Satellite-generated data and the Big Data squeeze (part 1 of 2)

With Big Data and Open Data policies on everybody’s lips, 2015 confirmed that these trends are here to stay. Companies, governments, and individuals recognise them as drivers of innovation and growth. Satellite data is undoubtedly part of this Big Picture. But where does it stand?

Copernicus is operational as of 2014, and Galileo is about to become so. But to produce the successful services everyone is hoping for, satellite data needs to be used alongside a profusion of other available non-space data sources – Big Data, that is. Successful satellite services also need to rely heavily on in-depth thematic knowledge. Competition in the Big Data landscape is harsh tough. The vast majority of non-space data sources are far less complex to exploit and access. For instance, many sources of data require no specialised processing from raw, unlike satellite data.

That means start-ups and SMEs are less likely to turn to satellite data, as opposed to many, more accessible, data sources.

To add to the competitive pressure, the value-added chain for the production of geo-information services is ever more complex. Compare space value-adding companies – those who process raw satellite data to turn it into geo-products – to start-ups and SMEs which integrate (non satellite) data to produce some kind of service or app. The latter two are abundant; just browse the App Store, you are bound to find some kind of satnav app, right at the fingertips of the users.

Traditional geo-information companies (not using satellite data) have the additional advantage of having an established customer base. They also offer an integrated GI solution, with many layers of different types of information. By contrast, space value-adding companies would usually focus on one aspect or another: monitoring illegal logging, or biodiversity hotspots etc.

Which is not to say there is no business case for specialised niche services. But such services need a critical mass of customers, often to be built from scratch (and often through public funding). These specialised satellite services also need to be highly compatible with the devices used by the customer. With phones, it’s easy; less so with desktops in an institutional setting.

In all this, satellite data is practically invisible for most final users. Final users use information, not data. Where data is coming from is irrelevant for them.

To try and get to the bottom of the Big Data conundrum, we got together representatives of the EC, SME clusters and civil society to get a better understanding of their different views and expectations.

Stay tuned for our next post, where we reveal the key messages coming out of this cross-sector debate!

Oh, and a happy and productive new year everyone!