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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 2020 – Part 3

January 17th, 2020 by Susan Smith

We’re coming down the home stretch with our GISCafe Industry Predictions, so if you haven’t sent yours in, please feel free to do so until January 20th, for inclusion in a series of editorial articles to be published in January. This article is the third installment of those articles.

Please keep your submission to 200-800 words, with author’s name, email address, photo and a short bio.

This week we have submissions from the Open Geospatial Consortium, GeoDecisions, 1Spatial, and EuroGeographics, with their insightful views on what the most important industry trends and activity will be in the coming year.

George Percivall, CTO and Chief Engineer of the Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC)

OGC’s innovation strategy includes maintaining the OGC Standards Baseline while simultaneously addressing new trends in technology and markets. As such, OGC runs a ‘Tech Trends’ activity that surveys and characterizes trends across ICT and the science and technologies that support the collection, processing, and understanding of geospatial information. A trends assessment is regularly provided as a report to our Principal and Strategic members (if you’d like a copy, it’s also available for sale – so please get in contact).

To identify any technology trends that warrant further investigation, OGC regularly creates and revises a ‘Priority Tech Trends’ Hex Chart. The graphic displays an assessment of the trends considering two criteria: Impact and Horizon. Impact is either Sustaining or Disruptive. Horizon is either Now, Next, or After Next. Those Trends that are assessed to be both Disruptive and Next are deemed to be of the highest priority.

In the latest assessment, the following trends were identified as the current ‘highest’ priorities for OGC.

Highest Priority (in alphabetical order)

  • Data Science and Analytics (inc Python, R Analytics)
  • Geo IT Ethics
  • High Definition Maps for Connected Autonomous Vehicles (CAVs)
  • Immersive Geo: AR, VR, Mixed Reality
  • UAVs/UAS/Drones
  • Web of Data

Two of the trends from that list that I find particularly compelling are Data Science and Analytics, and High Definition Maps for CAVs, so let’s talk a bit about where OGC thinks those trends are going, and how we’re supporting their path to maturity.

Data Science and Analytics

Specifically, OGC is interested in data science for geo: the use of data mining and other functions provided by intelligent systems to facilitate the creation of knowledge. That is, data science, analytics, and decision-making in the context of spatio-temporal data.

I love this because it combines a number of data science advances including:

  • Machine Learning – giving computers the ability to learn without being explicitly programmed, including its applications on imagery, and the sub-fields of Deep learning and Convolutional Neural Networks.
  • Anomaly detection – the identification of items, events, or observations that do not conform to an expected pattern or other items in a dataset
  • Text and Graph Analytics – the process of deriving high-quality information from text, including natural language processing.
  • Spatial/Temporal Analytics – specifically, being able to interact with a continuously created stream of spatiotemporal data in real-time.
  • Fusion, Conflation analytics – the act of combining two distinct maps (representing different phenomena) into one new map, usually by aligning an overlapping area.
  • Modeling, simulation, and prediction – the process of creating and analyzing a digital prototype of a physical model to predict its performance in the real world. Models and simulation can be used both for analysis and for personnel training.

Aligned with this interest, in November, 2019, OGC held a Location Powers event addressing Data Science. Held in one of the technology capitals of the world, Mountain View, CA, USA, the event attracted a diverse crop of experts across data science and geospatial. Videos of the event, and the soon-to-be published report, are available at

High Definition Maps for Connected Autonomous Vehicles (CAVs)

By ‘High Definition’ we mean maps created at centimetre or sub-centimetre precision, typically to support driverless cars and other autonomous ground vehicles that operate in built-up areas. This kind of precision is required as safety of these systems is paramount.

To achieve the dream of fully autonomous vehicles, geospatial data is absolutely critical. Not just for the creation of a realistic simulation environment to test in, but also to the eventual deployment of a new infrastructure to enable improved connectivity, mobility, and navigation.

Although mapping organizations are likely to embrace standards to allow them to incorporate data from many sources, a fully open ecosystem seems unlikely. The companies involved will prefer to maintain semi-closed ecosystems. This underscores the importance of open, agreed-upon, and practically useful standards.

