The Present and the Future in Geospatial technology: What transformation are we looking forward to seeing in this industry?

This article was inspired by a recent discussion on a Whatsapp group Do you think traditional GIS desktop apps will become redundant given the rapid developments in SaaS, PaaS etc? What’s your take?


With the proliferation of Cloud computing, especially considering it offsets your organization infrastructure costs allowing you to invest in what matters, software service, we’ve seen numerous new technologies and concept emerge within geospatial technology Internet of things, Big Data, Machine Learning, Virtual Reality, 3D Mapping and BIM, Smart Cities concepts. So are these the future of Geospatial technology? Are we looking at something more?
Is desktop application loosing ground to cloud based solutions? First, let agree on this; I believe desktop application will be replaced by cloud based counterparts. Examples, Arcmap is continually getting out of favour and will be replaced by ArcGIS Pro which is albeit offering faster processing is heavily build on cloud service. You could also see the unprecedented growth of Carto for the simple reason- it’s cloud based. We’ve seen several cloud managed instances of QGIS which are already gaining traction among GIS professionals.

Here we’ll go over some technology emergence that will transform geospatial technology applications

IoT and GIS

Real time data transmission has become a thing to desire for utility management, for example, Sensor-based waste collection; to identify status of waste bins. See case study here City of Seoul  among others.
In irrigation, Sensor based monitoring of tank capacity, soil water content among other factors. Water distribution monitoring, for example real time leakage detection.

Integrating GIS and the Sensor devices is undoubtedly a game changer in how real time data is consumed and analyzed. Sensor based data transmission has been around, but never has there been the real opportunity to harness the location component of the data transmitted. As more entities take cognizance of this epic opportunity we are definitely going to see more solutions integrating GIS and IoT moving froward.

looking at examples that are already on the move, Here one of the online mapping giants has built a platform integrating Embedded Car navigation system with their mapping service to enable transmission of the massive data collected from cars to a common platform. Well, this kind of innovation is what we talking about seeing more in the Geospatial industry. It’s already powering several services in insurance, traffic management, autonomous driving, navigation and mobility name it.

The key components of this is IoT(Sensors) and Maps.

Having a look at the long time ArcGIS Server Geoevent Processor (Now ArcGIS Enterprise Geoevent Sever role) which has massive capabilities of consuming real time feeds from sensors, web services and social media we see an industry that will be a key pillar in the growth of IoT. And according to ArcNews we will be seeing a fully managed real time data service from Esri which means the pain is taken off your infrastructure and this further opens up the capabilities and it’s mainstreaming.

There are definitely a lot other solutions out there demonstrating this capability in various industries worth your time. I suggest you take a look at them.

Big Data and GIS

More organizations now have deep budgets for GIS in their roadmaps and investment in big data tools is definitely going to rise. GIS already offers powerful tools for data modeling and analysis alongside data collection and aggregation. The capability to integrate several data sources and in this case the unstructured data that will be coming from social media, satellite imagery, spatial temporal environmental and climate data are going to play a key role in how GIS tools transform. We will see Geospatial predictive analytics grow to respond to the amount of data growth and more so considering need for these capabilities to be. More disaster that can be mitigated, business optimization, intelligence gathering, climate modeling are domains where we are going to see more Big Data and GIS play very nice to each other.


A case worth mentioning is Platform for Big Data in Agriculture by CGIAR which is aimed at transforming rural livelihoods through data driven decisions agriculture. The key denominator here again is Big Data and it is going to be very critical how Geospatial technologies and concepts are used to harness the spatial component of their data to allow deep understand of the dynamics of agriculture and soil.

Machine Learning and GIS

So Machine learning. Is this just another internet buzz word or marketing catch phrase. I can declare to you that this is going to be a big component of Geospatial analysis and modeling moving forward. Environmental modeling, urban systems design and modeling, climate change modeling, land use monitoring, name it. We already see machine learning leave it’s footprints in these facets and it is going to continue to play a critical role. Data mining and the capacity to derive products from the data and with value addition on manipulating and understanding the geographic perspective, is beyond doubt the most exciting thing we can have in our hands. Understanding human behaviour by location will play a critical role in alleviating poverty, fighting terrorism, disease and grow businesses even talk of designing future cities. The key to achieving these is leveraging the intelligent algorithms from within Geospatial environments.

Role of GIS in Smart Cities and BIM

Then here come my favorite, Smart cities concepts, this is generally integrating 3D concepts, BIM (Building Information Management), Smart Transportation and Mobility, Smart Health services, E-governance. Of course the building technologies here are numerous to enable this kind of platforms. However, our interest is the role of geospatial technologies in building smart city platforms. We have talked about Here’s Embedded Car navigation systems, Autonomous driving technology and their integration to maps. We’ve talked about transportation management, navigation and traffic management as well as business.

The key denominator in Smart cities concept is Smart citizens.This is based on how information regarding city assets is made available to them. We’ve seen open data portals from governments, key to these has been data availability but also map visualization as a key enabler of these portals. We are going to see more of this as more data is being collected and the value of location is being recognized.
This is a big concept so we may not exhaustively discuss it in this article. But of significance is to note the role GIS is going to play in it. BIM is primarily built from the geographic point of view then the additional information may go into a property management system. 3D mapping of city assets, zoning, and here again we get the concept of integration IoT with GIS to monitor moving assets, solid waste management, controlling the systems that water the green zones etc.

So clearly, there is a lot of transformation that is already going on and we are going to continue to see as far as integrating Geospatial technologies with other technologies and concepts. I believe we are going to continue to see more exciting stuff moving forward.

Well, this is entirely my opinion and at Geosymp we would like to here your views on this topic. Leave your comments below to enable us build a more robust knowledge base.

Steve Ochieng
About Steve Ochieng 18 Articles
Geospatial Specialist | Avid Reader and Vivid Writer here | Geospatial Tech Advocacy and Evangelism | GeoProgrammer and Follower of @geohipster