How Do We Save The Canadian Geospatial Sector?

Mar 19, 2014

As the president of a company that falls into the SME category, I have witnessed significant change in the Canadian and global geomatics marketplace. I also note that Canadian companies face considerable challenges and opportunities in this changing geomatics business ecosystem.

Changes in federal government policies and funding have also had an adverse effect on geomatics companies in international markets. For example, by limiting involvement of the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) in the Industrial Cooperation Program, Canadian geomatics companies are no longer funded by CIDA to undertake feasibility studies in developing countries. These feasibility studies provided companies with first-hand knowledge of geomatics services that would be required in the future and gave them somewhat of a competitive advantage going forward. An end to government funding of the GEOIDE program means there is no longer a dedicated geomatics Network Centre of Excellence (NCE) to work with industry and government to develop innovative commercial capacity.



Data availability is another factor; for example, the United States federal and state governments have implemented policies that make data available at no charge. This has enabled start-up companies to develop new applications. While the Government of Canada is committed to open data, this is not true across the board for other levels of government in Canada.

I think that to be able to gain a competitive advantage at home and abroad, the private sector must immediately begin to invest heavily into R&D to spur innovation. This means that government, the federal government in particular must take corresponding action to:

  • provide the framework for R&D incentives;
  • share the results of internal R&D programmes;
  • provide tax relief for those companies exporting geomatics services;
  • promote the geomatics industry at home and abroad; for example, Canada has a great opportunity to create a niche market for Canadian companies and it’s the RADARSAT program. But, RADARSAT imagery is not well known by the industry. The capability of this technology is underestimated and must be developed. Success with this technology will only be achieved by making the data available to industry at a very low cost. In this way, the industry will create tools and applications for a large range of customers. The LANDSAT program is a good example of this at work, whereby, many companies developed applications very useful for agriculture and forestry. Many applications started from the RADARSAT program, but are not commercially sustainable. Currently, the RADARSAT program is viewed by many from the geomatics industry as a research tool for universities rather than a real commercial product from which many applications could be built and marketed.
  • re-institute CIDA’s role in developing countries as many governments use their aid agencies to provide support to geomatics firms in the international market.
  • make available authoritative data at no cost to the geomatics community, and be willing to step back and permit the private sector to lead and build upon the wealth of data holdings within government by creating value and new applications; and
  • maintain its responsibility for delivering foundation datasets.

I believe that the Canadian private sector has recognized the dramatic market shifts of the past several years. To succeed, geomatics businesses need to focus strategically on specialized value-added location information services for both consumer and business markets instead of dwindling government projects.

challenges ahead

challenges ahead

I would argue that there is a need for a united, strong and proactive industry and a professional organisation that will engage government and influence it to initiate programs for data acquisition that will allow industry and others to participate and offer value-added products and services.

I believe that there are opportunities in identifying those markets that large players (such as Microsoft and Google) cannot serve, and to become suppliers of choice for authoritative data services and accompanying, innovative, applications.

What do you think?

- Anthony (Tony) Sani is the President of Sani-International Technology Advisors Inc. (a Canadian surveying, mapping and consulting company) and a steering committee member of the CGCRT.


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