Digital Cities: From ‘we can’t because…’ to ‘we can, if…’

Are we at a tipping point? Intergeo suggest so.

Wed Oct 04 10:23:00 EDT 2017

Recently I attended Intergeo in Berlin, the biggest GIS and Location Intelligence trade show in Europe. It was a fascinating event. It was also bigger than ever and for the first time the event attracted more than 18,000 attendees – and it felt that there were equally as many drones on display. It’s amazing how this technology is quite literally ‘taking off’ from a position of ‘we can’t because…’ to ‘we can if…’ as the desire for accessible location based technology increases.

So is this mentality breathing through the rest of the geospatial world?

Well there was a real atmosphere of intent and action in the seminars and amongst exhibitors – especially when it came to big data and using this to drive the move to the digital transformation of cities. This was a continual theme throughout the event.

Digital transformation is a sometimes overused phrase. It can suggest there is a tipping point in the realm of digital. The truth is the world of digital and tech continues to transform at a rapid pace. For any company or organization to claim it has now digitally transformed is an ambitious statement.  It expressly denotes a direction of travel; an intent to be digitally enabled and relevant that is fueled with optimism, without which the potential value will not be understood, action will not be taken, and value will not be realized.

Based on the keynote speeches at Intergeo, the target markets for geospatial technology, especially those interested in the digitization of cities, are optimistically beginning to move from ‘we can’t because…’ to ‘we can, if…’ – words used in one of the main seminars. This means we are heading to an unprecedented period where location technology will become more ubiquitous than ever in our daily lives.

In GIS and location tech vendors, we have seen a groundswell of challenge and opportunity in recent years, with the step change in location data from remote sensors, mobiles, IoT and more – alongside the development of hardware and software to collect, process and analyze this data. Technology buyers responded to this and early adopters began to leverage the value of location (e.g. mobile app developers, telco providers, insurance companies).

Now with people having a default expectation for location-based services, and people and organizations more inclined to share their data, the ecosystem is being built to utilize the power of location. Nowhere is this clearer to see than in the area of city digitization, which the keynote sessions at Intergeo suggested will soon reach a tipping point beyond early adopters as  different levels of government begin to see the value to citizens and infrastructure.

The digitization of cities has been big news in recent years with more and more city governments moving toward smart city solutions that leverage IoT technologies. This isn’t just Smart Cities fueled by the emergence of IoT, but also infrastructure asset management and BIM (Building Information Modeling) – the digitizing of processes in building. These areas were very high on the agenda at Intergeo with continuous reference to them across the conference seminars – it seems many cities are now ramping up to a mentality shift to true digital transformation.

Notably, there was a big focus on making the invisible visible when it comes to infrastructure asset management. I was impressed at the continual development of software combining radar data, mapping and augmented reality to show the city landscape alongside the ability to look down and see pipes under the ground. Mix in sensors used to monitor highway traffic, utility efficiency and the location of field service teams, and the ability to get a citywide view of infrastructure becomes a reality.

The availability of data plus the software to drive analytics and visualization, means cities and those who interact with them will all be able to make more informed, faster and accurate decisions. As was claimed at Intergeo, this will improve ‘livability for all’. One can’t help but think drones may have a role to play in this too.