Tyranny of the masses, some might call it. When corporations are forced to look at their products, many of which cost millions of dollars and lifetimes of manhours to bring to market, and decide that some of these products must be made free or extremely low cost to keep their market share, that decision is not easily made.

An unavoidable fact of the geospatial industry is that we deal in information. It is usually attached to another enterprise, like construction or engineering, but from the lowly chain to the most complex scanners, it’s all information. And in the Information Age, as Bill Gates once said, “Intellectual property has the shelf life of a banana.” Through the sheer numbers of connected people all contributing to the ever-growing cloud comes improved processes for handling and understanding the information, and these processes are quickly adapted by nimble enterprises. Give the masses a cheap tool, such as Microsoft’s Kinect, and they will soon find a way to match and even surpass many more expensive systems (see the video above). This idea was evident at SPAR International 2012, where attendees and exhibitors alike acknowledged that less expensive hardware and cloud-based, open-source-developed software is the way of the future for an increasing number of applications.

To stay competitive, today’s businesses must move at the speed of information. Forward-thinking manufacturers and software developers understand that continuous innovation is the only way to succeed. Expect instrument providers to begin selling ever-lower-priced hardware and software, with more expensive systems being “value-added,” like being made weatherproof or altered for specific applications.

This issue brings up an interesting question: How can we as service providers make wise investments in new technology when the latest state-of-the-art changes so rapidly? Does renting equipment provide a good solution, or will ownership continue to be important? Please share your thoughts below.