However, as important as the democratization of technology is, the real power of technology is the valuable information that can be derived from it. Geospatial information provides context to information to determine the what, where, when and why of something, explains Trimble President and CEO Rob Painter.
In the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak, why has democratization of technology become more important than ever, especially in a world surrounded by huge challenges and uncertainty?
Democratization of technology has the power to change people’s lives. Access to technology, from the simple to the sophisticated, provides the innovative environment to push technology further and to participate in its advancement meaningfully. The opportunity to use technology gives us the tools to re-imagine and redefine jobs and industries that can help us thrive mentally, physically and economically as communities. That access is vital. Nowhere is that more apparent than in a crisis such as the one we have faced for the last few months.
However, as important as the democratization of technology is, the real power of technology is the valuable information that can be derived from it. Geospatial information provides context to information to determine the what, where, when and why of something. The influence and impact that knowledge can bring is powerful, particularly during a crisis such as COVID-19.
Since the pandemic began, developers, researchers, geoscientists and health organizations have been developing technological tools and apps to help inform and enable societies to adapt and rebuild. Widely sharing these map-based resources are helping people regain control and certainty.
A multitude of interactive, geospatial-based dashboards have been created and shared to help provide near real-time information on the global and regional spread of the virus. ESRI’s GIS analytical tools are at the core of more than 200 spatial-analytic dashboards across 88 countries.
Many apps have been developed that use satellite navigation-based location data to monitor the global spread of the virus and to map outbreaks of COVID-19. They are also easing the daily lives of citizens by helping them manage lines in supermarkets, pharmacies and public spaces or, by facilitating the logistics of goods, which has become more complicated in the current situation.
Teams at Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology created a new application designed to help slow the virus’ spread. Users share their location data and see if they crossed paths with a person with coronavirus — as long as that person has shared his/her positive status — without identifying the person’s identity. Individuals who test positive can select to share their location data with health officials, who can then make it public to other users.
Trimble is also helping customers and communities. In transportation, our team is offering a free service to display and collect current truck stop status and amenity information. We are also offering free driver trip planning to suggest open truck stops and rest areas. In our communities, our Cityworks team is offering a web-based, GIS-centric platform for local governments to manage their emergency response efforts.
All of these examples illustrate the importance of democratization of technology. Without the broad access to technology and the widespread dissemination of its valuable by-product –– customized information –– societies would struggle to react to the unexpected and have the knowledge to prepare for the future. Technological tools, particularly spatially based ones, will be the core drivers to help navigate our challenged world and find some firm footing on the bumpy road ahead.
What should governments, big businesses and society as a whole do collectively to ensure better, if not equal, access to technology to the underdeveloped parts of the world; and how will this enhance our preparedness and response to an ‘unknown enemy’ in the future?
Equal to the accessibility of technology are the skillful, talented and imaginative people who capitalize on the capabilities of technology and produce useful systems and tools. So, it’s important to first identify people with suitable skills to apply technology and continually work to broaden this pool of talent.
Some countries may have sufficient technology and applications but lack the ability to provide suitable training or support for local users. Capitalizing on existing technology, governments and businesses could step in and offer effective virtual training, problem solving and support.
Identifying the specific needs of a particular nation is also a key first step. Rather than sending in a pile of the latest equipment and software, we need to take the time to understand what tools and solutions would provide the most access and will provide the biggest benefit for whatever response stage they are in –– especially in these early stages of the recovery, where flexibility and rapid reaction will be essential. Businesses may need to move inventory, supplies and personnel, or a developing nation may be focused on improving infrastructure for water, sanitation and transit. The G20 countries can assist local stakeholders in identifying what the best technological solutions are to help them meet their needs. The answers may require partnerships, investment, in-house development, crowd-sourced collaborations or all of the above. It is important that resource-rich organizations are enablers in ensuring people have equal access and support to create or adopt solutions that work specifically for them.
To illustrate this, governments, businesses and trained developers can commit to creating and offering open-source approaches to information sharing, system development and data management. For example, users in underdeveloped countries could use a free and open-source desktop GIS tool like QGIS to work with geospatial data, analyze datasets, connect to external tools and publish and share geospatial information. User-friendly environments such as these give stakeholders efficiencies and confidence to build knowledge and develop systems and plans that best serve their communities.
Similarly, geospatial manufacturers can provide support and tools that enable developers to create specialized applications that bring the best value to their working environments. For example, a trained developer could create simple, customized workflows to aid in locating and tracking virus hotspots and concentrations of infected people.
By giving access to technology, you give opportunity. Governments, big and small businesses and societies would do well to partner in that and provide the hardware, software and infrastructure to allow local innovation to happen. Creating tools and applications to gain knowledge is one of the best ways to build strength and resilience to better respond to an ‘unknown enemy’ like a future pandemic.
