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We are commited to interoperability

Leica Geosystems Geospatial Imaging (LGGI) focuses on geospatial imaging software solutions and is part of the Hexagon Group, Sweden. LGGI offers a range of workflow solutions for photogrammetry, mapping, remote sensing, visualization, catalog management and exploitation of geospatial imagery
The interview of the Leica team, President & CEO Bob Morris, Brad Skelton, Chief Technology Officer, Kaushik Chakraborty, Vice President, India, Middle East & Africa and Norbert Hanke, CFO, Hexagon was conducted recently at the venue of Map India 2008, 11th Annual International Conference and Exhibition on Geospatial Information, Technology and Application.

How is Leica developing its software suite for enterprise level applicability?
BOB: At Leica Geosystems, we define ourselves by understanding our customers’ needs and what they expect from our products. We are working towards a holistic way to deal with data management and delivery, particularly for the end users who are not the domain experts and are more involved in publishing and offering the information. This has led to the enhancement of our desktop products as well as leveraging our enterprise level management tools.

BRAD: We are not migrating from desktop products into an enterprise solution by replacing our entire desktop products; instead, we are adding the enterprise platform to provide solutions to a larger audience. We have selected platforms like J2EE, and integrated existing technologies from IONICand ER Mapper for building enterprise applications. These capabilities provide firm foundations and help us migrate more into Service Oriented Architecture, enabling processing services within the existing environment.

How will the recently added Acquis ADE feature leverage the Leica’s software suite?
BRAD: Leica ADE is a topological featureediting tool enabling users to update and maintain topology dynamically. We did not have an intrinsic topological tool. This adds to the value to our existing portfolio.

BOB: As more and more of our customers use the Oracle database technology, this functionality provides a connection point and adds to our portfolio of enterprise level software.

What developments in the near future are expected from Leica in the field of Photogrammetry?
BRAD: To us, photogrammetry is any measurement of information from any source of imagery, be it from film on a camera, a digital camera or the satellite sensors. They all have a sensor model and respective resolutions. Our software products help extract information from these sources for our customers. Nowadays there are very high-resolution satellites, like the GeoEye-1, with high geo positioning accuracy which eliminates (but does not completely replace) some pieces of photogrammetry. We will continue to make our products more efficient in executing these processes. Ultimately, we want to develop a system where these processes are automated, working behind the scenes providing more information products.

BOB: Another aspect under continuous development is collapsing the time required for these processes. This is achieved by developing systems that reduce the steps required during the traditional workflow and by adding more computing power.

Is the ‘Interoperability issue’ a result of user requirements or is it in anticipation of Enterprise level applicability (in the near future) a driving factor for companies like Leica in achieving interoperable standards?
BOB: In our opinion, it is both. Over the years, the user community has been requesting more compatibility or interoperability. This has led many companies to develop interoperable products. There is a need for information that may be shared among various users and applications. As more data is made available, solutions are becoming more complex and much more integrated. The traditional lines of domain expertise are blurring, with end users using the data in a more holistic sense. We want to be prepared for this change.

How do you see the Geospatial community benefiting from LGGI’s increased commitment with the OGC?
BOB: Our commitment to the Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC) was recently demonstrated by increasing our membership level to Strategic Member. One of the main motives behind last year’s acquisition of IONIC, a pioneer in standards in this industry, was maintaining and advancing our position in the standards development. It is certainly our belief, looking forward, that the success of this whole enterprise equation is going to revolve around interoperability. To be able to expand the use of geospatial information to a broader user base through different applications required for decision support, we need interoperable standards. We are very committed to this philosophy and continue to evaluate requirements to mature current standards and meet new standards.

What is your perception about the companies that for some reason choose not to comply with the standards, say the ones set by OGC?
BOB: There are different viewpoints to be considered in regards to this. If the standards become mainstream expectations, then the companies not adhering to such norms will be at risk of being relegated to the sidelines. However, in cases where interoperability is not as critical, this is less of a concern. By complying with the OGC standards, we will be investing in solving the larger problems of the whole value chain for benefit of the end user.

