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Will economic stimulus spending provide a launch pad for geospatial innovation?

Written by Matt Ball V1 Magazine

There are an increasing number of demands from various market sectors in response to plans for economic stimulus. Figures have been floated by the incoming Obama administration for $800 billion to be spent on infrastructure, health care, energy efficiency, and other priorities. Companies everywhere are eager to get a piece of the action, and the markets are responding to this potential windfall by rewarding the companies that stand to benefit most with increased share prices.

The United States isn’t the only country planning to invest internally in order to improve unemployment figures and economic growth. The influx of funds is global, and much of the spending will take place in sectors that currently use, or could benefit from, geospatial technology.

While there will likely be many opportunities for geospatial work, the question is whether that work will lead to innovation in new tools and approaches that benefit the geospatial market as a whole. My feeling is that the level of spending has some definite possibility to spark innovation, but the impetus for innovation will need to come in the form of regulation, enhanced competition or both.


The level of infrastructure spending that is planned could provide some much-needed incentive for more streamlined planning and building processes. The federal government has been a leader in adopting Building Information Modeling, a form of intelligent and collaborative model-based design, because the bottom line benefits are so easily documented with increased collaboration and tighter construction timelines.

Geospatial technology provides a necessary decision support tool for infrastructure initiatives of larger geographies, such as roads, bridges and railways. The toolset can also provide a means of assessing infrastructure priorities, and making certain that spending is funneled to the highest impact projects.

With infrastructure spending, comes a need for coordinated teams of construction and engineering professionals as well as inspection and government oversight. Any tools that help streamline and improve upon this process stand to benefit, and there are a great many necessary innovations to improve the old and inefficient methods. While there’s some move afoot to streamline these processes, a huge spend by government could create the necessary impetus for a broad cultural shift if compliance to model-based design is mandated in order to win contracts.

Oversight and Transparency

Transparency of government decisions is going to be an overriding theme under the Obama administration. This new administration embraced Internet technology in the presidential campaign and pushed its limits with social networking and real-time systems. This strong understanding of the power and utility of the Internet will translate into more place-based tools and maps as interfaces to government data.

The commitment to accountability, and a new standard of ethics, point to greater use of Web tools throughout government. Geospatial technology can act as an integrative force between disparate systems in order to offer much needed insight. The move toward more equitable funding efforts that eliminate earmarks will require other means of evaluating and overseeing an equitable division of taxpayer dollars.

The strong move in the geospatial community to more open and flexible web-based mapping platforms will fuel a number of new portals and systems. The ongoing investment in web-based mapping platforms will pay off in this environment of new government communications. There’s strong opportunity for innovations to make these tools easier to implement and deploy, and to scale these tools to address the needs of all citizens.

Repeat of Recent History?

When the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq got underway, there was a strong interest in the use of geospatial tools for war fighting and intelligence gathering. The military investment dollars transformed the geospatial industry with the new term geospatial intelligence to rally around. A number of companies completely transformed their focus, following the dollars to a good deal of success.

The influx of military dollars were funneled into a number of geospatial technologies. Innovations were made in the way geospatial data is fused to form intelligence, in how imagery is delivered, in visualization tools that closely replicate reality, and in new mobile technologies to assist soldiers, and many others. This influx of military spending influx is a good model for what may soon occur.

I anticipate a similar transformation as the infrastructure and government transparency initiatives get underway. The geospatial community is well poised to contribute a great deal toward more efficient government operations. We need to continue to trump the cost-savings of applying geospatial tools to complex problems that require great oversight. Dollars and subsequent innovation will follow.

Editor’s Note: The Perspectives column takes a new format this year. Rather than a column from each editor every week, we’ll be taking turns each week in order to expand our focus on emerging opportunities in the energy sector. From time to time we’ll both weigh in on the same subject when there are distinct North American vs. European perspectives, and we’d like to open up opportunities for others to write in this space as well.

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