Archive for Autodesk

3D Cities to Virtual Worlds

Berlin Molkenmarkt

Recently, The members of the Open Geospatial Consortium, Inc. (OGC) adopted version 1.0.0 of the OpenGIS® CityGML Encoding Standard as an official OGC Standard. According to OIGC, CityGML is an open data model framework and XML-based encoding standard for the storage and exchange of virtual 3D urban models. Also, CityGML is an application schema of the OpenGIS Geography Markup Language 3 (GML3) Encoding Standard, an international standard for spatial data exchange and encoding approved by the OGC and ISO.

According to the CityGMLWiki, “targeted application areas explicitly include urban and landscape planning; architectural design; tourist and leisure activities; 3D cadastres; environmental simulations; mobile telecommunications; disaster management; homeland security; vehicle and pedestrian navigation; training simulators; and mobile robotics.”

CityGML derived from efforts in Germany to integrate and link building information to the surrounding land. Traditionally, this integration has been weak, resulting in many challenges to the building industry as well as planners. And it’s not only technology where there are gaps, the entire building and GIS industries have been at arms length for decades. The hope is that CityGML can provide the standards necessary to bridge those gaps so that models can more accurately reflect the real-world juxtaposition and interrelationships between buildings and land.

In my opinion, all of this leads to virtual worlds. Now, virtual worlds are primarily the domain of gamers and socializers. But virtual worlds are no passing fad. According to a recent Technology Intelligence Group report Virtual World Industry Outlook 2008-2009, “Over one billion dollars were spent by the venture community on startups directly within or supporting virtual worlds between August 2007 and August 2008, and according to virtual world vendors and developers …”

Exciting to me is that with the inevitable merger of real-world models with virtual world technologies, sometimes called the Metaverse, geography and geographic information will be critical. According to the Metaverse Roadmap Overview, the Metaverse is the convergence of 1) virtually-enhanced physical reality and 2) physically persistent virtual space. It is a fusion of both, while allowing users to experience it as either.

I’ve written about The Business Relevance of Virtual Worlds. Others have discussed 3D models in the context of the GeoWeb, which is happening now and will be the precursor to geographically accurate virtual worlds. All of the big players are in this – Autodesk, Bentley, ESRI, Google, and Microsoft, as are some smaller companies such as Galdos Systems and Onuma. The Metaverse requires standards for interoperability, and CityGML is an important standard for now and the future of geographic information online.

IBM Buys Cognos, Last of Large Independent Business Intelligence Providers

First Oracle acquired Hyperion for $3.3B then SAP snatched up Business Objects for $6.8B. Now, in what is not a particular surprise, IBM announced it would acquire Cognos for $5B.

What’s it all mean for the geospatial market? I discussed the SAP/BO combo in April when it happened and said Oracle is more geospatial-aware than SAP, even with the acquisitions. IBM buying Cognos helps IBM with BI but not with geospatial. IBM was already geospatial savvy with its geodetic capabilities inside the Informix technology acquired years ago. Cognos supports geospatial data but was never a leader in that area amongst the BI vendors.

Furthermore, IBM is an important ESRI partner, and with Cognos provided the IBM-Cognos Crime Information Warehouse. ESRI is still the market share leader in business and government geospatial software. However, Cognos has a partnership with ESRI competitor Pitney Bowes Software MapInfo that allows users to insert maps into reports. Cognos also worked with Google Maps and Bentley.

While the IBM buy of Cognos is of significance to enterprises seeking BI software, the deal will likely have little affect on geospatial. What is does mean, however, is that geospatial companies trying to partner with the BI firms are now dealing with huge mega-providers instead of merely large BI vendors. There is inevitably increased bureaucracy and there are more decision-making layers in IBM, Oracle, and SAP than there were in Cognos, Hyperion, and Business Objects. This also affects geospatial service providers and, of course, customers of BI/geospatial integration who might wait longer for their requests to be addressed.

