Exploring Geographic Information Systems: Trends, Impacts, Future

The unprecedented wave we are currently experiencing in digitalization, robotics, artificial intelligence, IoT and cognitive computing is pioneering a visible shift from “physical to digital”. This is being dubbed as the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR), characterized by the “fusion of technologies that is blurring the lines between the physical, digital, and biological spheres,” according to the World Economic Forum.

Location or Geospatial data is of prime importance if we want to leverage the innovations of the 4IR, whether in terms of business growth or addressing sustainable global development challenges. The world has witnessed an exponential increase in the amount of Geospatial information available over the past few years, which can be used for informed decision-making purposes. How? Through Geographic Information Systems.  

What is a Geographic Information System?

We can define a Geographic Information System (GIS) as “a system designed to capture, store, manipulate, analyze, manage and present all types of geographic data”, its application often custom-designed from organization to organization. GIS technology is essentially a geographic method of analysing spatial data, enabling interconnection of this data with comprehensive information.

Today, GIS has become a reliable technology for unveiling hidden geographic patterns with ease, and this benefits a variety of sectors where both enterprises and end-users get access to deeper location-based insights. The prime strength of GIS lies in its analytic ability to integrate different datasets – spatial and non-spatial – and produce relevant insights and predictions out of this.

 The global GIS market size is all set for consistent upward growth, mainly because location-based services are now on the rise across sectors and platforms. The Global Market Insights, Inc. report states that the GIS market size is poised to exceed $9 billion by 2024.

Applications and Impacts of GIS Technology

“Driven by the digital revolution and fast-growing remote sensing technologies, GIS is re-engineering our view of the world and solving problems in unexpected ways,” shares Rabindra P. Osti, Senior Water Resources Specialist, East Asia Department, Asian Development Bank, in this blog. This is because, Osti goes on to explain, that GIS has gotten us rid of concerns like errors on data storage and extraction, duplication of data, lack of common data storage and handling platforms, poor data exchange, and recycle provisions.

Today, GIS is considered one of the most powerful visualization tools that forms a basis for smart mapping technology across business and consumer applications. Thanks to the feature of spatial and volumetric analysis, Geographic Information Systems can be used in optimization of Telecom & Network Services, in Accident Analysis & Hotspot Analysis, Transportation Planning, Environmental Impact Analysis, Disaster Surveillance, Hazard Forecasting & Warning Systems, Management of Natural Resources as well as manmade Assets, Soil Analysis & Irrigation Management, to name a few.

GIS can also be integrated with development benchmarking and project performance evaluation functions over the course of time, which makes it a suitable tool for assessing Land Use Changes, Demographic Changes, Infrastructure Developments and even Community Progress over time.

Sectors such as Banking & Taxation, Navigation and Survey use GIS systems in the quest for a digital-driven transformation. Integrated Command & Control Centres (ICCC) used for operating and managing myriad service operations in Smart Cities, including real-time monitoring, are built on GIS. The integration of GIS with BIM, SCADA, and SAP has been on a rise, and is completely transforming sectors like Infrastructure, Electric Utilities, Business and Finance. GIS is also on the forefront when it comes to creating hubs for data integration and monitoring of Sustainable Development Goals.

The Top Trends marking the Future of GIS

Openness of Data

Data democratization is one of the biggest trends for not just the Geospatial industry but the entire technology sector over the past few years. The conducive policy reforms India witnessed in the year gone by are on the same lines of Geospatial data liberalization. As a result, more and more organizations can enjoy access to open-source GIS software and open data, boosting the number of small businesses and startups pillared on GIS and location intelligence.  

GIS and AR

With users becoming more and more comfortable with Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality technologies, developers are certain to shift their focus towards integrating GIS capabilities into their applications, which will only enhance the meaning and relevance of these “virtual worlds”. 3D spatial information would likely be used to fuel Mobile GIS applications into creating immersive experiences with limitless possibilities.

Indoor Mapping, UI, and IoT

GIS technology is being increasingly used to develop indoor maps for large, complex public buildings not just for user comfort but also for faster emergency response purposes. Future interfaces are set to be more intuitive, allowing the user to edit, add, and remove elements, besides tapping into the Internet of Things to leverage all connected devices such as lights, signboards, cameras, etc, onto a single GIS platform.

Location as a Service

GIS is making a leap from governance and utilities to services-based applications that enable easier access to visualizations. The Location as a Service (LaaS) concept, which combines the three main categories of cloud computing services: infrastructure, software, and platform as a service, is bringing privacy protected physical location data to enterprise customers to enhance operational efficiency, increase customer engagement, reduce costs, and achieve better ROI.

Real Time GIS

The ability to collect and analyze Geospatial data in real-time is improving research processes and mapping systems, especially for sectors like disaster surveillance and emergency management services. Satellite imagery, remote sensing data, statistical models and crowdsourced information can be simultaneously collected, stored, superimposed, and analyzed in real-time for making well-informed decisions.

GIS in the Cloud

High-performance computing networks are on the rise, with tech giants like Amazon, Google, and Oracle stepping up serverless cloud computing services to enable quicker and easier spatial analysis without the need for costly and complicated server infrastructure.

3D Reality Capture

One of the newest and most interesting ways of visualization to have emerged in recent times, 3D reality capture enables building a 3D picture of a place based on drone or aircraft survey. This picture can then be integrated with all the vector data of land or property ownership, land use, volumetric analysis, and so on, to paint a ‘smarter’, more engaging picture for developing Digital Twins.

What Next?

Business and consumer benefits aside, it is worth noting the social and economic impacts of GIS technology, starting with the fact that Geographic Information Systems are an important facilitator of urban planning. The convergence of GIS and cloud computing is paving the way for limitless spatial applications and information, besides saving costs, dispensing data quickly and easily and promoting digital-driven development across sectors.

However, GIS is still being viewed in the mainstream as a powerful visualization tool alone, while its massively useful integrative capabilities are still on the backseat. The good news is that technologies such as GIS are still evolving, and there is lot of room for improvement. The key idea should be to build applications that use GIS not just as a data display platform, but also one that extracts benefits of information retrieval and relay, predictive analytics, and improved decision-making, to name a few.