its world class engineering, IT and manufacturing industries; Germany has secured the status of global leader in innovation and precision technology.

Geo-driven growth
The geospatial sector has been growing continuously over the years in Germany and showing no signs of slowing down, especially with a variety of investments allocated for R&D. The overall market trends in Germany are moving towards modern GNSS, UAV, 3D visualisation and point clouds. “Geospatial technology is continuing to serve horizontal applications while being more integrated in verticals, and this is supported by a variety of institutions. Government organisations and other associations understand and support this trend,” says Juergen Kliem, Vice President, Trimble, responsible for the German market.

Germany’s tryst with geospatial technology goes back many years. In 2003, the Federal Ministry of Economics had forecasted that geospatial technology had the potential to add value worth several billion euros to the economy. Following this, the government set out the Commission on the Economics of Geoinformation (now under the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy) to harness this value and be the mediator between geospatial industry and government.

Various PPP projects with applications ranging from agriculture, real estate, risk assessment and others led by the GIW Commission have been undertaken. Today, geospatial technology provides the tools for addressing a wide variety of growth development issues in Germany, including utility management, spatial planning and implementing adaptation measures to address climate change, energy transition, demographic change, environment monitoring, urban sprawl and evaluation of census results. As a mediator, the commission also provides views, analysis and strategies to create an effective business model and framework for the utilisation of the Germany Geospatial Data Infrastructure (GDI-DE).

Geospatial Infrastructure
Cadastre and Mapping
Germany has 16 mapping and cadastre agencies organised in different ways. Survey and mapping activities are coordinated by the Working Committee of the Surveying Authorities of the States of the Federal Republic of Germany (AdV).

Earth Observation
The Earth Observation Center at the German Aerospace Center (DLR) consists of the German Remote Sensing Data Center and the Remote Sensing Technology Institute and is the center of competence for EO in Germany.

Spatial Data Infrastructure
The development of Geospatial Data Infrastructure for Germany (GDI-DE) as a public infrastructure began in 1998 within the Federal Government. Federal Agency for Cartography and Geodesy (BKG) acts as the main coordinator of GDI-DE, providing nationwide uniform geodetic reference frames and topographic reference data.

As noted by Marcus Wandinger, Secretary General of Working Committee of the Surveying Authorities of the States of the Federal Republic of Germany (AdV), “More and more complex decisions need to be taken in short periods of time. Geospatial technology and appropriate reliable official geo-datasets enable these decision making processes.”

As spatial information becomes crucial in many value-added processes in the industry and an important factor in all kinds of planning processes, Martin Seiler of the Coordination Office SDI Germany, the federal agency for cartography and geodesy, says “Geospatial technology is making available data that is otherwise locked in silos.” This, in conjunction with capabilities to analyse data, is enabling the government authorities, the industry, research/education and the general public.

“From a technology perspective, we see a diverse environment in Germany, with still software companies developing software ‘Made in Germany’. A decade or two ago, there has been much more diversity, but following global trends, consolidation has also taken place with global companies playing an important role,” says Athina Trakas, Director, European Services, OGC. “For the past 15 years, a huge trend can also be ‘seen’ in public administrations and government of using solutions based on free and open source geospatial software. Strong communities have developed around FOSSGIS in Germany supporting a growing market and users, especially for spatial data infrastructures which are already largely based on Open Source software,” she adds.

Survey and mapping activities
The Federal Republic of Germany has no single land and cadastre authority. As it is the responsibility of the constituent states, the country has 16 mapping and cadastre agencies organised in different ways. The activities are coordinated by the Working Committee of the Surveying Authorities of the States (AdV). AdV ensures a uniform, standard-based data model for all reference data such as topographic and cadastre information. A common geodetic reference frame has also been established. Data dissemination is facilitated by a standardised data exchange format as well as uniform licensing agreements for geodata.

Such standardisation is by no means an easy task. “Establishing common standards is always challenging. This is further owing to the fact that the responsibility for official surveying and mapping lies with 16 states. This includes the elaboration of a common licensing and pricing policy,” reveals Wandinger.

While, on one hand this was good in terms of employment opportunities for the surveying engineering graduates educated at nine German universities, in the long run, this moved the graduates away from administrative services due to shrinking public budgets and better technology replacing human workforce, says Gottfried Konecny, Emeritus Professor at Institute for Photogrammetry and Geoinformation, Leibniz University of Hannover. “However, this ultimately led to the growth of a niche market created by small GIS and IT companies, where survey graduates found an entry.”

