Since Google Earth's release in June 2005, national mapping agencies and other government organizations involved with geospatial data and technology have been reasessing their role. At the Geospatial World Forum (GWF) in Amsterdam last year, Paul Cheung of the United Nations Initiative on Global Geospatial Information Management (GGIM) voiced the concern about their role that many national mapping agencies and other government organizations with responsibility for geospatial information have had since the advent of Google Earth, private data companies like Digital Globe, Geoeye, TeleAtlas and Navteq, crowd-sourced geospatial data like OpenStreetMap, and open data policies adopted by many governments around the world.
The UN-GGIM has just published Future trends in geospatial information management: the five to ten year vision. A number of experts and visionaries across a range of disciplines of the geospatial community including data collection, academics and major users of geospatial information, the private sector and the crowdsourced/volunteered geographic information movement were invited
to contribute their views on the emerging trends in the geospatial world.
Private sector participation
With respect to the private sector the list of contributors includes senior people at Trimble, Hexagon, ESRI, and Digital Globe/GeoEye, but does not include Google, Microsoft, Nokia/Navteq, or TomTom(TeleAtlas). I also didn't see anyone on the list from OpenStreetMap. However, Google, Microsoft Bing, and OpenStreetMap are discusssed in the report.
TrendsGiven the large number of people contributing to this report, it is not surprising that it includes a comprehensive set of trends that are impacting national mapping and cadastral agencies (NMCAs), government bodies responsible for the provision of authoritative geospatial information within a country.
- Sensors - the proliferation of low‑cost, network‑enabled sensors in mobile phones, computers, smart meters or cars.
- Big data - estimated at approximately 2.5 exabytes every day, huge volumes of data are expected to increase demand for geospatial technology to help to make sense of all this data.
- Linked data - connecting data to other pieces of data on the Web, providing context and adding value to existing data
- Semantic technologies - the semantic web as been discussed for years, but there are signs within some verticl industries such as construction that something practical may be emerging
- internet of things - a hyper‑connected network of intelligent objects, I have seen estimates of a trillion objects in the near future
Cloud - infrastructure as a service (IaaS), platform as a service (PaaS), software as a
service (SaaS) and data as a service (DaaS)
- Open‑source - expected to continue to gaim momemntum, already a number of NMCAs have adopted open‑source solutions into some of their services, OGC reference implementations are open source.
- Open standards - In many ways the geospatial community is an model industry in the development and maintenance of open standards, led and coordinated by OGC in partnership with many organisations
- 3D data - the world is moving from two dimensional (2D) to three dimensional (3D) mapping; many municipalities are developing realistic and intelligent city models including buildings and infrastructure; the report projects that 3D is becoming an intrinsic part of core geospatial data, rather than an add‑on as it is now
- 3D visualization -3D visualization technology much of it arising in the gaming industry makes it possible to convey complex concepts, projects, and analytical results to non-technical folks such as politicians and the general public
- 4D - used widely in the construction industry, for example, linking Primavera to a BIM model helps with construction scheduling, 5D is also being used; the report also foresees 4D increasing over the coming five to ten years in geographic information systems (GIS), not only to understand change that has already taken place, but to also enable predictive modelling of future trends
- Imagery - forecasts centimeter precision in many areas of the globe, focus is likely to be performance and analytics.
- Mobile mapping - street‑level visual information, points of interest (POI) and attribute data in more detail; especially LiDAR (and oblique imagery) which will facilitate the generation of 3D datasets. [I would add ground penetrating radar (GPR) for mapping underground infrastructure]
- Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) - in the civilian sector UAVs are already being used increasingly in a number of sectors
- GNSS - by 2015, there will be over 100 GNSS satellites in orbit. This will enable faster data collection in very challenging environments, with higher accuracy and greater integrity
- Satellite gravimetry - some nations are already taking the step to move away from traditional schemes defined using large‑scale terrestrial observations and base the national vertical reference system on purely gravimetric geoids instead
- Coordinate systems - are becoming more accurately defined as technology and techniques improve; this is critical large scale construction projects, especially in the transportation sector
- Indoor positioning - an emerging frontier, but one that still represents major challenges
- Passive crowdsourcing - anyone with a smart phone, with or without a GPS, is a sensor which is already being used by private companies to derive infirmation about traffic, shopping patterns, and other information; social media make this an even richer source of information
- Active crowdsourcing - OpenStreetMap (OSM) which grew by providing an alternative to an NMCA is the best known example; some NMCAs still find the concept of crowd-sourced data a challenge
- Funding models - funding the collection of geospatial data remains a controversial topic in some countries; one of the major challenges of the next five to ten years for governments will be demonstrating the value pf geospatial data to the national economy as has been done in Australia and New Zealand and as is currrently underway in Canada
Role of governments
For some vertical industries the report says that "governments will also play a role in many countries in driving, or at least supporting, cross-sector collaboration in areas such as building, construction and public safety, through building information modelling (BIM)..." This is already occuring in the U.S., U.K., Finland, Netherlands, Denmark, Norway, Hong Kong, and Singapore, where national governments ara mandating or at least strongly encouraging the adoption of BIM for public projects. It is being driven primarily by efficiency and reducing the cost of infrastructure.
The report argues that "governments have a key role to play in bringing all actors together to ensure that our future society is a sustainable, location-enabled one, underpinned by the sustainable provision and effective management of reliable and trusted geospatial information."
The challenge for NMCAs in the area of traditional mapping is that in parts of the world, Google. Bing, OpenStreetMaps (see here to compare these data sources), or a local crowd-sourced alternative like Malsingmaps provides more comprehensive, accurate, current and accessible data with less restrictive licensing and at a lower cost than the NMCA. There are those who argue that in the area of traditional mapping, private and crowd-sourced organizations do a better job at lower cost and that government needs to find a new area of focus where it can provide a service that it would be difficult for anyone else to provide. Examples are managing authorative data such as the parcel fabric or mapping undeveloped areas such as Northern Canada or the Amazon interior that may be uneconomic for a commercial concern.
An area where government may be uniquely qualified is mapping national infrastructure, much of which has a national security dimension. In many parts of the world the location of underground infrastructure including electric power, water and wastewater, gas, district heating, and other networks is unknown or poorly known.
According to national statistics, in the United States an underground utility line is hit on average every 60 seconds. The total cost to the national economy is estimated to be in the billions of dollars. The problems is that in most municipalities in North America, for years underground utility lines have been put in the ground not according to plan but wherever it has been easiest and cheapest to build them. In addition 2D as-builts of underground infrastructure are unreliable. The result is that in most municipalities the location of underground utiltiies is very poorly known.
In the U.S. access to infrastructure data including location is restricted under Protected Critical Infrastructure Information (PCII) Program. In addition utilties, telecommunications and other organizations responsible for operating infrastructure networks are very often reluctant to share information about their networks for competitive and other reasons. There are successful examples around the world where government has helped enable a shared ulility network database.
The Victorian Spatial Council has developed a framework for sharing based on licenses and metadata, not only within the Government of Victoria, but also among utilities, telecommunications firms, National Government, local governments, quasi-government, and non-government organizations.
As a practical example, the City of Las Vegas has successfully completed a pilot to develope a 3D model of the City's underground and aboveground infrastructure and is expanding the project to cover more of the City.
There is a growing body of information that indicates that the return on investment (ROI) for investing in accurately geolocating underground infrastructure is positive and substantial. A pilot in northern Italy estimated a ROI of €16 for every € invested in improving the reliability information about underground infrastructure. For comparison the ROI for investing in improving information about underground infrastructure in the United States has been estimated to range from $3 to $21 for every dollar invested.