ESRI and PB MapInfo should be able to navigate the new BI landscape with relative ease, since they already deal with the three acquiring firms. However, The Geo Factor wonders how long Autodesk, Bentley, ESRI, and Intergraph, might remain independent. We’re already seeing the big map data providers Navteq and TeleAtlas being acquired by mobile device makers. With CAD and GIS becoming more integrated into the enterprise, and the geospatial market growing, the acquisition of these firms becomes logical, perhaps inevitable. Stay tuned.

Open Geospatial Consortium Interoperability Day (Part One)

The Geo Factor attended the OGC Interoperability Day yesterday in Tysons Corner, VA. The 320-member OGC develops and promotes location-based services (LBS) and geospatial standards through a consensus process. The morning session involved a multi-vendor (and a government agency) demonstration illustrating the tremendous potential of geospatial data sharing. The scenario was planning for an Olympics event in Tampa, Florida. Autodesk, Bentley, eSpatial, ESRI, Intergraph, and NASA participated, each representing a different government agency (water, DOT, etc.). The group resolved an increased need for water as well as an “unexpected” tanker crash causing an oil spill and gas plume near the city to show how easy it is to share geospatial data via modern OGC geospatial and other standards. And it all looked incredibly easy and productive. Drag, drop, click, select, zoom, and analyze. 2D, 3D, imagery, maps, and networks. As easy as typing in a URL. While such multi-vendor, multi-user sharing used to take months, it now can be done in hours. Why wouldn’t anyone use these standards (WMS, WFS, XML, SOAP, metadata catalogues)?

While there are some ongoing discussions on and changes upcoming to some of the OGC standards, the industry has clearly arrived regarding at least the major technical issues of geospatial data sharing. What remains to be tackled more completely are the people, process, licensing, and data quality challenges. While it is relatively straightforward to share data via standards-compliant transports, many people still closely guard access to their data. The processes and workflows for sharing scenarios can be complex and unclear, so they need to be worked out in advance of specific needs, such as an emergency. Quality is a concern when combining multiple data sources of varying scale and timeframes. Politics, planning, and privacy are some of the significant challenges facing organizations sharing geospatial data. However, the demonstration is cause to be optimistic about the potential for sharing geospatial data.

Autodesk – Another Options Casualty?

AutodeskLast Tuesday, as expected, Autodesk received a NASDAQ Staff Determination letter stating that the firm does not comply with the filing requirements for continued listing on the exchange, because its quarterly report is late. Recently Autodesk said it is undergoing a review of its past stock options practices, as a prudent move driven by recent exposures rather than tied to any specific identification of wrongdoing. However, with the hundreds of tech companies having already found options issues, one doesn’t know whether there is much to worry about until the review is complete. For some, such as Mercury Interactive (recently acquired by HP), the discovery was a huge blow. At the very least, the stock option question is a cloud over Autodesk until it reports its review findings.

Yet, there’s plenty of good news too, or perhaps I should say good Fortune. The magazine ranks Autodesk number 62 on Fortune’s 2006 list of the 100 Fastest-Growing Companies. According to Fortune, Autodesk saw profits rise at a rate of 115% and revenues grow 26% with a stock return of 63% on average annually over the past three years. Also of interest is the announcement earlier this week of Autodesk Labs. The site provides the company’s customers with early access to applications in development, as well as interviews and surveys. One application available through the site is a public beta trial of Google Earth Extension for AutoCAD-based applications.

Engaging customers in this way is a good idea and proven successful by others. For example, software vendors including IBM, Microsoft, and Oracle provide active and rich developer portals. Autodesk said that in two months the site has had190,000 hits with more than 49,000 unique visitors from 150 countries.

The Geo Factor thinks Autodesk, like others in the same situation, is distracted by the options review. However, the company understands the importance of listening to its customers. It’s a huge player with 5,000 employees, $1.6 billion in annual revenues, and an $8 billion market capitalization. And it is taking geospatial seriously, with its Location Services, MapGuide, Topobase and other solutions as well as its work toward integrating CAD and GIS.