Space programmes
Germany’s space programme covers the entire spectrum of EO capabilities. Its twin satellite constellation, TerraSAR-X and TanDEM-X, are among the world’s best in the X-band radar technology. It is also a leader in ground-segment technology, in terms of managing the operations of satellites and the reception, administration, and distribution to end users of the vast amount of data.

The Germany Earth Observation Center (EOC) comprises of Remote Sensing Data Center (DFD) and Remote Sensing Technology Institute (IMF). While IMF focuses on basic development work related to the EO sensors, DFD concentrates on generating geoinformation products and services based on sensor data and its applications.

EOC is also working on developing German hyperspectral satellite mission called EnMAP (Environmental Mapping and Analysis Program), which aims at monitoring and characterising the earth’s environment at global scale. The EnMAP mission is in development and production phase and expected to be launched in 2007.

Scientists rule, but capacity development a challenge
The wide range of EU-funded projects coordinated by German companies, universities and research institutes, not only highlight the diversity of German science and technology innovation, but serve as a proof that German scientists are still at the top of their league and continuing their contributions to expanding knowledge and improving technology.

“University professors in Germany are individually elected as members of the German Geodetic Commission at the Bavarian Academy of Sciences. This group of 45 active professors is the stronghold of academic quality for the geospatial disciplines,” points out Gottfried Konecny, Emeritus Professor at Institute for Photogrammetry and Geoinformation, Leibniz University of Hannover.

This is also supported by the statistic of German representatives in the OGC working group as provided by Athina Trakas, “With 42 members, Germany has the biggest number of OGC members from Europe. About 20 of them are universities and research institutes.”

Internationally well-known universities and polytechnic institutes can be found across Germany that guarantees the formation and training of highly-qualified engineers. There are also numerous apprenticeship opportunities both in the government and private sectors that open up many job opportunities for fresh graduates in the field of surveying, mapping and geospatial information business.

However, the numberof geospatial workforce has to increase in order to maintain and meet the growing demand of the technologies in the upcoming years, says a representative from Zoller & Frohlich.

A few geospatial stakeholders are already finding it a challenge to hire adequate skilled labour. “While our brand recognition still helps in attracting the high-level talent needed, we see a shortage in certain areas like surveying and geospatial professionals, IT specialists and software developers,” says Juergen Kliem.

Explains Martin Seiler: “The work with geospatial technology requires a broad skillset, including up-to-date general IT-knowledge, specialised geo-IT know-how as well as organisational and communicational talent. For public administrations specifically it becomes increasingly difficult to recruit and keep qualified staff in a tight labour market.”

Geographical region could play a role in the skill shortage and Dr Peter Hecker feels there is quite a difference between the larger cities and the countryside. “Companies in rural areas often face difficulties when recruiting as many young professionals prefer the liveliness of urban surroundings.”

However, Dr Thomas Heege believes that the right skills and long-term engagement of employees are the most relevant issues. “We try to support this with most attractive working conditions and environments,” he adds.

Germany is also strongly engaged in Europe’s Copernicus programme, contributing its expertise and systems at national and European levels relating to ground segments, IT and geoinformation applications. DLR is currently developing massive computing of large datasets (e.g. 1.5 petabyte on Sentinel-2 information per year) using its ‘GeoFarm’ cloud processing facility. While the country is also an active member of Group on Earth Observation (GEO) and its Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS) initiative, the GDI-DE is fully integrated in the GEOSS Information System. Starting early 2014, digital elevation data of the TanDEM-X mission has been made available for the scientific use of GEO members.

Spatial data infrastructure
The development of GDI-DE as a public infrastructure began in 1998 within the federal government. Since 2005, the GDI-DE Coordination Centre has been financed jointly by the federal government and the states as a cooperative project of the public administrations at federal, state and municipal levels. The Federal Agency for Cartography and Geodesy (BKG) acts as the main coordinator of GDI-DE, providing nationwide uniform geodetic reference frames and topographic reference data.

Together with the State Surveying Offices, BKG produces the uniform Digital Terrain Model for Germany at the grid widths of 10 m, 25 m, 200 m, and 1,000 m. This model is available for the whole of Germany on a full-coverage basis, and continuously updated.

Another milestone in German SDI is the establishment of SAPOS (Satellite Positioning Service of the German Surveying Authorities), the complete transformation of all data from analogue to standardised digital data and the creation of the German-wide WebAtlasDE (Web-based Map Viewing Service of the German Surveying Authorities). “New features such as 3D-applications allow more ways to use geospatial data for illustration and analysis purposes,” adds Marcus Wandinger.

