Innovation in the Geospatial sector


As we approach the final days to enter our Geospatial Innovation Awards, a couple of our judges took some time to reflect on the state of innovation in the geospatial sector. Guillaume Le Sourd leads the Cartographic Unit of the Geospatial Information Section at the United Nations (UN) , and Luca Budello leads on Geospatial at Innovate UK KTN. Here’s what they had to say:

What challenges are geospatial organisations facing?

Guillaume Le Sourd: In my opinion, the challenge is inherently tied the cross-cutting nature of geography/geospatial. Often the geospatial services can support many application, it is its strength and weakness. Geospatial works very well to support organizations with very targeted business model, for instance real estate, or insurance, or forestry.

For larger organizations with multi-dimensional responsibilities, it may be harder for geospatial services (especially if small) to support all mandates concurrently.
This for instance can be seen in government services who end up doing only maps instead of supporting one specific “business case” of their government. This is seen a lot within national context in particular developing countries.

In the context of the UN, scarcity of data in many places remain an issue for its wider use using its analysis/foresight capabilities

Luca Budello: The challenges faced by geospatial organisations are many and include both technical and business challenges. The power of location data is in interpreting relationships between disparate data sources occurring at a specific location. Data standards and interoperability are demanding technical challenges for the sector as it is data quality. Fortunately, organisations like the Open Geospatial Consortium and the Geospatial Commission in the UK are at the forefront of tackling this challenge by providing a platform for people to work collaboratively with open data standards.

The talent shortage is another demanding challenge as the geospatial industry requires highly skilled professionals with specialised knowledge in areas such as remote sensing, GIS, cartography and AI. However, there is a shortage of such talent, making it challenging for organisations to find and retain skilled workers. It also requires talents from specific sectors, building new technologies via R&D is important but translating technology into a product with a strong product/market fit requires experts from those industries, which is not often easy to attract.

What are the biggest challenges geospatial is helping tackle?

Guillaume Le Sourd: This is to be linked with my previous answer. I would say geospatial brings lots of added value and very useful for monitoring the environment. EO in particular is key for monitoring the environment

Luca Budello: Geospatial technology is aiding in the development of a more sustainable and resilient society, helping to tackle some of the most significant challenges facing humanity.

It helps to monitor and analyse changes in the environment, such as deforestation, sea level rise, and changes in land use patterns. It is also aiding in the development of sustainable agriculture practices, renewable energy solutions, and climate adaptation strategies. It helps to manage natural resources, such as water and forestry, and predict natural disasters such as hurricanes and floods.

Whether is developing smarter city plans, managing resources, aiding relief efforts or support with better investment decisions, location data is at the forefront of connecting global challenges to local solutions, understanding the complexity of the world we live in and supporting decision-makers with the intelligence necessary to transition humanity towards a more sustainable path.

What does the future hold for the geospatial industry?

Guillaume Le Sourd: Digital twin and the mapping of everything, everywhere (above, below and on ground), combined with spatial analysis automation/ AI

Luca Budello: The future of the geospatial industry is promising, with several emerging trends and technologies likely to shape its trajectory. Particularly, as AI and ML are increasingly being integrated into geospatial technology, they will aid the analysis and interpretation of complex data sets. For example, the “Segment Everything” algorithm released by META, while not precise, is accurate enough to become a game changer in the automation of complex Earth Observation tasks at scale.

My prediction is that the growth in the use of geospatial data and analytics will be driven by increased demand for accurate and up-to-date information on location to support decision-making across a range of industries. Associated with this, I expect this growth to be driven by the industries where location data add value with geospatial technology becoming increasingly integrated with sector’s specific business intelligence platform and a significant focus on applications rather than data. Where this will play out faster, in my view, is in the financial sector, where use cases for quantifying climate/nature/environmental risks and transitioning capital to sustainable forms of finance are growing faster.

Overall, the geospatial industry is poised for continued growth and innovation, driven by emerging technologies, the increasing demand for spatial data and analytics and the emergence of new applications and business models. 

What one piece of advice would you give to someone working in the geospatial industry?

Guillaume Le Sourd: Important is to clearly identify the value you are trying to bring to your organization/company, and work from that overall objective and high level goal to showcase Geospatial value.

Luca Budello: One piece of advice I would give to someone working in the geospatial industry is to stay curious, open to new ideas and continuously develop their skills and knowledge. I would also advise developing cross-sectorial skills, particularly in the applications of geospatial data and analytics for climate change and finance.

The geospatial industry is constantly evolving, and staying up-to-date with the latest technologies, tools, and best practices is critical to staying competitive and delivering high-quality work. This could include attending industry conferences, participating in training programs and webinars, and staying engaged with the broader geospatial community through networking and collaboration.

What, as judges, are you most looking forward to seeing from entrants?

Guillaume Le Sourd: Looking for creativity implementation of data/technology that work for real people and society problems, at macro to local scale!

Luca Budello: First and foremost, I will be looking for innovative and impactful solutions that address real-world challenges. I will be looking for entries that demonstrate a deep understanding of the problem being addressed, as well as a well-executed solution that leverages geospatial technology to achieve meaningful results.

I am particularly interested in companies that show a deep understanding of the sector they serve with a strong product(s)/market fit and a compelling narrative that articulates the impact that the solution provides as well as the viability of the commercial proposition.

Finally, I would be looking for entries that demonstrate collaboration and partnerships across disciplines, organisations, and sectors. The entries should showcase a commitment to working with others to address complex problems and achieve meaningful outcomes.

Overall, I will be looking for entries that are innovative, impactful, well-executed, and effectively communicated.

What does it mean to you to be judging Geovation’s first-ever International Geospatial Innovation Awards?

Guillaume Le Sourd: Means a lot ! It is a great opportunity to see what is beyond my regular responsibilities, see opportunities and understand the wider geospatial landscape.

As an organization, it feels also like a validation by the community of some of the work we do at the UN! On more personal level, it feels like a great reward after lot of work from past years, finally harvesting some fruits.

Luca Budello: Firstly, it is an honour to be selected as a judge for the competition. Being asked to evaluate the work of leading innovators in the geospatial industry is a testament to the trust placed in me and my knowledge of the sector. And this makes me feel very humbled.

Additionally, being a judge for Geovation’s International Geospatial Innovation Awards provides an opportunity to stay current with the latest trends and innovations in the geospatial field. It offers a chance to learn from and be inspired by the work of others, as well as to connect with other experts and thought leaders in the industry.

Finally, being a judge for the International Geospatial Innovation Awards represents an opportunity to play a role in shaping the future of the geospatial industry. By recognising and celebrating the achievements of leading innovators in the field, the competition helps to promote new ideas, approaches, and solutions that can drive positive change and make a real difference in the world.

The Geospatial Innovation Awards are open for entry until 15 May 2023. Winners will be announced in a ceremony held on 15 June 2023.