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 Dynamic Panoramic
Mladen Stojic, President of Hexagon Geospatial
Mladen Stojic, President of Hexagon Geospatial
Dynamic Panoramic is a column by Mladen Stojic, President of Hexagon Geospatial. Mr. Stojic is a renowned geospatial industry expert who shares his insights into how geospatial information is increasingly being used to drive critical decisions in organizations of all sizes.

The Geospatial Sector Faces the Music

April 16th, 2012 by Mladen Stojic, President of Hexagon Geospatial

When thinking about the music business thirty years ago, only a handful of musical genres could be purchased as vinyl records or 8-track cassettes at the “record store.”  The platform quickly progressed from cassette tapes to compact discs and ultimately to the digital files, and the brick and mortar store has ultimately been replaced by e-commerce.  In terms of genres, we have so many variations of music that it’s virtually impossible to truly categorize all types.

Not only have music deliverables, varieties, and accessibility rapidly progressed, but also the industry itself – transitioning from a hierarchy of those recorded and promoted to a truly DIY approach, with intuitive tools for capturing music and endless vehicles for self-promotion courtesy of social media.  While many in the music industry balked at the rapid radical changes (fearing lost revenue), demand sparked innovation, enabling the masses to embrace and utilize technology as it emerged.

The music industry’s transformation is just one example parallel to other industries catapulted to change. New ideas are now easily connected and broadcast via the Internet. Traditional approaches once controlled by businesses are now scrutinized by entrepreneurs and mavericks, driving (and exposing) alternatives. Larger organizations are more vulnerable if they do not lead innovation, or at least keep up with new players driving changes.

For the geospatial industry, we seemed to be at the cusp of a revolution in the late 1990s and early 2000s. With new larger, more recognizable players in the game, overall awareness of geospatial expanded. A GPS was on everyone’s Christmas list, newscasts led viewers into stories with appropriate satellite imagery and Google Earth became a standard desktop application, beside Microsoft Word.  However, now it appears we may have reached our climax too soon, with powerful tools hidden, falsely implying geospatial can only be used to expose pretty pictures and driving directions. While the novel capabilities to capture, create, share, and deliver content continue to emerge, these have not truly threatened or revolutionized traditional geospatial applications or increased their rate of adoption.  Some may argue that it’s as if we are all still listening to “geospatial music” on vinyl or cassettes, with a limited and aging audience still embrace this medium.

As we all know, the ability to recreate a song or even a musical group can revitalize and drastically expand its sphere of influence. A remake can often outshine the original, bringing new life into the music and capturing a larger, more inclusive audience.  We have seen this phenomenon with versatile artists like U2, Madonna, Mariah Carey, and Aerosmith – illustrating the ability to stay relevant is essential to survival and longevity. Television shows like American Idol and The Voice provide a different platform, thrusting unknown individuals into fame through a creative and well-executed known song. With the DIY model, Justin Bieber used an amateur video recording on YouTube to propel stardom.

Likewise, the geospatial sector faces a moment of reckoning, with an opportunity to recreate itself, embrace new mediums and leverage new talents and creativity.  The traditional industries are changing – with new groups emerging and needing configurable tools.

We must also recognize that we have a new generation of users with the expectation of purchasing only what they need, on demand, with the ability to utilize powerful tools easily. Previously, the music industry promoted albums, offering only select singles for sale. Recognizing changing customer desires, the iTunes model now supports low cost song purchase as the preferred medium, making every song on an album available as an independent purchase. For geospatial, we may need to think about offering workflows on the cloud through a subscription-based model, rather than simply offering heavy products.  This requires innovating outside new features and functions in traditional product brands and challenging existing business models.

While music is arguably superfluous, the geospatial sector addresses real world problems, with technology delivering timely and authoritative information. Recognizing this responsibility and opportunity, we must make our tools and information products more palatable, and “in tune” with the crescendo of new user needs.

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4 Responses to “The Geospatial Sector Faces the Music”

  1. Gabriel says:

    Great article. The only thing missing is that there are a lot free ways to listen to music in the cloud like Youtube and Grooveshark. Similarly, it is my belief that the free and Opensource route may be the future for GIS via the likes of QGIS and Openstreetmap. I have no fear because I think the key attribute of a GIS person will continue to be the geographic knowledge to interpret and undertake analyses. However, I believe the giants like ESRI may soon be in a dire state if they don’t innovate.

  2. Mladen says:

    Good points. Many websites (free and paying) exist today to access geospatial data and web services. I believe more and more organizations will begin participating in the geospatial ecosystem by both feeding the ecosystem with content (free or paid) and also introducing app’s into this space (free or paid). As you point out a key ingredient to all this working is that we have developers and users that are spatially and geographically aware on how to use technology to solve problems.

  3. Todd Nelson says:

    As a musician and a GIS professional, I read your article with great interest. The music industry used to have a few gatekeepers who decided who would be heard. Now everyone is theoretically his own gatekeeper. There’s a lot more music out there now, but is the music better? Some of it is. But much of it is dreck. Similarly, perhaps, while geospatial technology is available to virtually everyone, are better decisions being made because of it? I wonder when address matching is still a matter of skilled interpretation and genuine errors exist in Google Maps and all reference data. My point is that we still need the “gatekeepers”, the geospatial pros who can navigate the pitfalls. Unfortunately, in my experience, many managers don’t think spatially, and are dangerously dismissive of it.

  4. Mladen says:

    Thanks for your comments. The need for subject matter experts is critical to ensuring the success of ‘mixing’ the various genres together in order to solve problems effectively. Otherwise you end up with bad data, data information, bad decisions. That’s a problem for everyone involved. A key pre-condition to success is that the base data going into our systems is good, up to date and accurate. This is where I believe the need for surveyors, GIS professionals, remote sensing specialists and professional cartographers is critical. With this pre-condition satisfied the ability to fuse genres through something as interesting and fun as modeling is where we have the opportunity for folks outside of the traditional geospatial domain to ‘mix’ capabilities to solve real world problems. What we really lack is the ‘ecosystem’ that will foster and sponsor this happening.

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