GIS is a major part of my life, starting as a geography student at UCLA learning automated cartography and later working for ESRI. Today, as a consultant, I still have the same passion and hope for GIS. GIS has evolved over the years, as the underlying technology enabled more powerful tools and deployment options. The evolution continues, but the drivers have changed. Earlier this year, I wrote about the trends in GIS. These trends are driving the next iteration of GIS.
GIS functionality will be commoditized.
This is already happening! Mapping, geocoding, routing and imagery are freely available on your smartphone. This trend will continue and extend to more GIS capabilities. Open source GIS provides the tools, and the changing role of GIS provides the incentive.
Free Open Source Software for GeoSpatial offers limitless possibilities.
GIS software is freely available via the open source community. QGIS, GeoServer, GeoNode are just a few. Some companies are commercializing these via bundles and support programs. Other are using the tools to build solutions for an industry or specific workflow.
Creative start-ups and application developers are discovering they don’t need to buy into a bulky, overpriced GIS platform to build robust geospatially enabled or centric applications. As these tools move to the cloud, mobile apps will grow quickly.
Outdated business models from companies such as ESRI will push this change even faster as they struggle to find a pricing model that sustains their profits.
Not your father’s or grandfather’s GIS.
The definition and creation of GIS began decades ago. While extremely useful at the time, it focused on data collection, models, and maps. This made sense. You needed to digitize data before you could use it. For example, ESRI’s ArcInfo and now ArcGIS has many tools for this. Most of those tools are also available in open source technology such as QGIS. CAD systems also hold many maps and building layouts that are great sources of data for GIS.
A GIS professional career emerged as part of the evolution of GIS. Armed with GIS tools, GIS professionals build and manage the automation of maps and the stitching together of features into geographic layers. Analysis and modeling functions empower GIS professionals to do amazing work in such areas as watershed modeling, habitat management and much more.
However, times have changed. A new vision of GIS is needed that includes changes to both the business model and the architecture of GIS to expand it beyond the purview of the GIS professional and get it into the hands of the everyone.
Today, GIS remains a back-office system. But for the industry to grow, a new approach is needed to leverage the data and models locked away in these systems. GIS offerings today are based on:
- Old business model. To use GIS from companies like ESRI, you have to buy into the platform. The GIS platform story is as complicated as the technology and is expensive. The need to grow revenue while users migrate from desktop to apps/cloud is driving higher costs to users.
- Legacy software. At the same time as pricing models don’t support new business models, existing GIS software is focused on the GIS professional role. The lack of user-centric design and ease-of-use UI is evident in all current GIS software, be it in the cloud or back office.
These two issues need to be addressed. Currently, GIS companies are struggling because they are trying to be two things – a back-office system for geographic data management and modeling as well as a lightweight, innovative solution provider. I believe that legacy GIS is not designed to be a platform for the latter and that a new platform will emerge for geospatial apps.