The GDI-DE also consists of real estate cadastre information, which is the official register of all parcels and buildings in Germany. The access, however, is restricted to authorised persons or institutions (e.g. licensed surveyors, notaries, local authorities). Today, geoportal.de portal contains over 120,000 entries of maps, aerial photos and thematic maps from 1,800 data providers, and accessible for free to the public. All spatial data stored in GDI-DE are accessible to the European community in standard format following the enforcement of INSPIRE Directive in 2007.

Seiler thinks the INSPIRE directive is the big driver for interoperability in the domain, as it brings the legal obligation to provide the main building blocks for SDIs — metadata, view services, download services and harmonised data models. “The legal and organisational structure is in place; the technical implementation is well advanced. The next big challenge is the transformation of datasets into harmonised data models,” he adds.

State geological information and surveying office has prepared digital 3D model
The State Geological Information and Surveying office, Hamburg’s primary source for official cartography, geo data and surveying, has prepared a unique model of the port city — a digital 3D model. The 3D model, which was created based on a digitised city map, is available in two levels of detail

National Geospatial Data Policy
The National Data Security Policy for Space-Based Earth Remote Sensing Systems (SatDSiG) became effective on December 1, 2007 following the launch of TerraSAR-X satellite earlier in June. The law established a control procedure for distributing satellite data/images from high-grade earth remote sensing systems to prevent harm to the security interests of the country. Details on the definition of high-grade earth remote sensing satellites as well as the procedures and the licensing aspects for the sensitivity check are defined in the Statutory Ordinance for Satellite Data Security Act (SatDSiV) published on April 5, 2008.

The Federal Spatial Information Access Act (GeoZG) came into force on November 16, 2012. The amended legislative of the earlier Spatial Data Access Act 2009 declared that the federal government spatial datasets and services, including the accompanying metadata, are available free of charge for commercial and non-commercial use and reuse.

According to Gunter Schreier, Deputy Director, German Aerospace Center, who is also in-charge of business development and Copernicus at DLR, “Such regulation is also considered to be adapted at European level to have a fair competition amongst European players for Copernicus Sentinel data. The data will be freely available for industry, government and scientists.”

An Ordinance to determine the conditions for use for the provision of spatial data (GeoNutzV) followed into force on March 23, 2013. The Ordinance serves to reduce bureaucracy, ensures equal treatment for commercial and non-commercial use of the spatial data and creates legal certainty on the same.

“While harmonisation on a technical level made good progress, harmonisation of licenses and access condition remains difficult,” says Seiler. However, while there are numerous different license models out there, the open data policy has increasing impact in the domain.

The E-Government Act enforced on July 25, 2013, among others, mentioned that all electronic registers which contain information relating to real estate within Germany, whether newly created or revised, must be geo-referenced based on nationwide standard coordinates. The Act facilitates electronic communication between the federal government, states and municipalities.

Dr Peter Hecker, Network Manager, GEOkomm Networks, an association of geospatial experts in Germany, thinks that the German geospatial data policy is moving in the right direction, but there is much work to do and many obstacles to remove for companies — especially those not originating in the geospatial industry — to fully leverage the potential of the existing data.

Digital Germany 2015
The government has developed an ICT strategy to harness the potential of ICT for growth and employment. Apart from enhancing transparency and facilitating access to geoinformation and services, the government has pledged to further develop the GIW Commission by extending the network of enterprises, authorities and scientific institutes. This is in order to support ICT-based business start-ups and SMEs in the country.

“With the amount of open data that is available (and there will be more), there are many opportunities for SMEs for new businesses,” says Trakas, who feels big players (like the energy providers) too need to become more flexible and reach out to others to work in a strong network.

High-Tech Strategy 2020
In its effort to remain competitive in the global market, Germany has set priority areas for its research and innovations for a period of 10 to 15 years through the country’s first broad national concept called High-Tech Strategy. The updated version, presented in 2010 and known as High-Tech Strategy 2020, identifies the key technologies and measures to address the 21st century global challenges, and at the same time tapping into emerging industries.

For instance, space-based EO has been described as a key technology to provide insights and prognoses in the area of ‘climate and energy research’. The government has pledged to support the development of new commercial markets and longterm provision of remote sensing data.

In the field of ‘mobility’, the strategy highlighted that the future of transport system will benefit from Galileo, the European satellite navigation system, especially in freight and logistics, urban mobility and maritime. “Work is underway in the processing and evaluation of long time series of existing EO data for climate research (e.g. global AVHRR from the beginning) and better near real-time performance to react in maritime security (less than 15 minutes from sensing) and natural disasters (less than few hours from sensing),” reveals Schreier.

