How can a clear identity for the geomatics sector lead to economic growth?

Jul 13, 2015

I recently had the chance to interview Prashant Shukle, Director General at the Canada Centre for Mapping and Earth Observation (CCMEO) at NRCan, about the results of the Canadian Geomatics Environmental Scan and Value Study and what it means for the geo sector. Some excerpts from this interview are in included in this article, and the full interview transcript is available here.

- Caitlin Blundell, GeoAlliance Communications Lead


The geomatics sector in Canada is experiencing an era of rapid change. Not only are location technologies evolving at an almost unbelievable rate, new actors are emerging on the national stage and public policies around open government and open data are creating exciting new opportunities. These changes have spurred a national conversation about what the new role of the geomatics/geospatial professional should be over the coming years and decades, and how the various players involved can best work together to create the right conditions for growth and continued innovation.

Cue the push, beginning in 2009, to measure the impact of geospatial data and technologies on the Canadian economy at a federal level. After all, if you can’t measure the impact of geo, it becomes very difficult to try to manage it. This is no easy task - many of the environmental and social benefits of increased geospatial awareness are virtually impossible to quantify. Natural Resources Canada has just released the results of their work in the Canadian Geomatics Environmental Scan and Value Study Summary Report. This report summarizes two bodies of work; the Value Study provides a detailed analysis of the economic and non-economic benefits associated with the use of geomatics, while the Environmental Scan assesses the sector’s key players and operating context. These two pieces together give us a clear and definitive snapshot of our sector.

Most interesting to me (a relative newcomer to this dialogue) is the relationship that is implied throughout the report between the geomatics sector’s identity and its growth. The importance of a more “cohesive and compelling” sector identity has also been central to the work of the Canadian Geomatics Community Round Table (CGCRT) and in the formation of GeoAlliance Canada. In the CGCRT’s Pan-Canadian Geomatics Strategy, the sentiment was expressed (and I’m paraphrasing) that we need a more clearly articulated sector identity because if only more people understood the value of geo – how our work can and does help them in their professional and day-to-day lives – we, the geo professionals, would be better off. However, “better off” is pretty intangible. It doesn’t really express the value of a more clearly defined sector identity to businesses or researchers.


There is a need for the Sector to articulate an easily understood and compelling identity that creates a positive image with government and private sector decision makers and the public at large.
- CGCRT Pan-Canadian Geomatics Strategy, Identity Dimension


It was evident to everyone involved in the CGCRT that geospatial data and technologies are having a significant impact far beyond the geomatics sector as it’s traditionally been defined. Since geo is present to some degree almost everywhere in the economy, we recognized the need for a vehicle to connect us with those who could benefit from the increased adoption of geospatial tools and technologies, so we can maximize and accelerate the impact of geo across the board. That vehicle is GeoAlliance Canada. We have a mandate to reach out to all these players and bring them together under our umbrella. What this study gives us is a much better idea of rate of adoption and the scale of the impact of geo in all sectors of the economy, and an understanding of how to use that information in very tangible ways. These insights are fundamentally important to the success of this endeavor.


This study has found that today, the Canadian geomatics industry consists of about 2,450 firms that contribute approximately $2.3 billion to GDP.  In addition, the geospatial information being used by all sectors is estimated to result in productivity improvements of $20.7 billion to the rest of the Canadian economy, providing a 1.1% improvement to economic performance.
- Canadian Geomatics Environmental Scan and Value Study, 2015


The numbers uncovered by the study are huge, and will be used to position “geo” as an important strategic asset on the national (and even international) stage. We have an opportunity to take it even further. We need to come together to try to really make sense of these numbers. The Economic Value Study breaks down the increases to productivity that can be attributed to the use of geospatial data and technologies in different industries across different regions, and gives us estimates of the rate of adoption in each sector. Multiplied together, these figures represent the economic impact of geospatial information on each industry across the country.

For the purposes of this article, I took a quick look at the productivity increases attributed to geo in the construction industry for each region (from Table 3). This quick mapping exercise shows us that in this one industry, Ontario and Quebec are benefitting a little less from geospatial data and technologies than the other regions across the country. Figuring out why could help those in the private sector formulate a business case for integrating geo more closely into the construction industry in those regions. GeoAlliance Canada gives us an opportunity to gain further insight by learning from other jurisdictions’ successes and adapting local innovations to new locations. These conversations among the various players (inside and out of the traditional geomatics sector) will help drive Canada forward as a spatially enabled society.  



What the model gives us is a way of looking at the impact of geospatial on the economy. We have a traditional core of companies/associations that identify themselves as part of the geomatics industry. What the study and the productivity impacts tell us is that there are a lot of people out there that are using geospatial in their business but they don’t identify themselves as geospatial/geomatics players - they’re aligned to other industries. So the question becomes, how, as a geospatial community, do we maximize the application and the use of geospatial for productivity and innovation in the economy?
We can start asking some fundamental questions. Are we using geospatial tools, data, and technology in the most effective way possible? Are there other things we can do in vertical industries that can accelerate the innovation capability, the productivity capability and the competitiveness position of firms operating in Canada by deploying geospatial tools and technologies?
- Prashant Shukle, DG CCMEO


The study makes it clear that as time goes on and the technology advances, the boundary between the geomatics sector and the broader geo community is becoming harder to draw. As those lines blur, articulating a stronger identity for the sector will help us accelerate the adoption of geo in the areas that can benefit the most from it. So what the CGCRT felt intuitively, we can now act upon: if only more people in all walks of life better understood the value of geo, we, the geo professionals, could do what we do more effectively, with strategic growth into new regions and applications.  


What the study does is provide an opportunity for us to look at the rates of adoption and how people in those industries are adopting the tools, and it gives the geomatics experts an opportunity to say “maybe there’s a business opportunity here, maybe there’s a research opportunity here” and so on and so forth. And I don’t think we ever had that roadmap before.
- Prashant Shukle, DG CCMEO


The way we have traditionally understood and described our industry is becoming obsolete. That fact is reflected in the change this study makes from previous work, away from segmenting the geomatics sector by discipline to positioning us along the “geospatial value chain”.



Image Credit: Canadian Geomatics Environmental Scan and Value Study


You can no longer put location in a silo and expect it to stay there, dividing remote sensing from surveying from mapping. What’s more, the geospatial value chain is connected to other industries’ value chains at every stage. What we can do now is reach out as a united community with a strong identity to the people working in those other value chains, to make sure that we’re communicating with them and sharing ideas, innovations, research and best practices. If we can do that, the traditional sector will remain strong and stable, working with and innovating with all the newer players in an open, collaborative effort that is truly representative of our “Team Canada” vision.


Category: GeoAlliance News

Add Pingback

Please add a comment

You must be logged in to leave a reply. Login »