The potential of blended technologies is enormous, especially for geospatial professionals, who are deeply interested in the technologies they use to gather and manage data.
From my point of view, however, technology is simply a means to an end. The focus should not be on the newest tools. Rather, it is more important to know what users need to accomplish their tasks. To do this, we first must understand how people work. Who are they, and what is their role in a project or enterprise? What information do they need? Where and how do they use it? And what is the end result?
The answers to these questions often illustrate how people use multiple types of data that come from different sources at different times. End users often need to combine and analyse the data to extract the needed bits. Only when we understand these processes can we ask the next question:
How can we use technology to make their work easier?
The solution often lies in a technological ecosystem: a synergistic combination of core technologies which gather and manage data, combined with software and tools for processing, analysis, and delivery. Technological ecosystems that are built around geospatial information support the needs and actions of large portions of an organisation.
The use of integrated or blended technologies is one of the most important trends in the geospatial arena. By combining multiple technologies, integrated solutions provide new ways to work and reduce costs, accelerate schedules, and supply high-value deliverables. And even though many geospatial practitioners are deeply interested in integrated technology, their clients may not share that passion. As long as information is complete, accurate, and usable, the people using it may have little interest in how it got to them. That’s a key point for geospatial professionals to keep in mind, which raises the next question:
How can integrated technologies make work easier for their clients?
Technological ecosystems can be described at two levels. One level, technology fusion, combines sometimes dissimilar technologies in a way that produces faster operation and more powerful deliverables. A second approach (largely driven by the Internet and information-savvy consumers) is the blending and sharing of information to support workflows and decision processes.
In technology fusion, data from multiple sources is combined to produce new types of information. Fused technologies such as mobile mapping or aerial imagery provide benefits such as high-speed data acquisition. They can gather an immense amount of information in a single visit or mission.
These tightly integrated solutions often provide smaller size and easier operation than non-integrated approaches, using comprehensive software to automatically merge (or fuse) the different types of data. The merging process, often fully automated, handles tasks formerly relegated to highly specialised software and technicians.
It seems that every day we see new combinations of technologies that are producing ever-larger volumes of data. That trend will continue. But these systems can only deliver data. The value of the data is not realised until it is converted to information and put to work, which brings us to the second aspect of the technological ecosystem.
Information, Platforms and Interconnection
Most end users don’t look at geospatial information from a technology standpoint. They are looking to solve a problem or make a decision and need information to do so. In some cases, they receive information automatically via their organization’s normal workflows. In others, the users must make a conscious decision and effort to obtain the needed information.
Technologies that produce blended information can even provide new content and value. For example, in a blended system, a terrain model can be combined with panoramic images from an imaging rover to produce a photorealistic 3D model that is overlaid onto accurate maps of utilities and transportation. The result gives the architect a much richer and more precise base of information from which to develop a design.
When completed, the design moves to other parts of the technological ecosystem where it can support work for building information modelling (BIM), construction and project management, and even extend to operations and facilities management. Throughout the project, Cloud-based software and services enable the architect and project stakeholders to access and act upon the information with the confidence that it is correct and up-to-date.
It’s possible to list dozens of applications and industries that benefit from integrated technologies and geospatial information. Some stand to benefit more than others.
The Big Winners
The use of technological ecosystems enables organisations to make thorough and efficient use of their information. The companies that stand to benefit the most from integrated technologies are those that have the most complexity in their workflows. By definition, fused technologies combine or eliminate steps in the value chain or workflow. An operation with many pieces and processes stands to gain the most from reducing and streamlining its work. With their long, complex workflows that often involve multiple disciplines, industries such as agriculture, energy and natural resources, utilities, transportation, civil infrastructure and construction are prime candidates to benefit from integrated geospatial solutions.
In order to unlock these opportunities, geospatial professionals need to understand the final destinations and uses of the information they provide. This understanding enables them to select tools and processes that produce deliverables with the quality and accuracy needed to support the downstream processes.
More and more, the best solutions will be a fusion of technologies in the field, office and Cloud. In a well-crafted blend of tools and workflows, the technology fades into the background, overshadowed by the value of the information it produces.
Ron Bisio, vice president, Trimble