The 4th Dimension: Time

Craig Bachmann & Natasha Léger are partners in ITF Advisors, LLC, an independent consulting firm with a focus on next-generation strategy and on translating the increasingly complex new media business environment's impact on business models, markets and users.

Time and Space—the notion of not only mapping our environment, but modeling our environment—is quickly becoming a reality beyond scientific initiatives and science fiction books. In fact, modeling the past, present, and future is helping companies and industries that never considered GIS/Imagery as a source of business context to take a closer look at how location intelligence can make them more competitive, efficient, innovative, and sustainable. Time, in fact, is a hot topic in geo circles, not just from the perspective of integrating the 4th dimension into software applications, but from the perception that it seems to be “speeding up.” Globalization, Moore’s Law, and real-time communications have all accelerated the pace of change in technology, and in particular the pace of change in technology adoption. Since “time is money,” let’s look at the impact of time on the I/RS (imaging/remote sensing) business. There are two areas of “time” to consider: Acceleration of Time and Applications Using Time.

Acceleration of Time

In imagery, we are constantly adapting a five- to ten-year business plan for Earth observation to Earth applications that are changing every day. However, what has not necessarily been contemplated is the speed at which business, consumer, and technology changes would impact the suppliers of geospatial data, technology, and services. This is the entire premise of the geospatial industry—to be able to track the changes on the planet and the changes in physical resources. For example, the “business” and the “business needs” of commercial climate change businesses, green initiatives, carbon credits, hyper-global and hyper-local competition, and 24/7 transactions connecting B2B, B2C, and B2B2C2B market dynamics did not make it into the design and launch plans of satellites, or project-based aerial imagery collection. Five years ago, Google Earth, Bing, SmartPhones and Portable Navigation Devices were not intended to be the most significant distributors of satellite imagery on the planet. The race is on between the Java developers and the mapping professionals. How much faster will changing technology drive new applications to which the industry must adapt?

The timeline of technology and change is finding its way into many presentations lately. Recently we saw presentations by Michael T. Jones, now CTO of Google, and John Stutz of the Tellus Institute at the GeoWeb 2009 Conference noting the exponential pace of technology development, productization, and adoption. Both illustrated how this pace of technology change has significantly increased over the last 10 years and is expected to keep increasing. Figure 1 illustrates the time it has taken for technologies to reach 150 million users. This increase in the rate of change is obviously more difficult to adapt to; in the past, factories had decades to adapt to a new approach, but Google Earth releases new software every Tuesday that is likely to change the way you do business.We have seen various descriptions of this accelerated rate of change. One of the most interesting is the Mayan calendaring approach, developed approximately 4000 years ago. The Mayans identified a series of foundational layers or cycles that result in increasingly faster cycles of change, each cycle changing 20 times faster than the previous cycle. See Figure 2 for the Mayan pyramid of the cycles of change. At present, according to the Mayan Calendar, we are in the 10th year of a 12.8-year cycle of change, which the Mayans predicted as an incredible pace of change that appears to be resulting in scenarios much like what we are experiencing today: product development cycles shrinking, technology adoption increasing, innovation everywhere, real-time communication through social networks – all creating the impression that everything is moving at warp speed.

Technology Adoption Rates

Time for technologies to reach 150 million users is exponentially decreasing

Technology Adoption Rates

Source: Porthole Research, ITF Advisors

While the classic Mayan culture may not have had a chance to experience the pace of change they predicted, they appear to have developed a model that explains why the acceleration occurs. The GeoWeb is at the center of this accelerated pace of change because it is the “digital nervous system of the planet,” according to Ron Lake of Galdos Sytems, Inc. (Vancouver, B.C.). The GeoWeb contributes to this acceleration of change because it creates a transparent world where disparate pieces of information can be aggregated to present a complete picture of the state of the world, of an industry, or of a business. The integration of time into GeoWeb applications is a critical component.

Applications Using Time

In today’s rapidly changing market environment, businesses are looking for answers to basic temporal questions:

  • What is the when and where context for every transaction, location, and event?
  • When and where is value the greatest?/li>
  • When and where does my competitor have an advantage?/li>
  • When and where do I respond to risks and opportunities?/li>

Integrating the 4th dimension has always been a challenge, but several companies—Myriax, Oculus, Space Time Insight, AGI, and Trinnovations to name a few—appear to be making great strides as they expand the classic GIS “what if” modeling capability into scenario development and forecast modeling tools that serve the needs of everyone from the military to desktop “business” users. These companies appear to be pioneering next-gen temporal GIS and I/RS capability for a wide variety of professional, pro-am (professional/amateurs), and non-technical users.

An entire eco-system of technology for managing libraries of time-sequenced data is moving GIS and I/RS into a next-gen status of providing tools that will help people better understand the impact of technology, location, and behavior on the ever-accelerating pace of change. Look for a detailed article on the 4th Dimension in LBx Journal.The Industry Dilemma

Pace of Change

The Mayan Calendar

Technology Adoption Rates

Source: Carl Johan Calleman, The Mayan Calendar, (GAREV Publishing International, 2001).

Now that I/RS is part of the digital media distribution ecosystem, as we discussed in our “Price of a Pixel” article in the Spring 2009 issue of Imaging Notes, the industry can look at other models for responding to an “on demand” economy. The instinct of most companies during these times of rapid change and uncertainty is to invest in keeping up, or to look for the opportunistic “low-hanging fruit.” Keeping up is no longer an option. The issue is how to deploy those “keeping up” resources. Should allocation of resources be in technology development or in how to apply the technology changes to customer needs?

Editor’s Note: Digital Earth is another way to refer to the concept of the “digital nervous system of the planet.” Both the GeoWeb Conferences and Symposiums on Digital Earth discuss the many ways that we can benefit from information that is embedded into a model of the Earth.

Focusing on the low-hanging fruit may help in addressing quarterly sales quotas, but it is not a recipe for long term sustainability. I/RS technologies will continue to have slower product development cycles than Web 3.0 companies; that is the nature of the I/RS technology. Instead, the focus of I/RS companies should be on accelerating the pace of adapting to customer needs. This includes developing a strategic plan and a set of business policies that enable nimble coordination among conventional enterprise silos (in other words, break down the silos) so that marketing, sales, and product development can respond and adapt to customer needs.

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