‘Communication’ is also identified as a priority field to create value for the mobility and information requirements of citizens. Among the lines of action include joint initiatives with the scientific community to promote R&D for cloud computing, smart grids and embedded systems.

Pillars of economy
►Agriculture: Germany is the third largest producer of agricultural goods in the EU. Although known for its engineering innovation, the country has successfully maintained its agricultural sector with 53% of the surface area being used for agriculture. In the last 50 years, agricultural yields in Germany have increased steadily and more than tripled since 1950, mainly owing to technological innovations, including development of new seeds, improvements in plant protection, new and improved sowing, cultivation and harvest techniques and enhanced fertilisation. Application of ICT and geospatial technologies for research and development in the field of agriculture is a booming sector.

In the next seven years, EU will invest around €44.1 billion in Germany’s farming sector and rural areas through the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), which includes €35.8 billion of direct payments. The key priority areas include sustainability, modernisation, innovation and quality. The CAP supports German farmers to practice sustainable farming and combat climate change. As much as 30% of the direct payments will be linked to three environment friendly farming practices — crop diversification, maintaining permanent grassland and conserving 5% of areas of ecological interest.

In early 2014, European Commission awarded a multi-year framework supply contract to Germany-based European Space Imaging for providing very high-resolution satellite data and associated services in support of CAP. The framework agreement has an estimated value of €22.3 million over up to four years. The contract will be carried out by European Space Imaging and its technology partner GAF AG with the support of DLR. The satellite imagery will be provided directly to EU Member States for quality assessment of the CAP with remote sensing and land parcel identification system.

►Construction: The German construction market is the largest in Europe with the total volume of building investments in 2012 amounting to €260 billion. Every year, about 10% of annual GDP is spent on construction projects. Many local construction companies are also successful internationally, contributing more than €20 billion annually from building output. Today, the German construction industry is increasingly focusing on environmental research, especially on optimising energy efficiency of buildings and sustainable construction through integrating IT applications in construction and the use of state-of-the-art innovations in the areas of digital planning and construction.

As in all developed nations, in projects focusing on building highways and other critical infrastructure, geospatial technology has revolutionised workflows. “The traditional workflow has been modified to incorporate data integration with 3D models, and has resulted in transitioning construction machinery into intelligent-measuring sensors, which are connected to each other,” emphasises Kliem. This technology is being used now on major projects, especially in building and maintaining roads, bridges and tunnels as well as sizeable infrastructure projects.

Technologies like BIM are yet to catch on however. A research programme by the Federal Ministry for Transport, Building and Urban Affairs (BMVBS) in December 2012 found that BIM in Germany was predominately used in construction projects driven by the private industry. Institutional clients and the public authorities did not have sufficient experiences and do not state their requirements for utilising BIM yet. Following this, ‘BIM-Guide for Germany’ was produced by 2013 end, outlining a guideline for BIM implementation as well as recommendations on how to develop the guide further.

►Water: Water supply utilities in the country have by far the lowest water losses rate in Europe due to its high technical standards and well-maintained plants and networks. Constant modernisation process ensures wastewater treatment plants are well utilised and sufficient reserves are available. With an investment of €2.4 billion in public drinking water supply in 2013, the German water sector is one of the biggest customers for private industry, mostly for the planning, construction and operation of water plants.

Among the most advanced adopters of smart water metering in Europe, the country is host to numerous smart meter manufacturers making it a healthy investment environment. With regulatory push by EU towards smart metering by 2020, the water supply market offers good opportunity for data management and location-based services companies to integrate their products on top of the smart system.

►Energy: Germany is the biggest electricity consumer in Europe and is also the largest exporter of power in the region. It has one of the most reliable networks in Europe in more than a decade, with average expected annual interruption per consumer at 16 minutes. Contrary to its abundant amount of water and electricity, Germany is facing decline in natural gas production. Approximately 86% of Germany’s natural gas demand is met with imports, mainly from Russia, Norway and the Netherlands, which are supplied via a number of cross-border pipelines.

Google StreetView of Brandenburg Gate
Screenshot from the Google StreetView of Brandenburg Gate in Berlin

The energy-related policies and guidelines in Germany are aligned towards three prime areas of focus — energy security, economic efficiency and environment protection. It is aiming at reducing greenhouse gas emissions, phasing out nuclear power and optimum utilisation of indigenous fuels for generation.

