A map, however exciting it may be, is just a map. All the conventions discuss maps a lot. Now, the new buzzword is 3D, which is just about adding one more dimension to the same map. This industry needs to move beyond mapping. Unless you put a layer on top of the map that is interesting for a specific audience or user, it has no value. For example, a utility company is interested in finding solutions to outage problems. It wants to know when and where an outage happens so that it can dispatch maintenance people to restore electricity as soon as it happens. By adding this layer of information, the map becomes a useful tool to get the electricity flowing back so that the utility company can continue its business and its customers can continue to enjoy hot tea or watch their favourite TV programme. That’s the context you have to put into the map.
A map in isolation is quite useless. But when you add activity to it, it becomes commercially viable. If I create the world’s most accurate map and nothing more, I probably won’t find anyone willing to pay for it. At the end of the day, what good is a great technology if no one wants to use it? If a customer is not willing to pay for the technology, it’s probably not good. I think that’s the ultimate acid test for any technology.
One must have a vision but that vision should not be just about technology. It has to be defined by a purpose and linked to a customer’s need. That is the difference Hexagon is bringing to most of the industries we are engaged in today. This technology can surely resolve many of the great challenges that we, as a mankind, have to face in the next 20 years. But to be able to do that, we need to re-define the language, because we are selling this technology to people who are not experts.
We are at the beginning of re-defining the language of geospatial industry. And one cannot do it alone. It is amusing to see industry players react to Hexagon’s acquisition of Intergraph. The acquisition triggered a lot of activities in the industry, when people realised that may be it is not wrong after all to look at the workflow of the customer rather than one nitty-gritty detail of a total solution. The geospatial industry will see more of such activities and eventually move from being a horizontal industry, to a vertical one focussed on certain applications. Take the analogy of sports. One cannot be good at 100 m swimming, 100 m sprint and others. One has to choose a specific discipline. Going forward, the geospatial industry has to focus on one or few customer groups.
Lessons from Google
In many geospatial conferences, people ignore Google. It is the biggest geospatial company in the world, which the geospatial industry does not acknowledge. But the fact of the matter is that Google has delivered something to the world that this industry couldn’t deliver even though it possessed the technology all this while. Google has delivered what the consumer market needs and we should give credit to them. They have created a baseline for the industry with maps, virtual earth and augmented reality.
However, they work in a different space. Hexagon is all about the professional market. We don’t have any major role to play in the consumer market. This industry has been delivering solutions that focus on better accuracy, but limited updates. If accuracies and updates were plotted on a graph, the traditional geospatial industry could be represented by the blue colour in the histogram below.
The evolving geospatial market: Blue represents the traditional, geospatial industry before Google came and took a chunk of this space. Maintaining the accuracies available, which are good enough and adding more updates (dynamic GIS) is the way forward for the industry
In 2004-2005, Google came and took a chunk of this space. The industry hasn’t acknowledged, but a big chunk of their historic market disappeared while they continued to focus on accuracies.
In most cases, the achievable accuracies are good enough today. We need to work on maintaining these accuracies but add more updates, creating fresher maps. We call this dynamic GIS and that’s what our vision is all about.
I think the two technologies we really need to master are capturing data and converting it into useful information in the shortest possible time. The other end of the spectrum has customers who do not use laptops and computers. They use cell phones and tablets.
And we need to distribute that data back to the users in a comprehensive way so that it can be used wherever the customers are and whenever they want it. It is all about speed.
Thinking forward, we need to re-create the real world to a dynamic digital world by fusing various geospatial technologies with other modern technologies. We can then bring back that information to the real world empowering a billion- plus people to discover the power of geography.