Location Intelligence Conference 2009 Takeaways

By Adena Schutzberg

The big companies are using it and so are the small ones. Others are still exploring and determining the best way forward, but it seems inevitable that nearly every player in our space will be using cloud computing in some fashion in the very near future.

Crowdsourcing is Required

Steve Coast launched the conference with "The Case for OpenStreetMap" and I didn't run into anyone who was not convinced this database was both valuable and slowly changing how mapping is done. Further, Di-Ann Eisnor from Waze, Scott Sedlick from Inrix, and Maarten Oldenhof from AND all confirmed that crowdsourcing is not just a nice idea, it's required to gather up-to-date base geodata and other types of rapidly changing layers, like traffic, that make the base data more useful. As of last Wednesday, Google has joined the chorus on crowdsourcing by placing "Report a Problem" links all over its maps and directions pages.

Visualization "For Everyone" is Still a Goal
I'd guess that 15% or more of the presentations acknowledged and attempted to address the challenge of making complex data and analysis accessible to C level and other less technical users. I saw a variety of interfaces that aimed to streamline complex data and processes. Pitney Bowes Business Insights, Universal Mind (SpatialKey) and Tableau Software are some of the companies working on the problem. Jeff Christensen from Rhiza Labs addressed some of the challenges in product design. While progress is being made, there's still work to do.

Geo is Growing - You Can Tell by the Duplication
The analysts tell us the size and growth rate of our industry using their magic calculators, but I see growth in something more tangible: the number of companies involved in specific geo-niches, where not long ago there was but one player. There are more address cleansing and geocoding products and services today than perhaps ever before. Yuri Software and Trillium are names new to me in that space. There are also more tools to find and take advantage of location information in raw text (like MetaCarta) than ever before. Seaglex and Orchestr8 represented that space at the event. That suggests to me that more companies are realizing the value of geospatial data and are trying to earn their share of the pie.

The Best Way to Make a Deal May Still be in Person
Despite the rise of social media and all the other tools of connectivity, this year's event re-confirmed the value of being in the same room with a potential partner or customer. I witnessed quite a few incidents of attendees "chasing down" the speaker not just for another question, but to begin a relationship. I also saw a proposal being delivered (in paper form!) from one company to another at the closing luncheon.

We Need to Look to the Edges
Some of the best-received presentations were not about GIS or even from geospatial practitioners. Instead, they filled the space around the "edges" of our marketplace. For example, Zipano Technologies offers a "privacy layer" that cell carriers can offer to their users or developers to allow fine grained management of what data are shared and when. Ying Wong presented a study of how well several products rendered KML, not because he was really interested in which one did it best, but rather because it allowed him to test out a data evaluation tool, StackSymbol, his company had developed. One researcher who did not speak (but with whom I conducted an audio interview, look for it soon) explores where people go in tourist areas (think cities or amusement parks) and their relative levels of satisfaction. These are some of the new frontiers and new opportunities for our space.

Desktop Software is Not What it Used to Be
I've been suggesting for some time that the "Doer/User/Viewer" pyramid of GIS users is being restructured. The pyramid roughly corresponds to programmers and data crunchers in the top point bit, with GIS users in the middle and data viewers in the wide bottom part. In particular, I've argued, the user layer and its typical tool, desktop GIS software, are slowly being moved up to the pointy bit (as services) or down to the wide bottom (as thin or Rich Internet Applications). That was confirmed at least in part last week when I heard almost no mention of the desktop. The few desktop apps I did see were being demonstrated specifically to show off the Internet-based data and services they could use.

The Rebirth of Hosted Local Municipality Web GIS May be Upon Us
Earlier in this decade I witnessed the first round of companies that hoped to host local government GIS applications. One of the most promising was here in Massachusetts: a company called Syncline. That firm shut its doors, in part, because it was ahead of its time. While some typically smaller shops have done well with a hosting model, it may now be time for the explosion. If indeed Critigen (the new name for the spun off CH2M Hill IT services division of its Enterprise Management Solutions business) can provide such services for less than half the in-house cost and already boasts 60 clients, and it can have new clients up and running in 60 days...the tide is turning.

Published Friday, October 16th, 2009

Written by Adena Schutzberg

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