Trimble mapping & GIS leader Rachel Blair Winkler reflects on the technology’s powerful role
To mark today’s celebration of GIS Day—created by spatial analytics leader Esri 20 years ago to spotlight all that is inspiring about geographic information systems (GIS) technology—we sat down with Rachel Blair Winkler, who leads Trimble’s Mapping & GIS group. Trimble has a long history as a provider of mapping solutions for GIS providers, such as Esri, so we wanted to gather her thoughts on the importance of mapping and GIS in the world, and how Trimble’s solutions intersect with the many important uses of GIS data to improve decision-making.
Blair Winkler, in her current role as business area manager for Trimble Mapping & GIS, is celebrating GIS Day by sharing her love of the topic with students. Based in Corvallis, Oregon, she will give a lecture to students in a GIS certificate program at the College of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences at Oregon State University. “They will be getting some geo-inspiration from Trimble,” Blair Winkler says.
For her own part, Blair Winkler is inspired daily by what Trimble customers do with mapping technologies to solve some of the most important problems on the planet. “I wake up thinking about our customers’ problems,” she says, “and I go to bed thinking about our customers’ problems—and sometimes in the middle of the night, I wake up thinking about them too.”
Here’s more from Blair Winkler on the power of GIS in the world today:
Q: What does GIS mean to you? What inspires you about it?
Fundamentally, what GIS means to me is asking and answering questions about where things are in relation to one another. It is solving a spatial problem. What is really exciting to me is all of the ways that technology can be applied. Our customers use this principle of asking and answering questions in relation to one another to manage land, to prevent forest fires, to update critical infrastructure for the future and to map and manage public health crises. Our customers are using this data that they collect with Trimble technology to better plan for the future—and that’s the part I love the most.
Q: What does GIS mean to Trimble?
Mapping & GIS is one of the original divisions, or business areas, of Trimble. As a business area, it’s a building block of Trimble’s fabric, and it has a long history. Trimble solutions capture the reality of the world for our customers. We at Trimble are the starting point for GIS, connecting the physical world with the digital world of the GIS.
Q: In your opinion, how important is GIS to an organization?
Any organization that works outside of four walls needs mapping and GIS and spatial analysis. I love the description that GIS is what customers need to make rational decisions. It’s a platform to manage all of their spatial resources. Really, it is the lynchpin for operations within an organization. More broadly, GIS is understanding where things are in relation to each other. So for a school district, it would be understanding where their students are and what their transportation journeys are like. For a technology company, it would be understanding where their physical assets are. For an urban planner, it would be understanding the nature of the environment and how it will change over time. A customer can only build a GIS, which is the database that houses all of the spatial information, with data collected in the field. Trimble’s role is to provide accurate and reliable data, and that’s really important. The value of the GIS is only as good as the data that it’s based on. What Trimble provides is the highest-quality and highest-accuracy data with the most attributes to be the foundation of that GIS.
Q: How is GIS technology making a difference today? And how has this changed over time?
In the past, adoption of mapping and GIS technology was driven by having physical, spatial assets that needed to be maintained over time. You can think of utilities or local government or parks and recreation, where there are physical assets. What’s most exciting about mapping and GIS now is that spatial analysis has become pervasive across every industry. One of the most impactful opportunities for mapping and GIS today is mapping the environmental impact of climate change. This includes water management tools, coastal impact, disaster mitigation, public works projects—and in the context of these changing models— endangered species mapping. There’s a lot that fits in the bucket related to climate-change analysis. We’ve moved from tracking only what is physical to what is intangible, to understand and better plan for the future.
Q: What is a key technology trend you see coming in 2020 and beyond in the GIS arena?
Augmented reality has arrived in terms of GIS technology. What’s exciting in 2020 is that it’s moving from a technology exhibition into the real world. This is really where Trimble provides the link. This is bringing the digital world back into the physical world. Now, with augmented reality tools like Trimble SiteVision, we have the opportunity to take the GIS data out of the digital world and view it in the physical world. I’m really excited to see what customers can do with that in the coming months.
Q: What are some other hot mapping and GIS trends on the horizon?
Artificial intelligence and machine learning are really exciting areas of development. Trimble has a software, eCognition, that does Object-Based Image Analysis (OBIA). Customers are using this kind of technology to find new ways to use and interpret existing data. Another trend is customers using existing data sources in new ways. Perhaps kilometers of a road were mapped using mobile mapping technology to extract information on infrastructure, such as stop signs or street signs. Or, you could also go back to the same data set and look for new features to extract. Transportation is one of the fastest-growing market segments, so identifying the health of that stretch of road, where the data has already been captured, is the kind of thing you’ll see more customers doing with existing data sets. One more hot trend relates to how our customers are demanding streamlined field-to-office workflows with cloud technology for faster decision-making. Trimble, Esri and other GIS solutions providers are focused on enabling customers to get data faster to make decisions faster.
Q: What fields do you see GIS growing in, in the coming years?
Transportation is one of the fastest-growing mobile mapping and GIS segments. Transportation is in a transformative time right now with the development of autonomous vehicles and new forms of public transportation. I think the modeling of that is one of the most exciting uses of mapping and GIS technology today—figuring out how we can get people to their destination more safely and more efficiently and at less of a tax on the environment. Another growing field is spatial analysis related to climate change, so better water management, and better disaster mitigation tools. In addition, as new cities are growing and older cities are reviving, urban planning is a fast-growing area for mapping and GIS. Better, more informed decisions around infrastructure build-out decisions, environmental impact and managing public health in urban areas will lead to a better future. One final area is using mapping for GIS to better manage our natural resources. We are aware of how precious they are and that we need to preserve them better. GIS is the best tool to model these resources to plan for the future.
To learn more, visit Esri’s GIS Day site.