Take a deep breath and prepare for spatially enabled life beyond your trusty iPhone

I have been doing a bit of pre-Brexit European travel this week. And as I switched my phone into airplane mode for the short flight home, it dawned on me just how umbilically linked I have become to my iPhone.  There are, of course, many practical reasons for my dependence on this convenient and helpful device. Yet, it is the reassuring ability to always know where I am on the planet, and so what is happening around me, that truly sits at the heart of its appeal.

As we will hear at the forthcoming annual GEO Business conference from 23-24 May in London, spatially enabled technology is having a rapid and profound impact across our lives. Not least on the hitherto traditional world of infrastructure planning, delivery, operation and maintenance but to the extent that we already wonder how on earth we managed before this technology started to look out for us?

The answer, of course, is that in our personal lives we did a lot more planning, relied on maps, guide books, policemen and taxi drivers; we got a lot more lost, a lot more often. And in our business and professional lives we did things manually, slower and repetitively; we made a lot more mistakes, a lot more often.

The extent to which the immense power of this technology is now being grasped across infrastructure will be discussed by Nigel Clifford, chief executive officer at Ordnance Survey in his GEO Business conference keynote address on the morning of 23rd May. He will describe an exciting future when he talks about the innovation, integration and impact of geospatial technology. Yet the truth is that, from a business perspective we are really only scratching the surface. As other conference speakers will also make clear, if we are to properly take advantage of these opportunities, the UK must build on its current collection of “toys” helping us to do better what we’ve always done, to develop a truly spatially enabled strategy that can drive the economy.  Across every sector of the infrastructure world we see untapped opportunity. Whilst the ability to design and build assets using accurate and geospatially locatable information is hugely impressive, the real economic transformation will come in the so far embryonic spatially enabled operation and maintenance activities.

The range of areas that this new strategy must cover will be identified and analysed by some great future-thinking minds during the GEO Business Question Time conference session on the afternoon of 24th May. This session will address the vital but comparatively mundane need to get a grip on data, standards, integration and interoperability, through to the more sexy issues as the impact of autonomous vehicles, robotics, games engines and smart infrastructure really kicks in especially affecting the geospatial workforce. Central to the strategy will be to move the industry outside its comfort zone so as to embrace investment in research and innovation that will really drive and develop tomorrow’s spatially enabled technology.  How hard can this really be? We have a buoyant and strong infrastructure market, which, as National Infrastructure Commissioner Sadie Morgan will explain (in her conference keynote on the morning of 24th May), is spurred on by public and political demand for investment. Surely the sector now faces a once in a lifetime, massively exciting opportunity?

Without doubt that is true. But we have to go in with our eyes open. We must approach the challenge with a clear understanding that, if this strategy is to build a new post-Brexit economy, it cannot be based on the model of simply finding more efficient ways to replicating the past. Instead, as technology advances, we must all take a deep breath and embrace a spatially enabled strategy that finds the difficult but vital new solutions to tomorrow’s infrastructure challenges.


This article was written by independent editorial expert and journalist Antony Oliver, who regularly contributes industry content for GEObuzz. Find Antony on Twitter @_Antonyoliver_

GEO Business 2017, 23 – 24 May 2017, Business Design Centre, London UK

The geospatial event for everyone involved in the gathering, storing, processing and delivery of geospatial information. Incorporating an international trade exhibition, a cutting edge conference and a programme of live commercial workshops sessions, featuring the technology and services used by those working with spatial data.

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