The world has ceased to exist in silos. The universal key that has opened the old silos is information. There was a time when information was the source of power and pelf, to be guarded and sequestered. The only way this could be done was through creation of silos and the principle of ‘need to know’. This worked well as long as the silo was self-sufficient but with progress it became necessary to garner more information from other sources to remain competitive.
For long we have talked of convergence of technologies. For example, power distribution developed techniques of SCADA for managing assets but lacked the information on physical location of these assets on a common platform. SCADA with GIS overcame these lacunae. Now, we have BIM and GIS, ERP and GIS, and BI and GIS. In each case the geospatial component is provided by GIS, while the domain information is provided by the concerned expert systems. Perhaps the biggest example of convergence and collaboration is C4ISR. However, these examples are limited to the technologies used.
Another process is mergers and acquisitions. For example, Google Earth, which we are so familiar with, started as an earth viewer by a venture called Keyhole, which Google acquired in 2005 as it saw the value of location in their core business of searching huge data sources. Similarly, we have seen mergers of GIS and imaging companies as these technologies complement each other.
An examination of these trends brings out the fact that the spatial component, or ‘where’, has become an essential part of any activity. This is why we see a surge in imaging and mapping and the integration of this data in spatial information systems which service many other operational systems. While governments and large organizations can make this a part of their activities, middle-level organizations, which cannot afford to set up their own departments, tend to buy these functionalities as services. Last but not least, the public has become ‘where’-savvy, thanks to Google and its clones, the availability of cheap GPS-equipped smartphones with apps which fall under the rubric of LBS.
Indeed, initiatives like Smart Cities, Green Buildings, and Sustainable Development all need the sharing of data, processes and applications and collaboration between different players. Many of these applications will need data on the go like self-driving cars. The transition from raw data to meaningful action will transcend human intervention. It will not be enough to know where but what is to be done and how. Thus, a long-term weather pattern may indicate a chance of drought, which can set in motion specific actions for water conservation like rationing and reduction of non-essential usage.
Will power of sharing and collaborative business models lead to location nirvana? The Economist raises an interesting issue stating that data, not oil, is the most valuable resource. It is seen that the Internet-based companies like Alphabet (Google’s parent company), Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Microsoft have grabbed a major share of the data economy racking up US$25 billion in net profits in the first quarter of 2017. So are we seeing a resurgence of mega corporations and monopolies related to data? Domination by a few mega data giants is potentially dangerous, but indiscriminate data sharing could also threaten privacy as we can see in the current Aadhar controversy in India. There has to be a golden mean.