Home Articles Smart M.App: Making geospatial technologies more accessible

Smart M.App: Making geospatial technologies more accessible


Kenyon Waugh, Executive Technical Director, Smart M.App Solutions at Hexagon Geospatial explains how these nifty tools make geospatial technology more accessible and easier to use

How did Hexagon envision Smart M.Apps?

If you travel a lot like I do, it means working in airports and on planes. More and more frequently, I see people working on tablets, and that requires an assortment of small, lightweight ‘apps’. These apps are very specialized for the work they do, their lifestyle, and questions they ask many times a day.

At the same time, we see an explosion in the use of location data. Businesses and industries that never tried to incorporate geospatial data and technology into their workflows now see the value in the information and want to use it to expand their understanding of their business. While we have a strong understanding of the geospatial technology world, the workflows and needs of these industries are completely new to us.

So on the one hand, we have users who rely on apps to accomplish their tasks and on the other hand we have new businesses with their own unique set of requirements they need to fulfill with geospatial information. As a software company, we wanted to push ourselves to think differently about software. What if we could break down traditional client/server or bulky desktop applications and give customers just-in-time capability? What if, better yet, we could give them a tool kit to build these ‘apps’ for themselves and their colleagues? The Hexagon Smart M.App answers both of these questions.

Why did Hexagon create the Hexagon Smart M.App?

Customers inspired us to create Hexagon Smart M.Apps. We listened to the pain points of people who are using geospatial technology day-to-day and tried to find a way to make geospatial technology more accessible and easier to use. We think of events and information in 3D space, as well as at a particular moment in time — the fourth dimension. But everything is also in a continuing state of change and this led us to our 5D approach to data visualization. How can we make it possible to view information in 5D, in that state of change? Can we combine tools, Cloud computing and new business models to accomplish this?

At Hexagon Geospatial, we provide just the right software to the user to accomplish the task, while still giving industry experts the hooks and expandability options they need to build solutions to solve their unique requirements and needs.

What kinds of business problems does a Smart M.App solve?

For a long time, the geospatial industry has had a problem. Maps are great tools for communication, but they take time, effort and money to create. Because they are expensive and time-consuming, we tried to create maps that could multi-task. We wanted them to communicate as much information as possible so we could use them for as long as possible before having to go through all the steps to create them again.

Smart M.Apps are the evolution in how we think about maps. They are still about communicating information, but they are about communicating a specific answer to a specific question. If that question changes, or if a new question arises from your analysis, you can rapidly prototype and new Smart M.App to address the new question.

Smart M.Apps tend to be very specialized in the problems they solve. Some of the most exciting Smart M.Apps are helping leaders in government make better, more informed decisions based on new business intelligence tools and analysis engines.

We also have M.App Tools. These are smaller, more focused Smart M.Apps. They provide the building blocks that solve a specific repeatable and known function. M.App Tools can be linked together and incorporated into more workflow related Smart M.Apps. For example, our Index Applications provide easy-to-use access to known, proven tools common in remote sensing image analysis workflows.

How do you balance innovation with sustainability?

This is the age-old challenge of the geospatial industry. From a developer’s point of view, it places the onus for innovation on the software developer’s plate. But it also applies to the GIS or IT department in the business. They have to update their software, construct analyses, and create new maps when the old ones are outdated. It’s why we tried to make multi-tasking maps that do a lot of different things pretty well.

Hexagon Smart M.Apps change that. We changed our focus from building products based on our expertise to helping partners build their own businesses around our platform and technology. But this innovation changes the game at the GIS or IT department-level, too. By empowering them to build dynamic, specialized Smart M.Apps, we give them the ability to quickly create self-sustaining products that provide more focused answers to their users.

Can you tell us about the other innovations you are working on?

We have been working with our IGNITE Challenge Finalists. These finalists are really serving as inspiration for our entire company. Many of these finalists are from outside the traditional GIS and remote sensing industry, which mirrors what we are seeing with our industry. They have ideas for games that teach students about conservation to Noise Monitoring Applications to Crowd Souring Applications to count wildlife. These innovations connect our technology with content and allow our partners to build businesses around their ideas, and that’s what Smart M.Apps are all about.

We are also working on innovations around pricing and selling capabilities of Software-as-a-Service. The technology is the easy part. The harder part is to innovate on the business model and allow more users to get answers to questions they may not know how to ask.

What trends do you foresee in the GIS and remote sensing industry?

Everyone is talking about Big Data and Cloud computing, but these are technologies and not solutions. Everyone is looking at the new technology drivers, while the business climate is changing quickly in all markets. GIS and remote sensing are natural places to leverage the power of the Cloud, but we need to simplify the processes to open our expertise to new markets and potential end users. As the line between ‘apps’ and ‘maps’ blur, users expect more functionality, but they will also expect that functionality to be more intuitive and easy to use.