Canadian Institute of Geomatics Futures Dialogues Series

Foreseeing the Future of Geomatics

By Jean Thie.

Since the mid 1960’s Canada has played a leading role in innovation in the field of geo-information science, technology and applications. Early visionaries are at the origin of this success. Leading change in today’s rapidly changing society requires more than vision of the few: the strategic insight and foresight of all professionals in the geomatics sector, and their understanding of the futures of clients and society. To assist with this challenge CIG has started a “continuous visioning and futures strategy initiative called: CIG Futures Dialogues. The first Futures Dialogue started at our 2005 CIG National Conference in Ottawa. The dialogue will continue at our upcoming 125th year anniversary and joined ISPRS Conference in Toronto: focus – Converging Technologies for Disaster and Risk Management. This dialogue process uses strategic architecture mapping, to summarize, visualize and analyse contributions by individuals or panels. Recent examples of “Mapping the Future” using strategic architecture are presented for Geomatics Canada and the Canadian Forest Service and the 2005 Dialogue. You are invited to participate and contribute to the 2007 Dialogue before, during and after the conference. A special web forum is hosted at to facilitate your participation.

The Early Visionaries

Since the mid-1960’s, Canada has played a leading role in innovation in the field of geo-information science, technology and applications. A long list of examples is not needed to make the case, but the development of the Canadian Geographic Information System (CGIS) — the first GIS in the world — can be seen as one of the symbols. Canada made its mark in remote sensing through its government, university and private-sector organizations. Some of the well-known acronyms from that leadership tell the story: CLI (Canada Land Inventory), CGIS, CCRS (Canada Centre for Remote Sensing), and MDA (MacDonald Dettwiler and Associates). The vision of the early leaders like Roger Tomlinson, Lee Pratt (related to the CGIS), and Larry Morley, Lee Godby and John MacDonald (in the area of remote sensing), made the difference. In today’s competitive environment, a more systematic and less ad hoc approach is needed to remain at the leading edge of technology and business.

Leading Change

If, according to Charles Darwin, adapting to change is critical to survival, than “leading the change,” or being most prepared for it, should form the basis for sustainable commercial and organizational success. Foreseeing change, innovation and new applications is an important step in this process. Understanding the drivers of change — technology, program initiatives, applications and individuals — is critical to “leading change”. No doubt geographic information systems would have developed without the Canada Lands Inventory. But the CLI, a world-leading and innovative program on its own merit, provided the fertile environment for accelerated GIS development and put us on the map as a leader in this field.

Converging technologies and core competencies

Can we learn from the “innovation” lessons from the past, and can we map the drivers and opportunities for leading future change? I have been involved in a number of strategy exercises in the past that have tried to map converging core competencies and technologies in geomatics-related fields. In most of the exercises I used a modified approach for mapping the future: Strategic Architecture (Hamel and Prahalad, 1994). They defined strategic architecture as a blueprint for building the competencies needed to dominate the future markets. I have modified the approach into a strategy-mapping process that can integrate elements of scenario development, such as back-casting and business planning. Following are examples from Geomatics Canada, Canadian Forest Service, and a Geomatics Futures Dialogue at the 2005 CIG conference.


Mapping the Future of Geomatics Canada

In the mid-1990’s Hugh O’Donnell was the ADM driving the integration of the surveys, mapping and remote sensing organizations into a new entity: Geomatics Canada. Dr. Ed Shaw, Director General of Policy and Planning, led a team of directors that developed the first approximation of a geomatics strategic architecture and identified the core competencies the geomatics sector would need to become a world leader. The exercise was very effective and became the foundation of the long-term strategic plan for the sector (1997–2002) as an indicator of vision and a tool for measuring and visualizing performance.

Figure 1 shows the strategic architecture as it was somewhat simplified and integrated in the strategic plan. This strategy map which, in its earliest form, was actually compiled in October of 1994, showed the dramatic acceleration of the Internet. At that time the National Atlas Information Service (NAIS) had just delivered the first web-GIS functionality with access to some major national data bases (National Pollutant Release Inventory from Environment Canada, Geographical Names, NRCan and its own Atlas Mapping Service– NAIS map). My own original version of this map includes a real-time GPS watch towards the end of the GPS line. It is interesting that now, in 2007, we can look back and assess whether these “predictions” have become a reality. From a program development and organizational perspective, the development of the GeoConnections Program and the establishment of the GeoAccess Division within Geomatics Canada were logical outcomes of this strategic vision.

The dark-circle areas in Figure 1 show significant barriers to development. For example, the GIS, Remote Sensing and Mapping lines are moving from technology-dominated solutions into science or knowledge related to applications, such as modeling and decision-support systems. The traditional geomatics institutions do not have these capabilities and need to develop strategic partnerships to remain competitive in these domains. In a later study in 1998-99, I revisited this diagram as part of developing a strategic architecture for the Science and Technology Network of the Canadian Forest Service and the Canada Centre for Remote Sensing. In both these agencies, geomatics is strongly linked to resource- management applications and geomatics architecture is moving in a different direction, from data and information management to knowledge management. This is schematically mapped in Figure 2 and 4.

Marketing Science: Canadian Forest Service (CFS)

In the mid-1990’s the Canadian Forest Service (CFS) demonstrated clear innovation and visionary leadership by launching new national and international programs of strategic and scientific acclaim, such as the Model Forest, and Criteria and Indicators for Sustainable Forest Management. CFS also implemented a business planning approach to its 10 science and technology networks. As part of this innovation in management, a “Science-Marketing” review was carried out, making extensive use of strategic architecture mapping linked to a modified form of Ansoff’s management grid. This exercise covered all 10 science and technology networks of the CFS (e.g., Biodiversity, Fire Management, Climate Change, Forest Health, etc.). This exercise involved more than 150 scientists and research managers across CFS and was led by Dr. Bill Cheliak and Dr. Pierre Charest. The strategic architectures are still relevant today when dealing with issues like sustainable forest management and climate change.(Figure 3)

By combining the 10 strategy maps, geospatial technologies emerged as an important strategic technology for the the CFS. Specific examples include:

  • Advanced geomatics – modeling and decision support
  • Landscape modeling and management, scaleble from local to global levels
  • The transition from data to knowledge management as core competency; from data to knowledge infrastructure.

Based on this work and the futures study for the Canada Centre for Remote Sensing figure 2 and 4 were developed.




Introduction to Futures Dialogues

leading the change is the key to success
The future is closer than you think
For science and technology organizations : the future is now!
Best practices reflect the past
Next practices implement the future


Figure 2. 1998 Moving from Spatial Data to Spatial Knowledge Infrastructure More...




Figute 3. 1998 Strategic Architecture for the Climate Change Network. Canadian Forest Service More...


Figure 4. 1998 Strategic Architecture and a Geospatial infrastructure for Sustainable Development More...


Copyright © Jean Thie 2006