In several recent “Future Directions Sessions” held at our quarterly member meetings, we’ve discussed the topic of CAVs and their requirements for HD Maps. In particular, Jeremy Morley, Chief Geospatial Scientist at Ordnance Survey, discussed a range of geospatial aspects associated with CAVs: including centimetre-accuracy mapping, modeling of road connectivity, and the exchange of geospatial data using 5G and Edge computing. To best move the required technologies toward widespread acceptance and adoption, OGC is coordinating with ISO Technical Committee 204: Intelligent Transport Systems and the W3C Automotive Working Group.

The topic is an interesting one because it touches areas other than just transportation, including urban modeling, digital twins, and smart cities. In fact, these contexts for HD Maps will be addressed in OGC coordinated activities throughout 2020. Stay tuned to for info on such activities.

This is just a small selection of the exciting areas of technological innovation coming up in 2020 – technologies that will drive huge markets and industries, and that are underpinned by the power of location.

George Percivall serves as the Chief Technology Officer (CTO) and Chief Engineer of the Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC). As CTO Percivall is responsible for working with OGC members to ensure a strategic technology focus across the OGC Programs in support of the strategic vision set forth by the OGC Board of Directors.  As lead technology architect for the Consortium he authorizes technical staff to propose and implement technology approaches across the Consortium.  As Chief Engineer, he promotes consistent and sound architectures including an emphasis on innovation and emerging technology.  He chairs the OGC Architecture Board and is an appointed member of the OGC Board of Directors.

Brendan Wesdock, MCP, GISP, president of GeoDecisions

“With advances in 5G, improved mobile GPS accuracy, and the growth of geospatial machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) solutions, GIS data will be an integral factor in enabling new experiences and even saving lives.

5G will accelerate the growth of geospatial edge computing in 2020. It will combine big data and cloud, virtualization and augmentation, automation and intelligent machines, and distributed computing and artificial intelligence to derive insights from data that is generated by billions of connected devices worldwide. 5G’s connectivity, low latency, and 100 times greater bandwidth compared to 4G will present businesses with a more powerful geospatial platform to help drive new revenue opportunities by leveraging GIS data.

5G will also usher in technology trends that will impact the current location-enabled market. With location becoming fundamental to governance and all business processes, the value of location-based services for industries such as advertising and marketing, transportation, and retail will only increase with the 5G rollout, enabling more mobile geospatial opportunities.

In addition to 5G, dual-frequency GPS chips will change the location business, allowing access for the use of more than one GPS constellation at a time. Currently, in the US, mobile phones are generally only able to access the L1 GPS frequency, but they will soon have access to the more accurate L5 frequency too. This feature has been available in commercial and handheld units for years and bringing it to mobile phones will unlock a new level of geospatial accuracy for the masses. Going from 10-meter to 30-centimeter accuracy will allow for lane level vehicle navigation, improved emergency service response, and accurate indoor geolocation.

In 2017, Broadcom Inc. and Qualcomm announced that they would make dual-frequency GPS chips available to the mobile phone market in late 2018. Currently, only Huawei and other foreign phone makers utilize these chips, but expect that to change in 2020 with the launch of newer Android and iOS handsets in the U.S.

2020 will also bring the continued growth of geospatial machine learning and AI solutions.  These solutions will empower organizations to use predictive modeling to make informed decisions based on synthesized, historical, and multi-sourced data. AI will leverage those outputs to automate processes, responses, and actions. We’ve already seen machine learning improve the accuracy and dramatically speed up the capture of image and video artifacts. AI has also been able to predict vehicle crashes, and machine learning has helped prevent them. Going forward, geospatial machine learning and AI will become common tools that we will use to help our decision-making processes.”

Brendan Wesdock, MCP, GISP, is president of GeoDecisions, where he is responsible for leading the strategic direction and growth of the premier geospatial technology firm. He also serves as a senior vice president of Gannett Fleming. Wesdock has 24 years of experience supporting a wide range of private and government sector clients in the geospatial industry. You can reach him at

Seb Lessware, CTO, 1Spatial

Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning is definitely on the slope up to the peak of inflated expectations on the Gartner hype cycle (for the current cycle at least – there have already been at least two iterations of this cycle over the past 50 years). At some point there will be some Darwinian consolidation where the successful use cases stick and the unsuccessful or over ambitious ones fall away. Projects are more likely to fail when the amount of training data is insufficient or the data quality is too low making the results, wrong, incomplete or biased. This won’t be a collapse by any means, just a correction as the data quality prevents successful outcomes. Meanwhile hardware and software frameworks are surging ahead, making the actual mechanics of machine learning faster, easier and essentially a commodity, so the key is the data and how it is applied. Whether this correction down the ‘slope of disillusionment’ starts in 2020 – and whether it is just a blip or a bigger bump – is not clear, but it seems inevitable.

