Geospatial technology is widely used across the length and breadth of various sectors in Germany. Dr Peter Volk, CEO, GAF, a European provider for earth observation and geoinformation solutions, talks about the company’s projects and future directions
How is geospatial technology helping in growth and development projects in Germany?
Geospatial technology is widely accepted as an economic driver throughout public and private sectors, and its is increasingly contributing to the domestic growth and export markets. The EU and specifically EU programmes namely INSPIRE, Copernicus and Galileo are already delivering growth repercussions to an even wider community within Europe, and of course in Germany. The use of geospatial data, software and services has become a real commodity here in the past few years. A good measure is the growth of geospatial service companies in Germany that work in this sector and GAF is one of them.
Which are the major projects you are involved in?
GAF has experienced across-the-board expansion along the geoinformation value chain. Through our former subsidiary Euromap — now an integral part of the company — we have delivered pan-European datasets of Indian origin to the European data users within the Copernicus programme. A good example for a fruitful Indian-EU-German cooperation! We are also involved in Copernicus value-added projects and services in the area of land, emergency response and atmosphere. On the spatial software side, we work with customised Esri, ERDAS and PCI Geomatics as our workhorses but also with own software products (like GAFmap) or OS-based technologies.
GAF also deals with complex consulting services where geospatial components make up between 5 and 50% of the project. Here, we are active in various sectors such as mining, agriculture, environment, REDD and, regional planning to name a few, across many countries around the globe. Important to us are a significant number of projects for military and security customers, ranging from data and processing to analysis and software services. It is this mix that makes us special and enables us to transfer a development from one sector for the benefit of another.
What has been the progress on the ground?
There have been some remarkable developments like the wide recognition of VHR and SVHR (very-high-resolution and super-very-high-resolution) data from Earth observation satellites, capable of intruding in some airborne data domains. Spaceborne SAR and optical sensors are capable of providing uniform and detailed DEMs. Good examples include the DLR/Airbus developed World-DEM Programme and GAF’s Euromaps-3D product, which use the excellent data provided by ISRO’s P5 Cartosat system. LiDAR and UAV technology associated software solutions have just boosted a plethora of daily real-time planning and monitoring applications, which are now, for example, under consideration for operational use in time-critical emergency management projects. Advances have been made on the software side too. GIS and image processing COTS packages have converged and have reported growth, besides the wish to have focused, easy-to-use solutions which are often based on open source technology. Most interesting has been the development of service level agreements requiring rapid
reaction in data procurement and analysis, sometimes up to an 365/7/24 scheme, such offerings can only be done when one has a critical number of excellent trained and motivated employees.
What are the challenges that a private company/industry faces in Germany?
Of course cost and budgets, though Germany does not have the highest labour cost in the EU, but the level is definitely higher than in other advancing and advanced economies. As private industry we have to offer something special, we have to be even more innovative, a step ahead technically, and put emphasis on the highest quality standards or fast turnaround through outstanding project management. The geospatial industry in Germany, like the other industrial service sectors, is facing competition from public and semi-public institutions. With increasing budget constraints, universities and research establishments are forced to tap into the grey areas of pilot and operational projects, or even service level contracts. Here, it needs the good will and constant communication to find solutions.
What is your opinion about the availability of manpower resources and skill development in Germany?
Education level of geospatial experts here is good. In the powerhouse regions like Munich, Frankfurt, Hamburg etc. we have basically full employment and to find excellent people there is difficult. Here we have the possibility of looking in regions that are not so endowed with economic progress, or to activate recruiting assistance in other EU countries through our human resources department within the Telespazio Group. When it comes to spatial software architects we require highly specialised staff and there is a shortage of them. It is also unfortunate that the geospatial
industry does not yet offer attractive salaries, in comparison to the financial or automotive sector. We have to instead offer a supportive and family-like environment where staff is happy to go every day. This is the recipe which many successful firms in Germany follow.
What is your opinion about the German geospatial data policy? Do you think government policies have been encouraging?
Yes, definitely. In Germany, the federal and local policies are supporting the use of geospatial technology not only within the framework of EU triggered programmes, but also by national initiatives like application driven research and geospatial infrastructures by DLR, the German Aerospace Establishment. Currently, there are five or more federal ministries involved in EO activities. This fragmentation is causing problems. Also, there is no uniform pricing and licensing policy for very high-resolution data. Though geospatial adoption in Germany is considered as advanced, there is still a lot of work to do.