When thinking about the music business 30 years ago, only a handful of musical genres could be purchased as vinyl records or 8-track cassettes at the “record store.” The platform quickly progressed from cassette tapes to compact discs and ultimately to digital music. Today, the brick and mortar store has been replaced by online stores and marketplaces powered by search, streaming and e-commerce engines. In terms of genres, we have so many variations of music across cultures and regions that it’s virtually impossible to truly categorize all types.
Not only have music deliverables, varieties and accessibility rapidly progressed, but also the industry itself – transitioning from a hierarchy of those recorded and promoted to a do-it-yourself (DIY) approach, with intuitive tools for capturing music and endless vehicles for self-promotion courtesy of social media. While many in the music industry balked at the rapid, radical changes (fearing lost revenue), demand sparked innovation, enabling the masses to embrace and utilize technology as it emerged.
The music industry’s transformation is just one example parallel to other industries that have been catapulted to change. New ideas are now easily connected and broadcast via the Internet and mobile devices. Traditional approaches once controlled by businesses are now scrutinized by entrepreneurs and mavericks, driving (and exposing) alternatives. Larger organizations are more vulnerable if they do not lead innovation, or at least keep up with new players driving changes.
For the geospatial industry, we seemed to be at the cusp of a revolution in the late 1990s and early 2000s. With new larger, more recognizable players in the game, overall awareness of geospatial expanded. A GPS was on everyone’s Christmas list, newscasts led viewers into stories with appropriate satellite imagery and Google Earth became a standard desktop application, beside Microsoft Word. However, for the industry as a whole, it appears we may have reached our climax too soon, with powerful tools hidden, falsely implying that geospatial can only be used to expose pretty pictures and for driving directions. While the novel capabilities to capture, create, share, and deliver content continue to emerge, these have not truly threatened or revolutionized traditional geospatial applications or increased their rate of adoption. Some may argue that it’s as if we are all still listening to “geospatial music” on vinyl or cassettes, with a limited audience still embracing this medium.
As we all know, the ability to recreate a song or even a musical group can revitalize and drastically expand its sphere of influence. A remake can often outshine the original, bringing new life into the music and capturing a larger, broader audience. We have seen this phenomenon with versatile artists like U2, Madonna, Mariah Carey and Aerosmith – illustrating that the ability to stay relevant is essential to survival and longevity. Television shows like American Idol and The Voice provide a different platform, thrusting unknown individuals into fame through a creative and well-executed, known song. With the DIY model, Justin Bieber used an amateur video recording on YouTube to propel himself to stardom.
Likewise, the geospatial sector faces a moment of reckoning, with an opportunity to recreate itself, embrace new media and leverage new talents and creativity. The traditional industries are changing – with new groups emerging and needing configurable tools.
We must also recognize that we have a new generation of users with the expectation of purchasing only what they need, on demand, with the ability to utilize powerful tools easily. Previously, the music industry promoted albums, offering only select singles for sale. Recognizing changing customer desires, the iTunes model now supports low-cost song purchase as the preferred medium, making every song on an album available as an independent purchase. For geospatial, we may need to think about offering workflows on the cloud through a subscription-based model, rather than simply offering heavy products. This requires innovating outside new features and functions in traditional product brands and challenging existing business models.
While music is arguably superfluous, the geospatial sector addresses real-world problems, with technology delivering timely and authoritative information. Recognizing this responsibility and opportunity, we must make our tools and information products more palatable, and “in tune” with the crescendo of new user needs.
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