BRAD: Being compliant with the standards will not threaten any company, but if companies do not take up on the standards, they will likely miss out on a lot of opportunities. There might be a time when your customer needs the use of another vendor’s component over your own, as it would perform according to his requirements. In this case, if you are interoperable, it will only enhance and better address the customers’ need. If you are not interoperable you might lose the customer.

Do you think companies, like Leica will lose their legacy in the traditional Geospatial market, with the advancement of interoperability and standardisation towards ‘plug and play’ solutions?
BOB: Companies cannot think about legacy in such terms in the present day competitive market. We all have customer bases that have used our tools and solutions for very specific requirements. Some of them are now expanding their own requirements within their own organisations. We have to meet our customers’ requirements -if you don’t change and allow expansion then everyone is left in the dark. We aren’t abandoning our core (legacy), but enhancing it to address broader requirements.

How do you envision the role of recently set-up Leica India in the near future?
BOB: In India there is an increasing demand for access to geospatial information. Thus, from a business perspective, India is a very attractive place for us to be. We realised for us to be able to better contribute to the requirements of the Indian markets, we had to have a local presence. The India headquarters will be the key to our success as we take our technology and solutions and apply local requirements. We have learned that one size does not fit all and so it is important to provide relevant, tailored solutions for our customers. It is our objective to have a full functioning operation here, including development resources and full capability for services oriented activities. We will commit full resources to provide the users in India the best of services.

With the opening of Leica India office, do we expect setting up of a ‘Training Centre’ to impart training for geospatial professionals in India?
KAUSHIK: We have had early discussions with key universities and research institutes for our Centre of Excellence program. It will be a two-way operation, where we will contribute domain expertise and they will share their knowledge base. We have plans to offer an internship programme for the graduates to contribute, not only to our company, but also to the geospatial industry in general.

There are discussions taking place with certain training and research institutes to formulate a curriculum based on the industry requirements, creating a practical approach to the theoretical knowledge of photogrammetry, remote sensing and geospatial science. Though the setup in India is at a very nascent stage, we are committed to invest time and effort for the realisation of these plans.

Empower regional organisation and people in the region

Norbert Hanke
Responsible for the region Rest of Asia at Hexagon

Hexagon has been on a shopping spree lately. What is its plan for the year ahead?
One of Hexagon’s strategic principles is to ‘make’ or ‘buy’. If we cannot make or develop the technology, by the way of R&D then we take the opportunity to buy that technology. We will continue to do this around the world. As in India, we see great potential and opportunity, last year we could acquire our existing distributor, Elcome Technologies and make them a part of our family.

Leica India office has been set up recently. How will it leverage the Indian Geospatial industry?
Geospatial industry in India is growing in size and has large number of opportunities in the years to come. However, the main reason for opening this office is because our customers are our focus and anything we do is to be close to them and provide them with customised solutions. The India office will provide complete turnkey solutions in all the segments of the industry, be it software, hardware, training or customised solutions.

What are the Training and education initiatives taken up by Hexagon or Leica in India?
We are heavily involved with training the customers when we feel they need to know the new technology. We not only sell what we have, but we also look at our customer’s requirement and provide them with complete solution.

How will the economic slowdown in the US affect Hexagon globally, especially in India?
There may be an impact of this economic instability in times ahead but personally, I have not experienced any slowdown in our business. Hexagon is not US dependent only; we have sales globally and are well positioned in South America, Asia and Europe. If and when this downfall occurs, which will have effect on businesses across the globe, we are confident and relatively well prepared. However, with respect to India, I don’t see that it will have any major effect, as the banking system here is quite stable. As long as customers have funds for the work that needs to be done in this industry, we will continue to provide our services and will not stop expanding ourselves.
How do you differentiate the Geospatial market in China and India?
China, as of now is definitely ahead of India in terms of Infrastructure development, but India is catching up. India is a growing market. We want to be a part of it and we want to be prepared when India matches the markets of China and the US.