It is also planning to reduce its reliance on fossil-based fuels; the target is to generate 80% of total power from renewable sources by 2050. At present, power generation is dominated by conventional thermal sources (coal, lignite and gas) which had a cumulative share of nearly 56% in the total output for the year 2013. Renewables, nuclear and hydroelectricity constituted 24%, 16% and 4% respectively in the same year.

The transition to renewable sources is opening up new opportunities for geospatial technologies. “The energy and high-voltage transmission line development is a very sizable market segment. Spending on a variety of energy generation alternatives offers a growth potential to our customers as well as requires the usage of geospatial technologies,” says Kliem.

Germany is already one of the leading investors in grid modernisation. It has carried out six state-sponsored pilot projects in smart grid. With the expected drastic change in the generation mix (addition in renewable and distributed capacities), its grid operations is likely to see a large-scale transformation. It would require a much higher degree of real- time network data and IT interventions at different stages.

The Parliamentary State Secretary in the Federal Ministry of Economics and Technology (BMWi) initiated the ‘E-Energy: IKT-based energy system of the future’ competition providing national funding for smart grid projects. The programme is aimed at funding projects that demonstrate how ICT can be exploited to achieve greater cost-effectiveness, security of supply, and climate and environmental compatibility in electricity distribution. It has an overall budget of €120 million, almost half of which came from the E-Energy funding programme. The projects have been implemented in six different ‘model regions’ on pilot basis.

The main goal was to assess feasibility and day-to-day challenges for demand response schemes in real conditions with a platform which brings together generators, consumers, and transmission and distribution system operators. A go-ahead to smart grid application on a wider scale would increase the necessity for location awareness of network components and consumers at all times. Geospatial technology would play a critical role for the utilities in enabling them with better network visualisation and real-time awareness. Apart from the absolutely foundational role in smart grid applications, GIS would also become an innate part of the system as network complexities and distributed generation would require better integration and information-based business analytics.

Some hurdles on the way
Being an innovation leader could pose a challenge when the adoption speed on the consumer side is not synchronised. “Technology companies need to help the industry and its customers to stay current with the fast changing environment. This coupled with the data integration needs and to deploy more data intelligent solutions are reflecting the main points,” says Kliem.

According to a representative from Zoller & Frohlich, a local laser scanning system manufacturing firm, geospatial market in Germany still has not reached its true potential. “There is still lot of potential in the field of geospatial technology, as it is ought to make an even bigger impact than it does at the moment,” he adds.

The major challenge for a private company and the industry is to make the technology and/or technological developments available to users and public, he says, adding since technologies like laser scanning are still fairly new, the level of awareness has to be raised. There has been significant progress over the past five years, but there is still a lot to be done in order to establish laser scanning in all possible fields of application.

The EO sector seems to be facing a similar challenge. “There is a challenge to adopt the new, large volume and free (open and free) Sentinel data within Copernicus as new computing and data access/distribution mechanism are still under development both in Germany and Europe,” says Schreier, who feels it is also a challenge to get these data closer to OGC/ GIS community.

Dr Thomas Heege, CEO, EOMAP, a local company focusing on aquatic EO and mapping services, however, is of the opinion that public initiatives such as EU Copernicus services and ESA-funded projects have an impact on the commercial development of the EO market. “Clients get used to free services. This hinders a demand-driven approach to exploit the market.”

The federal structure too has posed some challenges in terms of standards and interoperability. “Germany faces the challenge of creating Geo-IT interoperability and usability while respecting the autonomy of the administrative units. Considering the tight resources available, the participation of the municipal level remains difficult,” maintains Seiler.

What lies ahead
With the fast-changing technology landscape, a much broader offering in data collection and data intelligence is expected. These trends will change some traditional markets, while at the same time open up fresh opportunities.

“Surveying professionals will become data managers and specialists with domain knowledge not only in the geospatial field, but with adjacent knowledge in important applications. Close cooperation with universities, winning young people for this industry and providing them education for the changing needs will present a very interesting task,” predicts Kliem. Importance will be given not only in the hardware-enhanced technology tools, but also the communication and software platforms with multiple functionalities that will be a very important driver to the growth of geospatial industry in the country.

Seiler thinks more work needs to be done to further integrate spatial data into government operational workflows. “The existing spatial data infrastructure provides access to spatial data that should be used by others. There is still a huge unused potential for spatial information to be integrated in e-government, business processes and applications. The main challenge is to unleash this potential through stakeholder involvement from all levels.”

Here, the government agencies are expected to play an important role in promoting the use of geospatial technology in the future. The use of GIS has increased over the past couple of years and is expected to increase even more. Government agencies can also help raise public awareness for these technologies.