As opportunities expand for GIS technologies, some solution providers are taking a team approach to innovation. The use of spatial information is growing rapidly in both the consumer and professional arenas. The growth, with its voracious appetite for data, is moving the geospatial industry into new application domains.
These domains have significant variations in the type and precision of data needed, the environments where it is collected and the workflows of the people collecting it. A forester, archaeologist, environmental engineer and wetlands biologist all gather GIS data (features, attributes, positions, etc.), but to significantly different ends. In many disciplines, an object’s location is a minor component among many attributes that are needed.
The increase in data volume and types has had a profound impact on the geospatial industry. Geospatial manufacturers historically emphasised their positioning technologies. Position sensors are still needed of course, but they are not the entire solution. Today’s GIS solutions must speak the language of the users, making it fast and efficient to capture the pertinent data while presenting information and instructions in familiar terms.
The solutions triad
While solutions providers might want to deliver off-the-shelf solutions for any and all applications, in practice that can’t happen. For a manufacturer to excel in a given application, it must possess the appropriate specialised knowledge and skills. The sheer volume of applications for geospatial data makes it difficult to do so. To address this challenge, Trimble is taking a three-pronged approach that combines flexibility, connectivity, and partnering and collaboration.
Flexibility enables users to work the way they need to. By using Trimble TerraFlex software, customers can create customised forms and workflows to fit specific data requirements. The software operates on a variety of field platforms ranging from rugged commercial field computers to consumer smartphones and tablets. The platforms can be paired with sensors such as Trimble GNSS receivers to produce the required precision and with other sensors to gather domain-specific information.
Connectivity describes the efficient movement of data and information among stakeholders. Today, the concept has grown to include rapid exchange between the field, office and downstream user. The days of returning to the office to download and process data are quickly giving way to wireless access to Cloud-based data services. Field technicians can use TerraFlex to sync data to the TerraFlex Cloud geospatial information management system. Stakeholders can access the field data in near real time for quality control and analysis before moving information to other systems for GIS, CAD and design.
The third component of the triad, partnering and collaboration, is a highly effective tool for creating domain-specific systems. These business relationships can occur among solutions providers, or between a solutions provider and its customers. Both approaches empower participants to provide new solutions that fit the needs of a particular application or user segment.
For example, Trimble has partnered with Esri for more than a decade. Field systems for GIS and mapping combine Trimble hardware for positioning and field computing with Esri ArcPad software. In the office, technicians can use Trimble GPS Analyst extension for ArcGIS to process and analyse GPS data. The integrated software enables people to use Trimble GNSS technology for all aspects of GIS positioning—collection, post-processing, quality assurance and accuracy—while operating in the ArcGIS software environment. Trimble also connects its TerraFlex Cloud Solution to ArcGIS with an extension that enables seamless data flow between the two systems. The extension supports updating previously collected data with pre-defined schemas as well as collecting new types of data.
Recently Esri and Trimble announced that Collector for ArcGIS, an Esri mobile app, will support the Trimble R1 GNSS receiver. The solution provides accurate GNSS positioning, enabling customers to move away from paper-based processes for data collection workflows. This helps reduce data collection errors, increase productivity and improve accuracy. Collector for ArcGIS runs on mobile devices with iOS or Android operating systems. The system enables organisations to use bring-your-own-device (BYOD) approaches while obtaining positional precision that exceeds the capabilities of consumer smartphones and tablets.
Additional opportunities can emerge from collaboration between solutions providers in the geospatial and domain-specific arenas. These relationships tie positioning with other—previously disconnected—technologies. For example, a specialised GIS GNSS data collection system may include a gas detector to map emissions coming from an old landfill. Each reading from the gas detector is linked automatically to a measured position on the ground.
Much of the work takes place in a system’s software. Developers can use applications programming interfaces (APIs) to efficiently connect positioning sensors with external devices. The field operator can control the integrated system from a single display. In the landfill example, GIS software enables technicians to visualise the location and concentration of the gas emissions.
The changing face of GIS
The work of GIS is moving into a mainstream role in many enterprises. The old notion of a company GIS department or lab is fading. Instead, organisations deploy teams of domain experts such as biologists, foresters and many others who use geospatial data as part of their day-to-day routine.
When the specialised work takes place in the field, these users expect domain-friendly applications. By simplifying the workflow, we can place positioning in the background, allowing the user to focus on the task at hand: identifying important attributes and collecting detailed data efficiently and accurately.
Geospatial companies have recognised the need for simple, integrated operation. They are using flexibility, connectivity and collaboration as effective methods for meeting customer requirements. It’s an important step in the effort to provide increasingly focused solutions that bring field and office together to produce and share authoritative, actionable information.
Ron Bisio, vice president of the Surveying and Geospatial Division at Trimble