Virtual City Models 4 Public Engagement

A PhD blog about urban governance, spatial planning, and user engagement

Reflection on the Editorial of the October 2015 Europe Geospatial Digest

Below is the editorial for the October 2015 edition of the Europe Geospatial Digest.

News from and about the Geospatial industry

In the last one decade, there has been an upsurge and notable growth on geospatial content business not only involving geospatial companies, but most of all involving big IT and telecommunication giants. Google pioneered the first ever aggregated and organized geospatial content in public domain allowing billions of users around the world to gain access to maps and satellite images. Microsoft followed suit with its own application, now known as Bing Maps. The ever expanding and burgeoning navigation market added a new dimension to overall value of geospatial content, triggering big acquisitions of Tele Atlas by TomTom, and Navteq by Nokia. Although much less-hyped, Apple has been on acquisition spree, buying map-related technology start-ups such as BroadMap, Embark,, Coherent Navigation and most recently, Mapsense. Building exclusive self-owned geospatial content became the business direction taken by these large enterprises. Leading geospatial companies – Hexagon and Esri, are already well-underway on this path with their own content-as-a-service platform, i.e. Hexagon Geospatial’s Power Portfolio and Esri’s ArcGIS Marketplace. Now is the best time for geospatial industry to enhance its capability in developing geospatial content and start serving diverse industries. Making geospatial content service-oriented will make solutions more valuable and products more affordable. This will ensure long term business value and sustainable growth for geospatial industry.

Here is my own reading of the editorial which I found encouraging as well as informative.

My own reading of the editorial – Geodata and geospatial applications matter: it is a big industry, and the benefits to society are potentially enormous. The editorial is informative in observing common trends – geospatial start-ups are of special interest to giants such as Apple. The visualisation and analysis of spatial data is turning into an enormous business. Virtual city models themselves are largely driven by the industry, although collaborative university-based R&D are becoming increasingly common and driving innovation in supplying multifunctional, interoperable, cost-effective and resilient/ sustainable platforms (references are pending).

While providing great economic opportunities, geospatial data, knowledge and applications also have environmental implications – both in terms of the environmental profile of ICTs (read Life Cycle Assessments and other cradle-to-cradle environmental assessments), and equity. For whom do we produce geospatial products and services, and what are the full, long-term consequences? Business does not necessarily mean disenfranchisement, quite the contrary: free online interactive mapping services provided by Google and Microsoft enable to spread spatial knowledge to the masses, and provide the infrastructural backbone for Volunteered Geographic Information as well as Public Participation GIS.

In a nutshell, IT and ICT giants can (and do as a matter of fact) empower local communities, however peculiar the idea may appear to some of us. Many other geospatial services are also provided by random citizens and communities, with or without academic or industry experts. This said, centralising the ownership of geodata, knowledge and services in the hands of a handful of mega-corporations could always lead to unchartered territory. Watchwords such as accountability, equity, and service to society should normally express the core philosophy of all businesses, no matter the size of the business, where increasing business size correlates with increased corporate (as well as public) social and environmental responsibility. As consumers, users and service providers, we can all contribute to improving our sustainable profiles on a continuous basis, because learning is an iterative process of optimisation and self-improvement.

As innovation is often driven by start-ups and social entrepreneurship, it seems unlikely that these will always be eaten up by the bigger brothers and sisters in the industry. Big and small entreprises need each other, just as public agencies benefit from collaboration with both academia and the industry. Long term business value and sustainable growth are only truly viable if they provide social and environmental value, which will likely require moving beyond business models that are based on planned obsolescence (think: rare earth metals and oil will run out, which  at the current state of use is a normal process). Innovation is great so long as it contributes to maintain its user-base, both in the near- and the far-future.

For actual content from the Digest, just follow the link:

Europe Geospatial Digest


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This entry was posted on October 18, 2015 by .
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