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Susan Smith
Susan Smith
Susan Smith has worked as an editor and writer in the technology industry for over 16 years. As an editor she has been responsible for the launch of a number of technology trade publications, both in print and online. Currently, Susan is the Editor of GISCafe and AECCafe, as well as those sites’ … More »

GISCafe Industry Predictions for 2020 – Part 1

January 2nd, 2020 by Susan Smith

Happy New Year!

Every January GISCafe Voice publishes blogs of industry predictions from our readers. This year we have extended the deadline to January 14th for entries.

Please send me your industry predictions for 2020 by January 14th for inclusion in a series of editorial articles to be published in January. Please keep your submission to 200-1,000 words, with author’s name, email address, photo and a short bio.

For starters, we have received predictions that suggest that topics such as low-cost drones, new ways of collecting data, GNSS, and newer solutions – not all-in-one GIS solutions – are going to steal the limelight in 2020. This week, we feature Blue Marble Geographics, SimActive, Inc., Tersus GNSS and Touch GIS.

Read what our respondents have to say:

Patrick Cunningham, President & CEO, Blue Marble Geographics

“It seems that major innovation affecting the GIS industry happens in waves.  In my time at Blue Marble Geographics®, I have seen the advent of LiDAR in everyday GIS, the acquisition and subsequent public release of Google Earth, the growth of open source GIS, and the proliferation of smartphones, which put GPS in the hands of virtually everyone.  We are currently riding two separate waves; one for enterprise GIS and one for drone or UAV data collecting and processing.

By Enterprise GIS we mean the ability to share not only GIS data easily and fluidly across an organization but also the ability for those users to conduct analysis on that data even if GIS is outside of their area of expertise.  There are large, expensive, “stack” focused commercial solutions available for this. However, thanks to Google, AWS, and other easy-to-use free or low-cost web GIS tools, products like Global Mapper® are able to enable that process relatively seamlessly with an everyday GIS perspective. Enterprise GIS will continue to expand as GIS and general software users and managers innovate with the available toolsets they have access to. Many users are seeing that this does not have to be an expensive, overbearing process thanks to the surge in open source GIS and cell phone technology.

For the GIS analyst or professional surveyor, the more likely place for innovation from technology will be on the drone or UAV data collecting and processing side.

The advent of low-cost drones has been a boon to the average surveyor over the past years.  Many surveyors dove headfirst into the process of becoming an FAA certified pilot so they could expand their business or add value to their company by collecting high-resolution imagery with drones.  The improvements in the ability of GIS software like Global Mapper and Pix4D to process this imagery into derivative products such as point clouds, orthoimages, and meshes has created a great symbiotic relationship between user and vendor.  These GIS professionals are pushing vendors to innovate their software solutions far beyond 2D GIS.  It was not that long ago that the concept of automatically processing raster data into vectors was a pipe dream. Now, that is yesterday. This area of GIS is enabling the everyday GIS professional to collect better, more compelling data in ways they could never afford to dream of just a few years ago.  2020 will see more ways to process and output various data products related to this area.  Look for improvements in 3D products and in the accuracy of data sets in positioning and resolution as well.

Speaking of accuracy, surveyors and GIS professionals will be able to begin the process of converting legacy data and enabling new data collection to be compliant with NOAA’s National Geodetic Survey’s upcoming change to NATRF 2022.   This new spatial reference frame will replace NAD83 and NAVD88 changing from a focus on latitude, longitude and height in coordinate reference frames (aka coordinate systems to many users) to a focus on scale, gravity and orientation, and their time variations.  This new system will reduce errors and increase the accuracy of geospatial data.  GIS analysts’ and surveyors’ unique knowledge and skill with highly accurate geospatial data processing will be tested, and required, in order to make compliant datasets.  Internationally we will see more government entities embrace time-dependent datum transformation models as we are able to more readily deal with local shifts in the Earth’s surface and makeup.   Accurate data translation is not going away but will silently continue to remain important in the background of everyday GIS. It will be interesting to see how successfully the experts enable the novices to engage in GIS while retaining its underlying scientific power in 2020.”

Patrick Cunningham | President & CEO, GISP
Blue Marble Geographics


Cunningham offers two decades of experience in software development, marketing, sales, consulting, and project management.  Under his leadership Blue Marble has become the world leader in coordinate conversion software (the Geographic Calculator) and low-cost GIS software with the 2011 acquisition of Global Mapper. Cunningham is Chair of the Maine GIS Users Group, a state appointed member of the Maine Geolibrary Board, a member of the NEURISA board, a GISP and holds a masters in sociology from the University of New Hampshire.

Dr. Philippe Simard, President SimActive Inc.

“The rise of drones for surveying will still be one of the highlights of our industry in 2020. The technology has led to the democratization of mapping in general, and its use will keep rising.

While not new, one of the verticals for which drones are particularly useful is mining and the trend will not change. Cameras mounted on UAVs allow to replace traditional surveying and to perform volume calculation on a a regular basis. This leads to cost and time savings, which will fuel its increase in popularity.

