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Distributed Geospatial Services. This time it’s for real.

Mark Alonzo

I want to talk about a topic that is both timely and timeless for our community: realizing the promise of Distributed Geospatial Services. Timely because this shift has been undergoing a resurgence (first by Google and more recently by Esri) and timeless because the idea has been with us for some time without becoming mainstream. It’s important to draw a distinction between what’s happened already – server/enterprise architectures and what is happening today – cloud solutions and apps which promise to deliver a new paradigm in the way geospatial content is accessed and consumed. So why this time is it for real?

First off it’s worth saying something about proprietary geospatial data formats which have limited widespread adoption. This is being addressed. The INSPIRE initiative in Europe is well underway and companies including Esri now have specific tools sets to help organizations prepare and adhere to INSPIRE standards. The GIS market has also matured with users more settled on working and sharing fewer common formats.

Next we needed the right infrastructure – it is only relatively recently that sufficiently fast web connections and commercial cloud hosted solutions have become a reality. These components are necessary to power Distributed Geospatial Services.

Lastly the GIS & Image industry and our users needed time to adjust. We also needed a pioneer to drive this change. If you have been fortunate to attend pretty much any Esri event this year you’ll know of their plans to reshape the industry online. Change is hard and it takes a big hitter with global reach and influence to drive big change.

Significant issues remain, but none are insurmountable. Content providers have commercial challenges to overcome and need to be convinced that the move from capital to operational revenue can work or be offset by increased uptake. Imagery and geospatial data is expensive to collect and stakeholders want to roadmap returns. I guess providers are also pretty jumpy about ownership of delivery platforms (just as record companies didn’t appreciate Apple’s dominance though iTunes) but in time will need to adjust.

Working to support this shift, ENVI now connects directly to Esri Image Services whilst ENVI Services Engine opens new ways of delivering image analysis as discrete services so desktop and distributed users can benefit from this market shift. So it’s finally happening. Long predicted and with the capability of finally mainstreaming our industry. I’m excited to play a part in delivering this change.

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