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Demand, demander, demandest
But, that doesn't even make sense?
Last time, I took us down the fallacy of obviousness rabbit hole. We talked a little about trying to remember life before geo, and reminding ourselves that just because we can make a map of something does not mean that a map is always the best tool for the job. Indeed, an activity can be geospatial without a map being involved at all. Today, it’s time to talk a little about demand.
Most commonly we think of demand in terms of “supply and demand.” You might have heard that there is a Law. This law links the notion of scarcity to price and is the foundation of commerce. In essence, the law of demand is that people buy less of a product or service at a higher price. The law of supply similarly suggests that at that with a higher price there will be more interest in serving that need so that supply will increase. With the increased supply, prices will subsequently drop. These laws follow each other and are illustrated by fluctuations in price.
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But this chasing of equilibria assumes a perfect marketplace. I would argue that geospatial, through any lens is far from a perfect marketplace.
Vector based geospatial, or GIS, or whatever you want to call it, is obviously a monopoly. There are alternative options for GIS, but Esri clearly has a massive market advantage; largely they own that market and to some extent they even own the acronym. So by any measure the GIS part of the geospatial market is not perfect, a monopoly can’t be.
I’m not sure if anyone will be upset by this assertion. I am a very big proponent of the open source community and open innovation itself, but clearly Esri has been the dominant force in (at least) North American GIS for probably 2 decades, and held a firm monopoly for perhaps the last 10 of those years. Demand, therefore is skewed in this market because, for normal buyers there are very few alternatives. Open source options absolutely do exist, but the open source community sits a little outside normal market behaviour, given it is both free and costly at the same time. Thus again, geospatial proves itself to be the odd duck.
But GIS is only a part of the demand story for geospatial. Ss I see it, geospatial is becoming pretty messy, or unsettled.
Infact, GIS is becoming a smaller and smaller part of the story, as the options for geospatial impact increase more broadly. But as we look at new places to inject geospatial we find ourselves in an interesting position, one alluded to in our last discussion around “describing what we do.” As geospatial strategists, we are talking with people and organizations who may not understand what geospatial is capable of. We are operating in an inchoate demand environment.
If we consider that our available complementary asset mix has changed, naturally leading to enhanced capabilities, then of course our abilities to serve new markets has also changed. Those markets come with little history or baggage. But they also come with a lack of discrete demands: they do not know what they want from us.
Various parts of the insurance sector, for instance, are deeply interested in the changing landscapes of our planet. This could be within the context of demographic changes, natural disasters, climate change, or supply chain activities: measuring and monitoring change is valuable. With the tsunami of data flowing from low earth orbit, our ability to use vast amounts of data, and the algorithms we have at our disposal geospatial organizations can measure that change. There is an unmet demand. But we do not understand the products with which that demand will be met.
Some might argue that supply push discovers new markets, but I believe the modern geospatial sector is desperately trying to meet an inchoate demand. This is a nuanced difference, but never-the-less evident. Supply push, is where a variety of products are being presented to an audience, inchoate demand means an audience does not yet know that a demand may be met. i do not think our sector is presenting products, I think we are desperately trying to shoehorn GIS into nonsensical workflows.
To put it more candidly:
Demand pull is bullshit if the consumer does not know what is possible; what can they pull?
Therefore, in new markets there is only inchoate demand.
This is not absolutely true if we consider supply push too, but you get the jist of the argument.
Let’s think about our changing climate. Some places are warming while others cool. Climatic changes have left some places unlivable, dislodging millions. Some people are short of water, while others have too much. Against a backdrop of rising populations and a need to feed billions more, we face global, wicked problems.
Climate change is both a personal and abstract problem. One which is hard to set goals against: a geopolitical prisoner’s dilemma.Whatever intentions are agreed upon, they must be measured: a geospatial question. The geospatial community understands the state of the geospatial art. The finance community feels the effect of climate with dollars most commonly being used as a yardstick for catastrophe.
Yet few have successfully crossed this spatial finance chasm.
But what is most obvious about climate change is that there is no commonly agreed solution. There are no dominant designs; there are no obvious products we can build. Yet, measuring landscape changes must matter.
Measuring our changing planet is precisely what we do as geospatial people. This is therefore an inchoate demand. Intrinsically, we can undertake the fundamentals of this task but, we do not know the form this product will need to take.
As a society, we have built, bought, and battled ourselves into a position where we can do nothing but act. Climate change is a very modern moonshot, and geospatial technology is foundational to understanding, managing, and measuring our efforts.
Next time, we will talk about s-curves (I promise.)