Genesys International Corporation Ltd., Mumbai
Internet obviously is a major driving force of some significant changes happening with GIS industry, as we all know it. I take this opportunity to raise some of the other significant trends that I see for further discussions in this august forum. Other than the net driving GIS into many areas we are not even aware of today, another significant change, possibly, is GIS becoming just another specialty in the mainstream IT.
The Internet Era
The latest issue of Business Week International features an article on how Toyota and other carmakers are delivering multimedia infotainment through the web and various other means. Most important application being promoted is navigation. Coupled with announcements from GM and Ford to make Internet access available from a car, this clearly is a geo-spatial opportunity among other things.
Efforts are already on to provide www access to other mobile platforms such as cellular phones and handheld computers such as Palmtops. Besides many other types of data access, large amount of spatial data would be accessed-if current usage from static desktops is any indication. According to industry sources, one popular web site delivered more than 80 million maps and directions in a single month!
One of the biggest benefits the net delivers, is the ease with which content can reach the end user. Rather than trying to manage the underlying communication infrastructure, solution providers need only to focus on the data and the application. A sure indicator of this trend is that, every one of the GIS software providers has web-enabling tools available, today!
Like digital audio and video, GIS data needs large bandwidths to achieve satisfactory response times. While net bandwidth gets upgraded gradually, there remains a need of effective compression/decompression technology. Several good products are already available.
There is a downstream need for geo-spatial data generated from this push for higher bandwidth communication infrastructure, including those supporting mobile communication. There is a constant need for higher resolution spatial data for effectively engineering/maintaining such communication systems.
Domain specific solutions
Users are increasingly demanding solutions customized for their business area. There are two clear indicators to this trend. Traditional GIS vendors are making specific vertical solutions available. Second indicator is the increasing availability of components that take care of GIS functionality so customer specific solutions can be easily created. Emphasis on object orientation is prompted by the need for robust solutions and easy maintainability as with software solutions in any other area. Fairly large offering of components from independent vendors also exist today.
Interoperable GIS environment
GIS has traditionally been “island-of-automation” kind of departmental computing environment. In almost all areas of computing this kind of isolation has vanished altogether. Open GIS initiative is thus very significant. Significant amount of data sharing is already possible between products supporting the OpenGIS. Web mapping test-bed being built by the consortium would enable combining different layers of data from different vendors in the web environment. Several products to support such interoperability have also become available.
GIS becomes mainstream
This is a refrain we have been hearing for some time now. As discussed with above two trends, specifics of a particular GIS platform are increasingly becoming less important. Major roadblock has been the spatial data support available from major database vendors. While Oracle has been first off the block to provide spatial extensions, other products also are available today from IBM, Informix and Sybase. As soon as seamless support for geospatial data similar to all the other types of enterprise data is available, GIS will become fully mainstream. Analyses, queries typically supported by the “GIS” platforms today would get subsumed into the standard database systems.
Other significant trends
Several other trends are visible which are secondary in nature. They contribute to strengthening the main trends discussed above by expanding the use of geospatial data.
- 3D visualization
Reasonable cost, easy to use systems have started becoming available that allow 3D visualization of geo-spatial data. That would constitute a major push towards increasing use of geo-spatial data.
- 1 m resolution satellite data
IKONOS has been successfully launched, several others are expected within the year. Availability of such high-resolution data is expected to push applications of GIS technology.
- Radar and LIDAR data
Radar interferometry and LIDAR are two promising methods of acquiring elevation data quickly and cheaply. These could provide the means for acquiring the extensive amount of data required for infrastructure or the communication projects.
- Wireless field systems
Work order implementation and modifications required for “as-built” updates, need suitable field systems. Commercial systems are now available that communicate with enterprise databases directly. Higher bandwidth wireless technology can see increasing use of these devices in utilities for asset management.
Some major vendors of GIS products are enhancing their offerings to support engineering requirements for engineering projects such as site development, highway and infrastructure development, building design and redesign. Digital cadastre is another area where product enhancements can be foreseen.
Because of the way the net is evolving, we are likely to see large growth in GIS applications. Some of these will be in completely new ways. As GIS becomes mainstream, number of business users is likely to grow. While GIS usage keeps growing, it may not remain the way we know it today!