The goal of machine learning is to automate things, but automation is a trend whether through machine learning or not. 2020 will see the continued rush to automation. While many prophecies of doom have been written predicting automation-based job losses, those predictions seem unlikely to happen. The only outcomes of increased automation that we have seen are that teams do not shrink but simply produce more output, more frequently and to a better standard. We have seen that automation is applied not just to replace manual data processing tasks but also to supplement manual tasks by validating and processing data automatically within a continuous data integration environment.

The automation removes the mundane and allows humans to focus on the real, complex and more subjective problems without jeopardising jobs – it sounds glib but that really is what we see time and time again.

If it hasn’t happened already, 2020 will be the year when procurements that accept (or even demand) cloud-based solutions flip from being in the minority to being in the majority. Even traditionally cautious and insular industries are making a huge leap from ‘our systems cannot connect to the internet’ to ‘we are now a cloud-first organisation’. It’s inevitable, so the only question is, which software and solutions are cloud-ready and then identifying whether there is any reason why a system should not be cloud-based – there can be valid reasons but those are reducing as technology and acceptance evolves.

Governments who own or regulate national spatial data custodians are increasingly trying to encourage the data economy by improving data access and sharing. In parallel, these spatial data custodians would like to emulate cool tech start-ups by providing APIs to allow rapid integration of different services in order to build a solution that flows data between the services. We are seeing spatial data providers shifting from the traditional ‘we’ll send you the data every 6 months’ approach through the more recent “download the data” approach and now on to ‘Here is an API for discovering and accessing the data on-demand to build new services.’  We are already working with data providers and custodians of national registers and 2020 will see more of these data APIs emerge from traditional data providers such as national mapping agencies, helping to build a critical mass of interoperating live services that should unlock more value from this data.

The traditional approaches of using relational databases for storing data can suffer from a lack of flexibility if the structure or nature of the data frequently changes. To solve this, some organisations are implementing or investigating alternative technologies for data storage e.g. Open Source NoSQL databases or Google BigQuery data warehouses. Organisations are taking a “data lake” approach, in which data is all dumped into the “lake” from which it can later be re-structured or analysed. We will see these data lakes start to be filled in 2020 – but what is to be determined is whether they turn into “data swamps” which can happen if the data quality and data management practices are not put in place, and then the loose data structures and inconsistent contents become obstacles to the consumption and use of the data.

3D spatial data is most commonly either terrain models, unstructured point clouds used for visualisation or structured 3D data from the design and facilities management world. BIM standards encourage the use of the data through the whole lifecycle of the real-world asset but only a small amount of large vector spatial datasets are currently three dimensional. The technology is here to maintain data in 3D, but it requires a business case to justify the additional cost of maintenance. In 2020 the early adopters who are maintaining large amounts of volumetric 3D vector datasets (e.g. topography, cadastral, subsurface) will be sharing more of their techniques and their lessons they have learnt. This will help other organisations to calculate whether they can make the leap to maintaining volumetric 3D vector data.”

With a degree in Cybernetics and Computer Science, Seb Lessware, CTO, 1Spatial joined Laser-Scan (which became 1Spatial) in 1997 as a software engineer. After working on many parts of the software as a senior and then principal software engineer, he then moved into consultancy and then product management which provided insight into customer and industry needs and trends. Seb transitioned from head of product management to CTO in

Mick Cory, Secretary General and Executive Director, EuroGeographics

“The next decade promises continued, fast-paced, and pervasive change set against on-going international geopolitical, technological, environmental and economic uncertainty. Agility in responding to these challenges and opportunities will be crucial and in 2020, National Mapping, Cadastral and Land Registration Authorities (NMCAs) will continue to develop and adapt their activities to reaffirm their relevance, as well as the value of their information to society as a whole.

Benchmarking their activities against wider policy objectives using the integrated geospatial information framework (IGIF) developed by the United Nations Expert Group on Global Geospatial Information Management (UN-GGIM) will provide a clear picture of where geospatial data generally, and that from NMCAs in particular, can add value. Furthermore, the UN 2030 Development Agenda presents an unrivalled opportunity to promote the tangible benefits of NMCA data and expertise. Cadastral information, registries and mapping databases are critical to enabling countries to report and monitor progress on achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Issues such as climate change, sustainable development, migration and health do not stop at borders and require fully connected national databases for stronger cross-border emergency planning and environmental monitoring. As a result there will be a drive towards even greater collaboration and cooperation both within and beyond the geospatial sector to ensure an effective global response – with a clear role for trusted, reliable and detailed geospatial data from official national sources to help provide context and insight.

