Published on 14.11.2023

Reflections on FOSS4G-NA 2023: Gispo Ltd.’s Role in Shaping the Geospatial Tomorrow

A couple of weeks back I got to represent Gispo at the FOSS4G-NA Baltimore 2023, a conference that brought together diverse perspectives and showcased new developments in the field of open-source geospatial technology. Each presentation, workshop, and informal gathering at the conference served as a showcase for the current state of geospatial technology and the evolving dynamics of our community. This was my first NA-version of FOSS4G, an experience one might preemptively think of as ‘just another regional FOSS4G,’ but it proved to be anything but.

At FOSS4G-NA Baltimore 2023, keynote talks drew our attention to the state of the global FOSS4G community and the future of cloud-native geospatial technologies.

The landscape of open-source geospatial software is ever evolving, with cloud-native geospatial technologies, among others, transitioning from emerging concepts to practical, implemented solutions—as notably seen in Baltimore. This progression is characterized by the increased use of advanced data formats and infrastructures that enhance analytical capabilities and improve the efficiency of data management practices.

Furthermore, a significant theme at the conference was the sustainability of our community. In his keynote, Paul Ramsey underscored the urgent need for a more sustainable approach to maintaining the open-source geospatial software packages that our societies rely on so heavily. He pointed out that we have yet to secure the ongoing financial support for the software maintenance, let alone the innovation necessary for developing new features.

Advancements in Cloud-Native Geospatial Technologies

Cloud-Native Spatial Data Infrastructure was presented as part of the Keynote from Chris Holmes. In short, a cloud-native spatial data infrastructure is centered around using cloud resources and technologies to store, manage, and access geospatial data in a way that is cost-effective, scalable, and user-friendly. It simplifies data publishing, reduces the need for complex server setups, and aims to bring the power of geospatial data to a broader audience, by making it accessible in cloud-native formats.

Using Geoparquet on action with the newly published Lonboard python package (rendering without any problems 6.5M data points (data: Places, Overture))

The conference centered on this pivotal theme across numerous presentations. There were presentations that delved into the capabilities of e.g. GeoParquet for vector data, explored the efficiency of PMTiles for vector tiles (in addition to other tiled data), and examined the utility of COPC for point cloud storage. These discussions are highly relevant to our mission at Gispo. We are eager to harness these advanced data formats and integrate them into our customers’ workflows, thereby enhancing their geospatial capabilities and enabling a more sophisticated use of geospatial data.

Gispo Ltd.’s Contribution: Full-House Workshop and Presentation

At Gispo Ltd., our goal is to contribute to the ongoing evolution of the geospatial industry. The high attendance at our workshop and presentation indicates a great interest in the practical application of FOSS4G technologies for Enterprise GIS systems. We remain focused on supporting this interest by providing expertise in the implementation of open-source geospatial tools.

Recognition for the session, marked by a ‘High Attendance’ badge.

Our workshop and presentation were designed to provide practical insights into enterprise-level OLTP (Online Transaction Processing) systems, showcasing how PostGIS can serve as a robust backend while QGIS functions as an intuitive user interface for comprehensive data management. Given the presence of numerous core developers at the conference, the extensive focus on PostGIS was to be expected. 

A Personal Take: FOSS4G-NA vs. Global Perspectives

At FOSS4G-NA Baltimore 2023, there was a tangible shift in the technological tide with cloud-native technologies and formats taking center stage, a progression from what was observed at FOSS4G Prizren earlier in the year. This shift underscores a growing recognition within the community of the importance of scalable, flexible infrastructure that can accommodate the increasing volume and complexity of geospatial data. Furthermore, presentations in Baltimore were notably data-intensive, signaling that ‘big data’ isn’t just a buzzword in our field but a substantial focus for innovation.

In addition to the thematic focus points, another difference I noted was the narrative surrounding ESRI vs FOSS4G. From my observations, the contrast between proprietary and open-source geospatial solutions appears less emphasized in European discourse, yet it remains a notable topic of discussion in this North American forum.

Call to Action: Strengthening Our Community Together

In light of the discussions at FOSS4G-NA, there is a recognized need to address the financial sustainability of the open-source geospatial software community. Paul Ramsey’s keynote underscored the fundamental role that open-source technologies play in the infrastructure of contemporary society. Far from being mere instruments for development, these technologies constitute the groundwork for forward-thinking, transparent, and fair innovation worldwide. However, there is a marked disparity between the huge value these foundational technologies provide and the financial models currently supporting them.

Paul Ramsey (Crunchy Data) sharing insights on PostGIS performance maneuvers

Furthermore, Vicky Vergara’s keynote underlined a pivotal message: the leadership of open source geospatial technology rests in our hands. There is no external entity solely responsible for guiding its evolution. It is a collective endeavor that requires active participation and investment from all sectors.

Therefore, we as well encourage government bodies, businesses, and research institutions to actively engage in creating sustainable financial models for open source geospatial technology. By pooling our resources and expertise, we can forge a path that ensures the vitality and continued success of the FOSS4G community. We at Gispo Ltd. are committed to this collaboration and call on partners across industries to join us in this essential effort to sustain and advance the open source technologies that serve as pillars of our society.

Conclusion: Forward Together with Open Source Geospatial

While navigating the economics of open source presents its challenges, it’s clear that the collective rewards are substantial. The value and global impact of FOSS4G technologies cannot be overstated, particularly when innovation is crucial for tackling the pressing challenges our planet faces.

A prime example of the FOSS4G-community’s swift innovation was showcased at Baltimore. First,  ‘lonboard’ package ( Kyle Barron as the main developer) is published in Baltimore, then Qiusheng Wu  integrates Lonboard to Leafmap mere weeks after its introduction in Baltimore. The uprising of lonboard as well as the rapid adaptation to another python package is a powerful demonstration of the open-source community’s drive and efficiency. It’s an inspiring cycle of knowledge sharing and immediate action that propels the entire industry forward.

At Gispo Ltd., we take inspiration from such dynamism and are committed to embodying this spirit of innovation in our collaborations with clients. Our aim is to harness this collective expertise, ensuring that our partnerships not only benefit from the latest open-source advancements but also contribute to the continuous evolution of the geospatial field.

Santtu signing off, eagerly awaiting the next FOSS4G conference – FOSS4G Tartu 2024 in July 2024, perhaps?

Santtu Pyykkönen

Santtu Pyykkönen is MSA who is interested in GIS (and all its glory), open source software and open communities and urban development. Freetime activities consist of running and reading.