| Prof. Arup Dasgupta
National mapping organisations (NMOs) are perhaps the oldest geospatial practitioners in any country. Charged with the accurate mapping of their respective countries, they carry a huge responsibility of determining the international boundaries as well as the demarcation of internal administrative boundaries. One would have imagined that agencies with such huge responsibilities would be using cutting edge technologies to bolster their capabilities. It is therefore surprising to know that most NMOs from developing countries are operating on shoestring budgets and are using time tested but obsolete technologies which are unequal to the tasks on hand. The problem is that NMOs, being the oldest organisations, are also saddled with the baggage of legacy. Many of them have old fashioned laws governing the use and dissemination of the data they create. New technologies and systems are either unaffordable or unusable due to lack of capacity to use these systems. Last but not least the scope of geospatial data usage has changed so dramatically that the NMOs are unable to keep pace with the new developments like LBS, 3D city maps, crowd sourcing and citizen services.
This brings me to our cover story which is on the impact of cloud computing on the geospatial world. Cloud computing evolved from distributed computing, utility computing and grid computing. It brings in a paradigm shift by making available computing power and applications to individuals on a pay as you go basis. It frees individuals and small businesses from the overheads of costly compute facilities which are evolving so rapidly that, systems become obsolete in a couple of years. What is true for IT in general is also true for geospatial information technology. In addition, geospatial applications have become increasingly personalised and accessible to the public at large; users are very cost conscious and seek value for money they spend on services. From the viewpoint of service providers, data is expensive and needs to be reused to realise a higher return on investment. Cloud computing provides an excellent opportunity to meet all these requirements.
To bring these two stories together, it is clear that cloud computing could provide that game changing technology to the NMOs to overcome their operational difficulties. SDI initiatives, which are languishing world over, could find an answer in this technology. On the other hand, like all disruptive technologies, the technology also demands changes from their adopters. It requires a genuine desire to share data and applications. It requires an approach to security that does not start with a presumption of blanket denial but a nuanced and graded approach for different communities of users. The technology also needs to provide much better assurance of its reliability and security possibly with metrics for assessing them.
The future is exciting.