Where’s the Beef? If I’m an Investor, Where Do I Place My Money in the Geospatial Industry?

June 1, 2012  - By
Image: GPS World

If I’m an investor, where do I invest my money in the geospatial industry? In other words, where’s the most upside in the geospatial industry over the next few years? GIS software? GIS data? GIS Services? Satellite imagery?

If you recall, a few weeks ago I published a list of geospatial trends that was released by the United Nations Committee of Experts on Global Geospatial Information Management. I think the list of trends paints a pretty accurate picture of where things are headed in the geospatial space.

Open source software/data, cloud computing, location-based services, geospatial services, geo data, sensors, government leadership, and location privacy are all trending upwards. There’s money to be made in all of these areas (and more). Geospatial technology growth, even throughout the global economic downturn, has been solid. In the worst case, growth has been flat for short periods of time, but mostly 10+% annual growth rate has been realized consistently over the past 10 years. It’s not smoking hot growth, but it’s been pretty stable with some specific areas of high growth (GPS navigation and other LBS).

No matter which way you look at it, the common denominator across all trends in the geospatial industry is geospatial data. It is the fuel that feeds the geospatial engine. Metaphorically, you can install bigger pistons, a more efficient exhaust system, turbochargers, a blower, even nitrous oxide to your geospatial engine (software), but without high-quality fuel to run the engine, those are useless features.

There’s a fair amount of geospatial fuel (data) available now. Street maps and points of interest for vehicle navigation have largely been developed. Airborne and satellite imagery are available, at varying levels of quality, all over the world. But we’ve only seen the tip of the iceberg.

How do we make more fuel?

Sensors are the geospatial future that will fuel the growth in all things geospatial, especially location-based services.

People have been speculating about the huge potential of location-based services for many years. The lack of geo data has been locking the LBS horse in its stall.

Sensors are the refineries that manufacture the fuel. What’s different from five years ago is that data refineries are growing exponentially. Whereas there was a limited number of data refineries a few years ago, all of us are becoming data refineries, and we are producing more accurate and feature-rich data than before.

Since the geospatial industry started, there’s been a limited number of sensors producing a limited amount of data that’s of mediocre quality. For outdoor sensors, remote sensing (airborne and satellite imagery) and GPS are two affordable and efficient sensors that have contributed widely to developing the outdoor geo data world. For collecting indoor geo data, there’s not much in terms of affordable and efficient sensors.

But that’s changing, and that’s where there’s a lot of upside. Behind the change is the world of mobile devices (mobile phones, tablets, and gaming devices). Over the next few years, you’re going to see mobile devices producing a tremendous amount of rich geo data, much more than today. Yes, today’s crowd-sourcing produces some level of geo data, but it’s not very good largely because it’s inaccurate and therefore has limited utility. However, if you look at the research and development (R&D) resources being spent on developing a wide variety of geo sensors (higher precision GPS, inertial navigation, accelerometers, RFID) to integrate them inside mobile phones, tablets and gaming devices (Nintendo, PlayStation, etc.), you can see the picture is going to look much different in the next few years. Each person carrying a mobile phone will be a geo-data refinery producing highly accurate, feature-rich data which they can choose to share (or not) with the rest of us via OpenStreetMap or similiar data warehouse.

For geospatial professionals, the picture looks even better. The proliferation of sensors in consumer apps (gaming, mobile phones, tablets) will drive down the price of mobile devices capable of collecting high-quality geo data for geospatial professionals. With the price of such devices becoming very affordable, the number of high-quality geo data “refineries” will grow exponentially.
Thanks, and see you next week.
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