There is now the expectation that public sector information must be open. In Europe, the new Open Data Public Sector Information Directive, which is to be enacted by each European Union (EU) Member State within two years, identifies geospatial data as one of five ‘high-value’ data themes that warrant further regulatory action. At our 2019 General Assembly, members agreed to put data accessibility at the heart of our strategy. In 2020, they will be working to make appropriate pan-European datasets more widely available to meet international requirements under terms that are free for use and reuse consistent with this legislation.

Within the EU, the INSPIRE Directive provides the de facto basis for the European Spatial Data Infrastructure (SDI). It will be interesting to see its future direction now that the legal roadmap is coming to its end. NMCAs will take an active interest in how it relates to the IGIF and fundamental data themes identified by UN work.  Recent experience has identified the need to address the technical complexity of the current specifications, and the need for Europe to address the diversity of business models, legal frameworks and lack of European policy lead and coordination on geospatial matters – all of which prove to be a challenge in developing effective pan-European use cases.

European space policy and space regulation will be another key area of interest for NMCAs in 2020, specifically pan-European data projects for satellite sensors to support lower resolution environmental applications. As resolution improves, we will see better spectral range, faster processing and more up-to-date information, although the market for this may be limited. There is also the major development of a new €16 billion space programme for 2021-2027 with the GSA developing into the European Agency for the Space Programme (EUSPA) with an expanded mandate to manage the market uptake and communications of the Copernicus Earth observation programme, and exploit synergies between Galileo and Copernicus.

Photogrammetry will remain a key data acquisition science and technology for NMCAs; its high resolution capability, and in particular the level of detail needed for cadastral surveys, is not currently matched by other technologies. With technological developments such as drones and other sensor and earth observation platforms, this is changing. But at this point in time, for example, a high-resolution Pan-European Digital Terrain Model (DTM) cannot be fully satisfied with satellite imagery alone since in forestry areas the imagery is not accurate for DTM purposes.

Classical photogrammetry and earth observation are converging. Many NMCAs already use general satellite imagery for detecting and monitoring change but will continue to watch the cross-over between airborne sensors and the usability of satellite imagery, particularly in rural areas. We also expect to see aerial LiDAR used more and more in a wide range of applications from high resolution Digital Surface Models (DSM) to detailed railway surveys. Whilst drones are not yet useful for national scale mapping, they have proved satisfactory for small urban areas, industrial zones or protected areas with higher density, resolution and frequency. Their real value will be proved by ensuring that data collected from them is simple and inexpensive to integrate with information from other sensors.

Trusted authoritative sources of spatial information are fundamental requirements of a modern state. As the national authorities for official geospatial reference data in Europe, our members’ role is to continue to capture an ever-changing landscape accurately for public purposes to provide certainty to citizens, governments and businesses. In 2020 and with increasing uncertainty in all areas of life, it will be more important than ever to communicate the value of authoritative data from NMCAs. We must spread the word and make sure the benefits are well understood beyond our own communities and coordinate our efforts to avoid duplication and better deliver on priority areas.

Working together, we can demonstrate the benefit of authoritative, trusted information and raise awareness among politicians and policymakers of our value in delivering better data for better lives.”

Mick Cory, Secretary General and Executive Director, EuroGeographics is a Fulbright Scholar, holds a Postgraduate Diploma in Company Direction, a Masters in Land and Geographic Information Systems, and a Bachelor of Science in Surveying Science. He has extensive experience and expertise in leadership, surveying, mapping and GIS following assignments in Africa, the Middle East and all three Ordnance Surveys of Britain and Ireland. In addition, he has advised Ministers, the Boundary Commission in Northern Ireland, government departments and academic institutions, and has been active in developing professional institutions in the UK and Ireland. As Chief Executive of Ordnance Survey of Northern Ireland, he led the development of Northern Ireland’s geographic information strategy. Mick also established and chaired the UK Location User Group and, as a member of the Open Data User Group, advised the UK Government on achieving the greatest economic and social return from the release of public sector open data.

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