Google, Esri and the Internet of Things

On the face of it, perhaps Google’s realised that it’s all very well to have a cool front-end but that wears pretty thin if under the hood is not up to scratch; particularly around data maintenance and analytics.  At LINQ we specialise in the capture, modelling and analysis of the spatial information supply chain;  how does spatial information flow from original capture to the decision support application?  What are the risks, the productivity gains; the opportunities around that?

Esri’s dominant position in the traditional market has come about because they ‘own’ the capture end with their range of professional GIS applications.  And while Google now ‘owns’ the new mass-market with their Maps and Earth applications, the spatial information supply chain is broken; there is a gap between the rich and current content typically captured and published by the national mapping organisations and its eventual appearance in the Google applications.

Why is that an issue?  Because once the heady rush of Google’s cool applications fades you are left asking; ‘can I trust this data’?  And the answer is an unhelpful; ‘I don’t know’.  So fixing that supply chain; something that neither Google nor Esri could do independently is something which together… is new and powerful.

But is that still a big enough rationale for Google to take the revolutionary step of forging a deep relationship with Esri?

Google’s play for the Internet of Things

We believe that there might be a clue in an acquisition that Google made back in January last year.  Google paid $3.4Bn to acquire a thermostat company called Nest.  Think about that… $3.4Bn for a thermostat company.  Uh?  Nest’s first product was indeed the Nest Thermostat but Google bought their vision, not their thermostat.  They bought their vision of becoming a home automation hub as a precursor for the Internet of Things.

So what’s the Internet of Things?  The first Internet that we all grew up with was the Internet of Computers – computers connected to other computers with people as consumers of content through fairly clunky interfaces.  The Internet that we’re all striving for today is the Internet of People – people accessing and providing information through a huge range of smart and intuitive clients.  The Internet that is beginning to emerge is the Internet of Things – devices directly connected to the Internet to sense our environment, our cars, our buildings, our world.

I already use the Internet of Things.  My car’s engine computer is connected to a Bluetooth device which connects to the Torque Pro application on my mobile which connects to the Internet.  This allows me to see all my car sensor information in real time and, since the history is stored in the cloud, I get to understand trends that might lead to problems.  It’s the Internet of Things but it’s clunky.  There’s an excellent book from the folks at Maya Labs called Trillions – which sets out the computing challenges for us to achieve a more seamless Internet of Things.  If you’re interested in this topic, it’s essential reading.

Nest is doing for the home what Torque Pro is doing for my car.  First the heating system, then the fire alarm, then security… and then the fully connected smart home… which becomes a part of a smart city.  Which illustrates how the Internet of Things and Smart City initiatives are connected.  Which helps understand why Google paid $3.4Bn for Nest!

Why GIS Matters for the Internet of Things

I hope you’ve got this far because at last we get to why we believe that Google and Esri ought to embark on a bigger and more important journey.  Every device in the internet of Things has an inherent spatial context:  it is located somewhere (in the case of my car moving quite fast) and that location needs to be integrated.  The mechanism to integrate that spatial context is an enterprise GIS – and specifically a properly maintained Spatial Data Infrastructure.  That GIS environment is essential to getting full value out of the Internet of Things – by storing, analysing and visualising the spatial context of all those devices.

Google simply doesn’t own the enterprise GIS space… and so that would limit the potential of the Nest acquisition.  So at that point, if I was Google, I’d turn to the GIS industry leader to help create that Internet of Things spatial foundation.  I’d want to acquire Esri, but Esri doesn’t play acquisitions and mergers… so I’d settle for next best which is a close relationship.  That closer relationship would see the Esri GIS capabilities underpin a wide range of Google’s Internet of Things initiatives; and that all loops back to spatial information supply chains.  The Internet of Things will see those supply chains extended back from today’s traditional sources to encompass potentially billions of new devices all capturing their own data.   We’ve been busy developing LINQ; a methodology and toolset for the capture, modelling and analysis of these information supply chains and in doing so chart a course to tomorrow’s Internet of Things.

So that is just one of the outcomes of some intense discussions in our historic little meeting room and we hope we’ve got you to think about how enterprise GIS will need to evolve to cope with the Internet of Things and Smart Cities.  We don’t know whether this is what Google and Esri have in mind – who knows, we might trigger some conversations!

Want to know how your organisation’s Internet of Things strategy needs spatial enablement?  Please drop us a line.