Letter from the Low Lands: GeoBiz in the Netherlands on the Open Track?

July 27, 2010

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At the GIN (Geo-Informatie Nederland) Congres in 2007, two groups of geo-businesses merged and founded GeoBusiness Nederland, a society in which companies in the geo-information sector work together for their joint interests. In April 2010 the organization presented its second Geomarket survey. But is GeoBiz in the Netherlands on the right, open track?

GeoBusiness Nederland GeoBusiness’s mission is straightforward: increase the success of its members by growing and improving the geo market. GeoBusiness aims for its members to operate in a market which is open, competitive and free from obstacles. This is the basis for the international success of Dutch geo-information companies. For these companies, GeoBusiness serves as a lobbying group and a network organization.

The well over 100 member companies - engineering companies, consulting agencies, surveying companies, data suppliers, and system and software developers - deliver products and/or services in the geo-information sector. GeoBusiness lobbies in the interest of its members and is a force to be reckoned with.

As for the relationship with Geo-Informatie Nederland (GIN), both GeoBusiness and GIN want the best for geo, but from different perspectives. GIN is all about a knowledge network for its professional members, many of whom work for a GeoBusiness member. But most members work for government; hence GIN takes a more neutral position in many issues (e.g. the open data discussion). In promoting geo, there is a strong overlap and they work together where possible.

Market monitor
In 2009 GeoBusiness introduced a market survey on the geo-information sector. Based on 2008 data, the geo-information sector in the Netherlands was estimated at €1.4 billion revenue, 65% of which was provided by the commercial sector. There was a steep increase in revenue of 17%, compared to 2007. This increase was due to the work of some 15,000 professionals. (Note: that makes a strong growth opportunity for GIN, which only has only 3,400 members.)

This April GeoBusiness, now joined by Geonovum, which devotes itself to providing better access to geo-information in the public sector, presented the second issue of the survey. The good news: Although there is an economic challenge in the Netherlands, the sector has grown by 8%. That is much better than the "growth" of the gross national product, which was a negative 4% in 2009.

Market research company, Heliview, completed the report, which includes a few predictions:
  • Companies will feel the impact of a decrease in government contracts in the second half of 2010 (and half their revenues - or more - depend on government contracts).
  • Growth areas are: surveying, services (rent-a-tech), Web services and consulting services.
The market monitor also focuses on innovation. Companies are spending a steady 22% of revenue on R&D. The public sector is also keen on innovation: 42% of the government organizations report that over 20% of their geo-information work has an innovation component. According to the report, this is proof of the vitality of the geo-information sector in the public domain. But how do these two innovation processes intertwine?

Geo 2020 - Open Innovation
Last week, GeoBusiness had a focus meeting themed "Geo2020!" There was an exchange of visions on the opportunities and threats that lie ahead. The event explored the role of geo-information in society as a whole and what GIS could bring to the table.

I was especially interested in a presentation on open innovation. GeoBusiness came across open innovation via Devlab. Devlab is an institute whose objective is to stimulate the flow of knowledge between universities, technical colleges and the members in order to create mid- and long-term business opportunities. Would this idea from the industrial electronics sector be applicable to geo?

Titled "Not invented here, but proudly found elsewhere," open innovation was introduced as an innovation of innovation itself. My definition of open innovation is a planned process to bring new ideas (projects, products) into your own innovation process and to push ideas out, which would land much better in a different setting, for a different market. Organizations have become much more permeable, which makes this kind of openness possible. This is good news for the worldwide distribution of knowledge, and also in our domain.

I co-authored an article (in Dutch) on open innovation titled "Hype or necessity for Geo?" To us, it is clear that open innovation is being hyped. But we also see a clear opportunity: If members of GeoBusiness work more closely together - for example, do joint projects in pre-competitive situations instead of copying each other’s results - the sector as a whole could benefit.

Point of view
I believe the time is here for open innovation, specifically in the geo-information sector in the Netherlands. As discussed in the Geo2020! meeting, this openness in innovation cannot be a one-sided venture by the private sector. Coordination between government, universities and companies must be stepped up, so we all benefit from joint progress. Phase one has been accomplished: the introduction of the subject. Now it is time for a second, firm step.

Geo in 2020 is quite a few years down the line in what has become a fast-moving environment for organizations active with geographic information. I personally don’t view strategy as a fixed road to a clear destination on the horizon. To me, strategy is a winding road, which does lead us in the right direction. When we get closer, that fuzzy point might turn out to look very different. But we have created the right circumstances along the way to get there.

I believe open innovation is one of those circumstances. With open innovation we can share risks and benefits and growth jointly. I see the open innovation track as the right one for our sector in the Netherlands. But I am open to be challenged on that!

A final thought: As "history is no longer our best teacher," write down what you think will happen in 2020, put the paper in a closed enveloped. A guarantee for a smile, maybe even a laugh!

Ed. Note: Letters from the Low Lands will be back in the fall.

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