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Geospatial industry trends 2020: Be disruptive or be irrelevant

The digital age demands constant disruptions. As technology transformations drastically cut down gestation periods, it’s time to ask tough questions and take tough decisions. 

We are living in a disruptive world. Data is proliferating and technology is becoming more complex. From automation to Artificial Intelligence Internet of Things (IoT), Big Data, customized apps to digital services, the sheer speed of technological advancements represents one of the biggest threats to today’s businesses. Business models that have lasted for decades are now becoming antiquated, pushing the industry leaders to constantly transform to open up new revenue streams.

Adding to this challenging digital landscape are problems like geopolitical uncertainty, growing protectionism and a volatile global economy. There is no such thing as an independent country, or economy anymore; our world is very complex, and it is going to get even more complicated in the near future.

So, how is the geospatial industry faring? How does it view the technology changes and subsequent disruptions? Is there a fear of an impending global economic slowdown? Geospatial World Business Leaders’ Outlook 2020, which comprises of a survey of 100+ CEOs and industry leaders from across the ecosystem, throws up some interesting insights.

Evolving mindsets

A fast transforming industry requires leaders who can question long-held assumptions and challenge the status quo. Our survey reveals that the geospatial industry leaders have adopted an attitude of positivity. The industry, which seemed overwhelmed with disruptions in the past two years, is finally settling down, accepting disruptions as the new normal.

While our 2018 survey had revealed that about 85% of executives thought fast-paced technology innovations were causing too many disruptions for the geospatial industry, two years later, this figure has dropped to 21%. Interestingly, in 2018, 65% of the respondents had also agreed that some of these innovations and much of the disruption were generated from outside the core;geospatial industry, mostly by venture capital-backed startups.

Also Read: Innovation, disruption and sustainability

Significantly, the 2019 survey revealed that about half of the respondents believed technology advancements had completely reshaped competition in the geospatial industry, while the other half agreed that they had a significant impact.

Innovation cannot simply be a buzzword; it needs to be integrated at all levels within the organization. The 2020 Business Leaders’ Outlook reveals that an overwhelming majority of executives — 94% — believe in innovating and disrupting the industry, rather than waiting to be disrupted. However, the fact that this comes after thorough introspection and not just false bravado becomes evident when the next moment, they identify “inability to innovate” as the biggest internal challenge.

Resilience in the face of disruptions

Resilience requires companies to go on the offensive, disrupting own legacy systems and strategies. As the speed of technology transformation continues to increase and lifespan continues to decline, industry leaders also realize they need to be quick footed to adapt to the speed of disruption, while being aware of the market and competitive landscape. In our 2019 survey, we found the business leaders optimistic about the global economic scenario and their own organizations’ growth prospects. As we enter 2020, we discover that while they are upbeat about organizational growth, there is a growing anxiety about existential threats such as an impending global economic slowdown, geopolitical volatility and global warming. Stifling regulations, slow pace of technology adoption and data quality and availability also continue to pose challenges. Further, concerns over Climate Change, debate over data privacy and disruptions caused by new technologies are creating new levels of uncertainty for businesses.

The CEOs are increasingly focused on building organizational resilience needed to overcome the diverse challenges and maintain growth momentum. About two-third of them said they were already restructuring their leadership teams to stay relevant. They added that their focus areas in the coming times would be strengthening product portfolios via investments in new technologies and foraying into new markets.

Tackling Technology 4.0

Growth in digital infrastructure and digital technology ecosystems, along with maturity of technologies such as Big Data and Cloud, Artificial Intelligence and Internet of Things, is expanding the geospatial industry’s global reach and contribution. While the use of geospatial in traditional sectors continues to rise, the future growth will be determined by how well geospatial and emerging technologies such as AI and automation augment and enable each other.

For the geospatial industry in particular, AI and its subsets, Machine Learning and Deep Learning, present two scenarios. First, AI and associated technologies augmenting geospatial; and second, geospatial enabling autonomous technologies and robotics. About 60% of the executives said they have already implemented AI as part of their workflow.

While identifying advancements in AI and miniaturization and commoditization of sensors as the two fast emerging technology trends, many of them were of the opinion that AI will prove to be as big a disruption as the Internet. For an industry that primarily deals with data, AI comes as a magic wand which can be used to unearth insights from huge repositories of structured and unstructured data. However, driving Artificial Intelligence at enterprise scale presents significant challenges — primary among them being shortage of relevant skillset. Our survey reveals organizational resistance too, with employees feeling that companies are not doing enough to train them in emerging technologies and worrying that AI and robots will take away their jobs.

Automation of business processes could take away not just blue-collar jobs, but also affect all kinds of jobs. While this seismic shift poses wider questions for the society and governments, for industries and business leaders, it means a fundamental shift in their hiring strategies. While majority of the executives admit that it is a challenge to find workers skilled in emerging technologies, they recognize upskilling the existing workforce as a way to bridge the skill gap.

Growth drivers

With the processes of geospatial data capture, processing and analysis getting dramatically reshaped, the lines separating industries, companies and technologies are fast disappearing. While the past decade saw a proliferation of M&As, there is a process of consolidation now within the industry. With the realization that no one CEO or company can have all of these technologies or products available to solve all the customer problems, the geospatial industry is visibly adopting a partnership approach. The partnership model has emerged as the most preferred business model.

There is also a shift in terms of most preferred business destinations. The regions that were lucrative a year ago, now appear unexciting. While almost all regions slipped on the ‘confidence score’, among the worst-hit is India, which slipped from the second most preferred destination to the seventh spot. As location technology gets into chipsets, cars, drones, enterprise software and traffic management systems, there is a growing need for accurate spatial data to make these services more reliable. The industry leaders resoundingly agree that new user areas will drive growth in the coming times.
It is interesting to note that among the traditional sectors, they identified urban development and utilities as two of the most lucrative areas for business, thus underlining the increasing need for geospatial technologies in city infrastructure.

New competitive edge

The Fourth Industrial Revolution is leading to a new set of applications, business practices and revenue models, even as the industry ecosystem augments and enhances the value of spatial information in real-time analytics and monitoring capabilities. It is amid such shifting realities that industry leaders are setting their short and long-term strategies. As technology transformation drastically cuts down gestation periods, it would require business heads to ask tough questions, take tough decisions, and think both short and long term. The geospatial industry leaders are doing all of that, and more.

Also Read: It isn’t disruption; it’s continuum of evolution