The Fusion of ERDAS and Intergraph is Just the Start for Hexagon
Over the past year, there has been a great deal of work on the integration of ERDAS and Intergraph software offerings to make a more complete geospatial platform. Matt Ball recently spoke with Mladen Stojic, Vice President – Geospatial at Intergraph, about this ongoing work and the long-term vision. As you’ll read, the focus is on a future generation that demands more rapid answers, and that intuitively streamlines complex geospatial technology stacks into optimized workflows.
Ball: You’ve gone through some changes there, and it looks like the integration between Intergraph and ERDAS has come a long way in a short period of time.
Stojic: It has. We started last year, planning and identifying areas where we have opportunities to combine the ERDAS portfolio with the existing Intergraph portfolio. We have been articulating and working toward a desktop/server strategy by combining all of the various capabilities that we have and working toward a unified portfolio. You’ll see more of that this year from a product release perspective. We’ve certainly been busy over the last 12 months harmonizing and synthesizing these technologies so that they can be manifested in our products.
Ball: The Intergraph strategy over the past seven years or so has been on solutions, and maybe GeoMedia didn’t get as much attention with that solution development phase. Are things swinging back where GeoMedia is becoming more central as a platform?
Stojic: GeoMedia has always been a geospatial platform. From a sales and business model perspective, it was developed as a platform, and also used as a foundation to sell solutions. The business model approach was to solidify a strong platform with all the relevant APIs and toolkits, so that Intergraph can focus on identifying and developing solutions in four key markets: Public Safety and Security, Government and Transportation, Utilities and Communication, and Defense and Intelligence.
Leveraging ERDAS technologies with the GeoMedia platform builds on its existing GIS data management and analysis strengths by incorporating remote sensing, photogrammetry and other mapping capabilities. We have a two-pronged approach to the market, with building solutions, and taking the strong integrated platform and productizing that with frequent releases through distribution channels and direct sales in different parts of the world.
We have both the solutions and the products model, and by integrating ERDAS into Intergraph, we’ve now strengthened the totality of our offering and are going to the market with these two approaches.
Ball: There has been a lack of direct competition in the GIS space, without the sale of GeoMedia as a platform. Will we see more direct competition in terms of feature-to-feature comparisons or is that not necessary?
Stojic: From a sales and business perspective, selling feature-to-feature is difficult and requires a long sales cycle, and ultimately there is only about a five percent difference between GeoMedia and other geospatial product offerings. You could get nitpicky and focus on specifics such as multilinear referencing that Intergraph does really well. But ultimately what it comes down to when you sell that way is that it becomes a price thing, and what happens is that products become commoditized. Our approach to the market is to continue selling solutions, but to build those solutions into the product, and not just sell a horizontal product.
We’re working on some interesting things right now, and I’d like to compare the geospatial industry to the music industry. If you look at where we are today as compared to 30 to 40 years ago in the music industry, not everyone could professionally produce music and sell it. The ecosystem for music is that anyone can make music, you can connect your laptop to your instruments, and can buy and download software online, mix different genres and harmonies to make a new sound, and produce and sell it all yourself. Now you have a global audience that can search, find, buy, and listen and enjoy your music.
If we look at geospatial in terms of different genres of surveying, remote sensing, GIS, CAD, photogrammetry, and a couple others, unfortunately you can’t say that we have the ability to do it yourself, where I can mix the various geospatial domains to create an application-specific solution for my business problem. It’s very hard, you need to learn a GIS system, a CAD system, a photogrammetry system, and then you need to spend years at university learning each of these domains. The products don’t talk to one another, which is a huge problem because you can’t share data easily. It’s very difficult to build geospatial applications. Right now, we do not have a true DIY market.
What we are doing as Intergraph (and more so under Hexagon because it is the only company in the world that has all of these genres in it), is synthesizing these domains. We aim to have a do-it-yourself approach to the market where people can take the best of GIS and remote sensing and fuse it together. It will break down the departmental walls that have prohibited us from achieving the unification of geospatial.
The GIS guys want to do it their way, and the surveyors want to do it their way, and what’s unfortunate is that they are worrying about the same geography, but they are doing it their own way with their own closed systems (and we all suffer). It takes a long time to create maps and deliver information.
Ball: In a sense, with the solutions approach of Intergraph some part of that simplification and problem-oriented fusion has taken place. Is the move now toward further fusion oriented around more of a mass-market appeal?
Stojic: This is a high-level vision, and now we’re working on strategy to achieve the ultimate goal, which is a fusion of domains around a suite of do-it-yourself solutions. Intergraph focuses on the key four markets, but we don’t want to leave it at that, we want to empower an entire ecosystem of developers and other users that can use our fusion platform to build it themselves, and make their own geospatial music.
Until we can do that, I think the geospatial industry is handicapped and will not grow. We saw Google shatter everything with the introduction of Google Earth, which has been excellent in introducing geography to billions of people around the world. However, there really isn’t a big adoption of people using it for serious applications. They use Google Earth for directions, to snoop on what others are doing, or for real estate. What we really want to do is to enable a new generation (and I think it has to be a new generation), to look beyond the walls of geospatial tools and really accelerate a do-it-yourself model. Right now we have too many limitations that prohibit the full utilization of this wonderful technology.
