Interview: Robert Rowell, Insight GIS

By on 17 January, 2024

In our annual Leaders Forum, we ask the experts to look ahead into 2024. Today we talk GIS with Robert Rowell.

Rob Rowell is a technology executive with a passion for leading innovation in the GIS industry. With over 30 years of experience in strategic planning and service delivery, he has successfully led numerous projects and teams.

Spatial Source: Workforce supply issues have dominated discussion in recent years. Do you think enough is being done to solve this problem?

Rob Rowell: This is a very hard question to answer, as workforce supply is dependent on many factors outside of our sector’s control and all industries are suffering from this issue. If there was opportunity in which our education institutions could work more closely with small business, then I think we would all prosper. Place-based learning, for example, provide an excellent pathway into the workforce as well as creating an environment where universities could understand what SMEs require and adapt accordingly.

Also, the geospatial industry is a very broad umbrella, and I think we should look at outreach programs to make geospatial more attractive to professionals currently outside of our sector.

SS: What other challenges are facing the sector, and what are the solutions?

RR: This year I have worked with a number of organisations who are overflowing with GIS technology, however it has been staggering how the principles behind data management and data governance have been lost. At times we can get caught up in technology for technology’s sake.

If we going to promote digital twins, geospatial AI, then the demand for geospatial data will only increase. These technologies will need solid foundations, and to successfully achieve this we are going to need fit-for-purpose geospatial data, reinforced with strong data management.

Consequently, interest in data integration platforms, such as FME, for ETL functions continues to grow. Clients are wanting tools that allow for integration across a variety of sources and destinations, whilst maintaining their data management protocols.

SS: Which technologies or innovations are going to make their mark in 2024?

RR: Cloud-based services have been around for a while, but we are only within the early majority stage (see Geoffrey Moore, Crossing the Chasm). Many organisations have been resisting adoption, but pragmatism and the desire for efficiencies is driving acceptance, especially within the geospatial sector.

We are also seeing a resurgence in mobile or field GIS. We have noticed a growth in implementation and increased adoption by customers. Again, the productivity gains of field staff capturing and updating geospatial data are being fully realised. We work with GBM and their Konect application, which is a well-established solution compatible with most platforms, and our customers find it user-friendly.

SS: What’s on your wish list for 2024?

RR: I’m hoping we don’t lose sight of the fundamentals of our sector. I’ve already spoken about the need to focus on robust geospatial data management — this applies to new technologies through to the transformation to GDA2020. I’m also hoping for improved collaboration between industry and our education institutions. Productivity is a major issue, but if we can produce better practitioners through education and exposure to the workplace, then we will all benefit.

SS: What are your customers and collaborators looking for in 2024?

RR: Our customers are wanting geospatial solutions that are easy to implement and manage. They are looking for licensing models that are thin and without a host of modules. IT and GIS staff are time poor, and don’t need the pressure of overly complex geospatial solutions.

Also, increased integration of geospatial into business processes and workflows. Many want to move away from the GIS being just a silo and have it integrated with their core business solutions. Many of our customers are benefiting from our solutions especially around Spectrum Spatial and its inherent characteristics for easy integration.

SS: What are your company’s plans or priorities for 2024?

RR: It’s pretty simple: we need to continue listening to our customers and ensure that we are meeting their needs. Geospatial will continue to benefit them, but only if we make it real and relevant. Our customer base has grown significantly in recent years, so we have to promote our business values and how our customers benefit from working with us. In addition, we are expanding our service offerings. New clients and growing client requirements will require an investment in a broader range of geospatial technologies, especially cloud services.

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