The Evolution of Geospatial Data

  • Greg Lewis, our Bristol based Business Manager, created this month’s blog looking at how geospatial data has evolved over the years.  To keep up with the development in the industry, we at TCarta continuously speak to our customers to ensure that our innovative geospatial products and services are directly relevant to their needs. As Greg explains, this is critical for the success of new technology deployment…

    The Evolution of Geospatial Data

    Since I started working in the industry some 15 years ago, the way geospatial information and data is being delivered, consumed, and used, has changed significantly. Technology has driven much of this change which has enabled organisations to really drive up bulk data processing efficiencies and drive down costs, either through the automation of many labour intensive workflows, or through much more efficient data collection hardware and post processing software.

    Smarter services

    Recent developments means organisations have much more capacity to consider how the raw geospatial data (be it LiDAR height points or satellite images) can be leveraged to drive the greatest value, both in terms of value to the client and the price point, at which it is being sold.

    I have observed first-hand how clients have become much more savvy in how they procure and use geospatial data. This has driven companies to get smart and move away from the delivery of ‘dots and pictures’ to products that are ready for a range of analytics and analysis.

    Surveying history

    In the early days the geospatial industry was supported by ground based surveys, involving a surveyor with a theodolite and tape measure. With the advent of Global Positioning Systems (GPS) comparisons are now drawn by operating an aircraft to survey the land from the air, since more ground can be covered by an aircraft in a shorter period of time, depending on weather conditions. This allows large national mapping projects to be completed within improved timeframes and ensures the currency of the mapping is up-to-date and accurate. Ground surveys are still performed to provide detail under trees where the aircraft cannot reliably capture data, but these surveys are now heavily reduced in frequency.

    Modern equipment for surveying -  GPS, laser rangefinder and field computer.

    Outputs from an aerial survey would normally consist of an orthophoto or basic 2D vector map which fulfill most client requirements. However, the industry is now moving towards combined value add offerings such as Digital Terrain Models and 3D visualisations. Satellites are becoming more competitive with aerial surveys due to the increasing developments in camera technology allowing for 30 centimetre resolution satellite imagery. The net result of these technological advancements means that the price point for the basic orthophoto and 2D vector map products is now being driven down by value added products.

    Agreed, the contract under which the service is being provided may only call for a basic product. However the sector is now moving towards combined value add offerings going one step further than the basic product. The net result is driving down the price point for ‘basic’ geospatial data and driving up derived products and value.

    So what has changed?

    A key example of this change can be seen within the satellite sector where clients are moving away from image based deliverables to full land use, land cover maps and remote sensing derived intelligence which can then be used by agencies at the point of delivery without any further post processing.

    More recently, the industry has moved towards cloud based technologies and systems that provide access to data wherever the user may be located, and in real time, removing much of the need for cumbersome data processing and delivery. Instead, clients are now favouring online web portal and web app delivery mechanisms, providing instant access to huge datasets, enabling customers and users to interact with data in an instant. This means the client has unprecedented access to ‘intelligence’ which can now be used to derive the product that is needed for the particular project or application.

    The future of geospatial data is on the web. TCarta's new data interface, explore.tcarta.com, a portal for users to keep up-to-date on the most recent datasets offered, embraces this future.

    In summary

    The majority of value added geospatial products have developed out of traditional survey data or services where existing data has been leveraged or post processed to derive greater value or new methods created which provides greater value. This has meant providers are therefore having to think differently and evolve their service offering. This is a huge step change that is resulting in our traditional survey based geospatial data providers having to think differently and evolve their business models to adapt to the change. An example of this is TCarta and their approach to working with European Space Agency (ESA) and developing new and innovative products and services from Earth Observation data.

    Providers also need to accept that clients are much more focused on value and how much intelligence can be derived in the demanding timescales now commanded by the commercial world.

    We live in a world where we are connected to a variety of information streams such that digital services and data can be accessed in an instant from anywhere in the world. The geospatial industry is next in line to feel the heat of the hungry consumer where time is short and information and intelligence is key.

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