We also believe technologies that are able to combine different sources of information, such as LiDAR and imagery, will quickly evolve. The ability to integrate multiple types of data together leads to much richer datasets and better decision making for the final users.

In addition, we foresee the industry to keep consolidating as it becomes more mature. In general, people have now a much better understanding of drone technologies and the applications that are viable businesswise. The days where the number of new players were exploding are definitely over.”

Dr. Philippe Simard, President SimActive Inc.

Philippe Simard has been acting as the President of SimActive since its creation in 2003. Under his leadership, the company rapidly positioned itself at the forefront of the industry. Through his efforts, SimActive has experienced exponential global growth as the software is now used by thousands in over 100 countries. His prestigious achievements include adoption of Correlator3D™ by governments, military organizations and the leading mapping firms around the world.  He holds a doctorate in electrical engineering from McGill University, where he completed his research in computer vision. Within two years of forming SimActive, he won the prestigious Young Innovator Award from the Networks of Centres of Excellence, which honors top Canadian researchers whose work benefits society.

Xiaohua Wen, Founder of Tersus GNSS

“2020 will be a year of GNSS Receiver with IMU for tilt compensation. Surveying pole helps the surveyors for decades to measure the targets in a comfortable and efficient way. Still, the pole also introduces human error and equipment error in the surveying–pole is not well leveled, and the bubble is not well calibrated. Emancipating surveyors from leveling the surveying pole is always one of the main directions of most surveying equipment manufacturers’ effort.

Tilt compensation in a GNSS Receiver was achieved years ago by adding a tilt sensor and e-compass in GNSS Receiver, but it is still not widely used by surveyors. The first reason is that this kind of GNSS Receiver needs to be frequently calibrated–when you change surveying location, when the calibration is expired, and even when you change a battery. The calibration procedure is somehow complicated, and especially for a relative more reliable tilt compensation receiver, it is more challenging to complete a successful calibration. The second reason is reliability. E-compass can be easily interfered by magnetic materials, which is irregularly distributed in the surveying field. The most unacceptable thing is that when e-compass is disturbed, there is no indication to users. Technically, it is challenging to detect magnetic interference by e-compass itself and give users alert.

Coupling GNSS with IMU for tilting compensation is a new era. The error of the IMU is internal – drifting over time, and external interference will not affect IMU’s work. Results of GNSS RTK positioning can always calibrate the drifting of IMU. This combination gives a reliable solution when surveyors need the pole to be tilted, and manually and timely calibration is no longer needed. GNSS with IMU gives not only the tilting angle and the direction of the tilting but also the heading of the GNSS Receiver. We can utilize it for a more user-friendly interface in land surveying APP.

Tilting compensation for a GNSS is becoming a rigid demand. Image that when you need to measure the corners of the wall, the bottom of the pipeline in manhole, the feature points under sedan truck, the pillar corner outside of the bridge floor and balustrade, the distribution box with protected by fence, you will find the surveying pole can’t be well levelled or it’s difficult or dangerous to access the feature point. Will you choose to miss these feature points in the surveying projects, or raise your budget a little bit to buy a GNSS in one step like Tersus Oscar GNSS Ultimate Version with IMU for tilt compensation?”

Xiaohua Wen

email address:

Bio: Xioahua Wen is the founder of Tersus GNSS and has served as Chief Executive Officer since 2014. Prior to Tersus, he progressed through a series of technical and leadership roles at Juniper, Unisphere and Nortel, applying his engineering acumen and business savvy to the design and development of industry-leading product portfolios. 

Joe Wilson, Head of Product, Touch GIS

“I’m predicting a strong shift away from all-in-one GIS solutions. As the industry evolves and catches the eye of more ’Silicon Valley’ type startups we’re going to see a movement away from the classic (but cumbersome) solutions. Larger software and hardware providers seem more interested in marrying users to their outdated systems than offering flexibility and better workflow. The innovator’s dilemma has been problem in the GIS space for many years, but 2020 will signal a big change as more flexible solutions enter the market.

I’m also predicting that mobile software solutions will play a big role in this disruption. Mobile devices, such as smartphones and tablets, are more powerful that ever and easily compete with dedicated field data collection and visualization hardware. Expensive hardware and clunky software are long overdue to be replaced, and we’re already seeing several upstarts eyeing the space. Expect to see more modern user interfaces and streamlined workflows in the near future.

The industry is poised and ready for positive disruption. People want modern tools. People want tools that take advantage of the hardware that’s already in their pocket. People want on-the-go functionality that’s now bogged down by a dated tech stack. I’m looking forward to a more innovative and user-friendly GIS industry in 2020.”


Joe Wilson, Touch GIS

Joe is a veteran mobile software engineer and has developed multiple award-winning geospatial apps. He is currently the Head of Product at Touch GIS. 



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Categories: analytics, autonomous vehicles, Big Data, cloud, data, developers, disaster relief, drones, field GIS, geocoding, geospatial, GIS, GNSS, Google, government, laser scanner, lidar, location based sensor fusion, location based services, mapping, mobile, resilient cities, sensors, spatial data, transportation, UAVs, utilities

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