Prof. Arup Dasgupta
As you read this, the Geospatial World Forum 2013 is underway in Rotterdam on the theme ‘Monetising Geospatial Value and Practices’. As a technology dedicated to scientific and unbiased information gathering, geospatial systems are valued for providing information for planning, execution, and monitoring of any activity that affects the land, water and air. Monetising this value is a difficult task as the true value is realised from applications of the information in domains other than geospatial technology. On the other hand, the cost of establishing and operating this technology is expensive. It requires investments in hardware, software, expert human resources and sustained digital data acquisition. Therefore, we have a situation where the investments are in one area, whereas the benefits flow from other areas. Realising this, most governments have committed to establishing an infrastructure to share the cost over many applications, thus maximising the return on investment or benefit-to-cost ratio.
While this is admirable, it also results in a bias which tends to exclude NGOs and industry. Governments tend to look at SDIs as a means of discovering and binding to data. Th is view is then further regulated by data access policies, resulting in the data becoming a highly controlled commodity. In such a scenario, data sharing becomes the cornerstone on which the structure stands. Data sharing between government departments is not easy and sharing this with nongovernment entities is a far cry. Yet, a view is also gaining ground that geospatial data should be free and freely available. However, the need is to move away from this data-centric approach and stress on applications which are innovative and result in the realisation of ‘more for less’. Such innovation is not necessarily realised only by the government departments, but also by NGOs, industry and even enlightened public. Applications arise from needs, and are realised through goal setting and strategies for the creation of value-added services which can be accessed by end users directly. Sharing must extend to these areas as well.
New technologies are also evolving like UAVs which can provide near real-time focussed data for monitoring events. SDIs rarely consider Big Data as a source but it is very important for industry to fine tune their offerings. In fact, even governments also can make good use of Big Data in areas such as weather prediction, homeland security and better management of essential services. The geospatial ecosystem has moved beyond building blocks like GIS, GPS, image processing and imagery. The key is an integrated approach that addresses the needs of domains which will ensure their growth and puts together whatever is necessary to realise these needs. To realise the full potential of geospatial technology, the whole needs to be much bigger than the sum of its parts.