Ball: It’s an interesting inflection point. In the early days of GIS, up until say ten years ago, it was about low volume and high cost sales. As that started to go away, the defense market became an engine for industry growth. Now that we’re seeing defense spending decreasing, it may be tough for a lot of organizations to change and adapt.
Stojic: With the economy and ongoing cuts in defense, the milk and honey that has been feeding this industry is changing. We’re certainly seeing budget cuts that are impacting businesses. They are starting to take a real look at their innovation, because the defense and intelligence organizations have really sponsored a lot of these innovations. I think that we’re at a juncture where a lot of people are scratching their heads. The technology has come a long way, but there are a lot of common everyday problems that need the application of these technologies.
We have such technologies as Google Earth and maps at one end, and traditional tools on the other, and we’re at a juncture in the middle. For most markets, geospatial tools are being delivered as horizontal platforms and products. Going back to the music analogy, when is the last time you bought a whole album and listened to the whole thing? Most people just buy one song at a time, it’s much cheaper and it’s what they want.
All that we’ve been selling is geospatial albums where 80% of the functionality isn’t used; most users want the 20% capability, but in the context of their application-specific workflow to solve a problem. I think that there is a pushback outside of the traditional geospatial market, where they want simpler tools. They want the song, and not the album. Until we figure out as an industry how to deliver a song, and not the album, we’re going to have a problem.
One of our visions is melding and fusing multiple technologies into a problem-solving solution for the customer. That’s a juncture in the midlife crisis that we’re at. It’s making the chasm jump from the past to the new, and a lot of people are struggling with how to do that.
We’re working on a vision as Hexagon, because we have the sensors and the software, we know the solutions because we deliver those. We have all the ingredients. It’s been an exciting year, having all these great genres of technology to play with, and now we’re in the midst of mixing things together to build new applications for a new generation.
Ball: Consistently, there has been a system versus solution message with different geospatial offerings. A system is more of a long-term investment that needs to be highly managed with a great deal of rigor versus a solution that addresses a specific problem. Is there room for both, with increasing quality of a decision-making environment that can apply to greater numbers of problems, as well as targeted solutions?
Stojic: I think there is a hybrid approach with a dynamic geospatial ecosystem, where you still need organizations that manage, install, configure and use the system as a system. Then you’ll have your fringe users that only need certain capabilities and functions, where they may get those from the system provider. I don’t think it is one or the other – I think it is a hybrid model as we move forward. I think the cloud, and mobile computing, are really critical to support the hybrid model.
Ball: Your use of the “dynamic map” as a tagline seems to tie into that model, with a map that is living and breathing.
Stojic: I consider myself the older generation, but if we’re looking at the newer users coming out of school, their expectations are different and they have a low patience level. This is the FedEx, mobile phone, and social media generation with short but quick messaging. Our society is changing, and I think that geospatial technology must change to meet it. We need to socialize the geospatial space so that as things change in the world they are reflected in a dynamic map. When things change on the Earth’s surface, people don’t want to wait a week or month.
We’re now operating in a digital environment where every human being that has a cell phone is a sensor. If something happens on a street, someone can take a picture or a video with location, and upload and feed that to a system that can recognize it automatically, and use that information to take action. That’s remote sensing – you’ve sensed something, but in a different way. That has to be connected in a relevant framework for those to take action, and it’s a representation of dynamic mapping. Whether it’s a hurricane, flood, shooting, a border conflict, or tracking missile testing and nuclear development, we now have the ability to sense from space and on the ground, inside or outside, and aggregate this information and make it relevant and connected so that people can take action.
We call this the Dynamic GIS concept, and Hexagon is well positioned to take advantage of this. We are unique relative to other companies in the space that represent one portion of that ecosystem, but not the entire story.
Ball: Is cloud computing, and data processing online, a big part of the vision?
Stojic: Data processing (both online and offline) is certainly important, but I think it’s important not to abandon one for the other. The Internet offers us a framework to be connected — systems, organizations and people. We now have workflows where we collect data in the field, and connect that data directly to where it can be processed in the cloud.
Intergraph has a smart client approach, which is a good example of how we work with an Internet framework to support specific workflows within an organization, and also to dispatch that capability externally. We have context-specific and relevant workflows that are built with our workflow manager in our smart client application on internal servers that then use the Internet to extend that functionality. It’s really a hybrid model, with a bi-directional and non-stop flow of information, where content reflects changes. The connection point between internal and external is the Internet.
Ball: With the sale of a platform versus solutions, there’s a need to educate new markets and new users about the technology. How important is this education to move back toward platform sales?
Stojic: I think education is a key to our success. We have to educate people on the power of geography, the power of mapping, and the power of being able to reflect what’s happening in the real world in a digital way. Words like GIS and remote sensing don’t appeal to the average person, they don’t know what they are, they just want to take in what’s happening and analyze it in order to make decisions.
Part of what we’re working toward is an online education strategy where we will begin creating not just product-specific online materials, but industry specific online materials. We’ll have material for agriculture, forestry, urban planning, and utility workers so that they can see how these capabilities can benefit them in what they’re trying to do. We’ll be moving toward vertical applications, to make it relevant to what they’re doing.
From a workforce perspective, if you look at the earlier pioneers in the geospatial areas, they’ve gotten us to an incredible place where’s there’s a good awareness. Now we have to make the jump. We’re at the next phase. Everyone knows the potential, but nobody has manifested what that looks like from a solution and technology perspective.