As far as collaboration and cooperation are concerned, what lessons should the geospatial industry take from the current crises?
One of the most glaring lessons is one that is not a big surprise: geospatial data and technology have been essential for monitoring and responding to COVID-19. They are the glue in global networks and systems that can sense threats, map their extent and help implement solutions. As we come out of our shelters and life slowly begins again, the need for geospatial information will be just as strong, so we need to be prepared to be partners on the path to normalcy, whatever that looks like.
Coming out of the pandemic will look different, depending on where you are. Myriad issues will need to be addressed, such as how people go back to work –– is it remotely, back in the office, a mix of both –– how/where people are tested, how new outbreaks are monitored, and how data is collected and disseminated. Geospatial technology will certainly be core to supporting those decisions.
Companies will need to refine their approaches for remote work, training and sales to support communities. Virtual conferences and events will likely be the new normal so we’ll need to determine what technological tools will provide the most effective platforms for exchanging ideas and best practices.
As we are still very much in the analyzing and predicting phase in trying to figure out the curve and how it’s moving, the industry needs to continue to innovate to help make geospatial tools as nimble and flexible as the virus itself. GIS solutions are an obvious area to explore, since epidemiology and GIS are linked. The test-track-treat strategies for long-term mitigation will rely heavily on GIS to provide spatial and temporal data specific to a particular population and their geographic space. Offering customizable tools will allow them to determine what happens next.
Another lesson of the pandemic is how crucial collaborating and partnering is to fight and overcome a common cause. Geospatial companies, academics and governments have been coming together to invest in geospatial-based problem solving and developing potential solutions. For example, the UK’s National Health Service worked with some of the big cloud providers, AI specialists and intelligence specialists to integrate myriad technologies to understand where the probabilities of the virus’ impacts will be in two weeks’ time and then moved all the necessary health resources to those areas in advance.
One of the most important lessons from this crisis for the geospatial industry is to learn from the knowledge that geospatial information provides and apply it as broadly as possible. The collaborative intelligence may help us achieve the ultimate goal of a safe and peaceful future.
How can the geospatial industry help in the post COVID-19 global economic recovery?
A broad range of industries including agriculture, construction, transportation, government, public works, energy and utilities, communications and forestry have been relying on geospatial technologies, capabilities and services for decades. During the pandemic, many of these industries and the companies that support them—such as Trimble—have been identified as essential business and continue to operate. Post COVID-19, contributing to and supporting these industries as well as others are likely to increase given the emphasis on productivity and quality improvements that enable jobs to be done faster and more efficiently with geospatial technology. These products, solutions and systems help to ensure that complex projects and operations are completed, managed and maintained more efficiently without unnecessary rework and delay.
Telecom companies, for instance, have been recording traffic records nearly daily since life has moved online. To help manage this surge, companies have been using geospatial data and technology to assess existing bandwidth, manage their network in real time and optimize their return on investment for network and infrastructure upgrades. Now that more people may be returning to work, they can use geospatial data to develop long-term network and marketing strategies.
The rapid data acquisition and processing of technologies such as aerial imaging, mobile mapping, UAS and advanced software analyses can bring efficiency, accuracy and safety to any operation. Building Information Management (BIM) and modern technologies for construction can help speed construction of infrastructure and medical facilities.
For example, BIM solutions can provide constructability analyses and virtual construction approaches that can identify clashes or problem areas in complex structures such as hospitals, laboratories or pharmaceutical production facilities. High-tech layout solutions for structural and MEP (mechanical, electrical, plumbing) provide faster, more accurate installation of building components. And LiDAR systems such as 3D laser scanning enable rapid, comprehensive information for quality control and project progress tracking as well as as-built data for facility operation and lifecycle management. By having the as built buildings model facilities managers can utilize it to optimize space management based on social distancing guidelines.
Targeted GNSS solutions for machine guidance and control help construction and engineering companies improve the speed and accuracy of grading and excavation, which saves time and costs in the crucial early stages of a project. GNSS manufacturers also supply products for precise timing and frequency signals needed in many industries. Communications systems, financial networks, utilities and security rely on precise timing for synchronization and efficient operations. In addition, remote fleet and site monitoring solutions enable stakeholders to view progress and critical bottlenecks without going to the site. This not only enables them to social distance, but they can also monitor multiple sites from a single location and divert resources to critical areas.
In the big picture of the global economic recovery, COVID-19 upended our world in 100 days, and its impacts will be felt for hundreds more. Companies and industries will likely need to reinvent themselves quickly using flexible and innovative technology, such as geospatial, to adapt to this new reality and build longevity. Trimble has every intention of supporting them in any way we can.