Prof. Arup Dasgupta
Any data has a location context, perhaps explicit but more often implicit. For example, an address is a group of words but it is associated with a person living in a flat of a building in a group of buildings on a road in a postal district of a town in a country. The postman does not need a GPS to get the coordinates of this address. The famous London cabby can get you to any place in the city because the geography of London’s streets, lanes and bylanes are imprinted in his memory as much as it would be in a GIS. Equally famous is the Mumbai dabbawalla who navigates the roads of Mumbai to collect packed lunchboxes from homes, and through a system of arcane notations and the use of local transport services, delivers each of them to the intended recipient in their offices at lunch time with six sigma reliability. In each of these examples the geographic content is implicit and, what is more important, the latent geographical knowledge is used in a complex process or set of processes to achieve the desired result — the delivery of a letter, arrival at a desired destination or the delivery of a lunchbox.
Today, geospatial data is more formal and explicit, but still it requires different processes to be able to turn the data into actionable information. Actionable information is used in other management processes to achieve the desired action and result. Welcome to the world of workflows. As geospatial technology spreads into different areas of human endeavour it is the workflows that are critical in achieving results. In this issue we have examples from exploration and mining to business intelligence to illustrate how important workflows have become in different application areas. These workflows are not only geospatial but involve IT and management workflows and decision making. In sum, for geospatial to be effective it must become a part of every hybrid workflow.
Industry has recognised this truth in two ways. One way is the spate of buy-outs and mergers by companies to bring all the elements of the workflows under a single banner, perhaps even under a single GUI. The other is the recognition of the importance of standards and interoperability and the positioning of products highlighting their adherence to these standards and their interoperability with a wide variety of geospatial and IT products and systems.
Among the application groups there is a realisation that SDIs will play a big role in workflows. SDIs have concentrated on data standards but a grey area is standards for processes. Geospatial Web Services do provide some standardisation for the data transfer processes but as workflows become mobile and personal, other processes will become server based and attention will have to be paid to them.
As we enter the age of the Internet of Things (some also refer to it as the Web of Things), we will begin to see automated workflows which will be automatic, heterogeneous, fast and ubiquitous. This seems to be the next frontier.