Earth Imaging Journal: Remote Sensing, Satellite Images, Satellite Imagery
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June 26, 2013
Driving Analysis Closer to Data through Information Partnerships

By Drew Esson, director, Information Partner Program,
DigitalGlobe, Longmont, Colo.,
www.digitalglobe.com.

Today’s imagery market largely comprises do-it-yourself users. Imagery providers capture an image that’s shipped to a user or reseller partner where it may be additionally processed. Finally, an end user integrates it into his or her workflow—a model that’s worked for years. But can we do better?

The current process works, but it’s not ideal. Beginning with total cost of ownership, high-resolution imagery requires significant storage capabilities—it can take as much as 3.2GB to store 100 square kilometers. Additionally, moving large files of data around the planet takes time. Even with the wide availability of fiber networks, transmitting such large files is time consuming. In many cases, large areas of imagery require shipping hard drives to the customer.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the market may be missing an opportunity to extract more value from the imagery on which so many valuable resources are tasked to acquire. If a picture can tell a thousand words, the market may only be reading the first couple of chapters before moving on. But there’s an opportunity for a new business model that can address these challenges.

Harvesting Information from Pixels

The spectral richness of satellite imagery is an underexploited resource in that imagery primarily is used as a backdrop for other vector data sources and mapping activities. But satellite-based elevation models also are being used as a cost-effective alternative for light detection and ranging (LiDAR) imagery. Other uses include land use/land cover, Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI), bathymetry and benthic analyses. Such applications require photogrammetry skills that can deliver valuable benefits to end users.

Industry verticals such as energy companies, governments, utilities and insurance firms are logical targets for adopting these uses today. These potential users, however, don’t yet have the resources, photogrammetry skills or time required to pursue these new uses for imagery.

So what the industry really needs to leverage these incredible possibilities are new businesses that will translate the “science” of these analytical capabilities into “informational products” that are “ready  built” for end users. To advance to this level, imagery providers must build a mutually beneficial relationship with information partners to assure success.

What Benefits Can Imagery Providers Offer?

Many information partners are starting a business based on the science of harvesting information out of a pixel. They’re smaller, entrepreneurial, and often lack a large sales team, global reach and credibility for their solutions. Through a symbiotic relationship, however, global imagery providers can help startups address many of these challenges. By embracing a “sell with” model, whereby the imagery provider vouches for a small company during the sales process, credibility gaps can be fused for a large end user.

The technology behind information partner solutions is still new. As a result, information partners and imagery providers need to jointly engage in initiatives that improve the solution’s information value and scalability of each partner’s products. Imagery providers with research and development groups can offer significant value to information partners by exchanging input on how to maximize the value of a given partner’s technology and services. Specific actions can be as simple as offering regular technology briefings or dialogue on licensing capabilities for the use of a given partner. The goal is to develop a collaborative relationship that leads to the development of robust imagery information products and services.

Put the Coal Plant Near the Mine

In many cases, it’s not the pixel the customer wants—it’s the information that’s locked within the pixel. Just as coal plants
often are located near coal mines because the transportation costs for the electricity are much cheaper than those for moving coal, imagery providers should consider offering co-location capabilities to their information partners.

Imagery providers such as DigitalGlobe have more than
4 billion square kilometers of imagery in their archive comprising petabytes of information. If information partners can access the imagery “near the coal mine,” they potentially can develop even more innovative solutions, provide end users with a much lower cost solution and do so with a faster time to market.

Facilitating Effective Platform Integration

Finally, an information partner program should consider the role that third-party platform providers can play. Increasingly platform providers, such as Esri, are offering online environments that allow service providers to offer premium mapping services for application developers. Combining co-location, third-party platform marketplaces, and the creativity of application developers can create an environment that fully cracks open the imagery information solution market that allows providers to achieve profitability and end users to feel like they’ve received fair value for the cost.

The concept of information partners really is a fancy way of suggesting that to grow the market beyond traditional business models, marketplace creativity must be harnessed by the imagery industry. Achieving this will reward all elements of the value chain, beginning with the image providers and extending through information partners and ultimately end users.

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