As with any technology, geospatial is greatly influenced by the trends and advancements of related fields. These advancements change user expectations as well as bring capabilities that can transform the very core architecture of GIS. While some vendors adopt and drive change, many simply pay lip service to these changes. Marketing spin and brochures can slow the decline of GIS but fortunately, will not stop the inevitable.

The geospatial market is ready for a major change in both scope and purpose. How will GIS be affected by these changes and will it survive?

Change is long overdue. The changing GIS Professional’s function along with expanding data availability and robust technology platforms will transform the GIS of the past to a future where geospatial holds the critical role it has long sought.

People

For many companies, clients are seen as businesses or organizations. In fact, however, people are the core to any market’s success. People select, buy and implement technology. Their backgrounds, skills, and bias’ are part of the ecosystem of a market. GIS has the benefit of many years of a robust, passionate and engaged user community. From environmentalists to utility executives, GIS captured the imagination and purpose of hundreds of thousands of users.

The beauty of GIS is that it has something for everyone. From Generals trying to better protect troops and infrastructure to cartographers designing map-based art, GIS taps into the imagination to find new solutions. The limiting factors inevitable in all new markets were overcome with enthusiasm, creativity, and a little luck! The early adopters of GIS drove transformational change in their organizations that spanned industry and geographies. Now, the trends in the community of GIS people are changing… driving exciting and in some cases unexpected changes.

As I have written about before, the role of the GIS Profesional is changing. A big factor in this change is the aging workforce. GIS Developers, Managers and Technicians are retiring. Their work laid the foundation that new geospatial experts are building upon to drive geospatial adoption globally. This new geospatial workforce is already changing how we look at the world. Data Scientists, Computer Scientists, Graphic Designers, and Analysts are just a few roles that need geospatial expertise. With the tremendous shift in the broader technology world recognizing the importance of data, geospatial data and the keepers of it, have enjoyed broader exposure and integration. But it is not limited to data. The fascination of GIS is still alive today in a mind-boggling array of possibilities. From maps to the IoT, geospatial is taking its rightful place in the technology world!

Data

The availability of geospatial data and related data is growing extremely rapidly. From real and near real-time data to the availability of geospatial infrastructure data, the problem is often not the lack of data but too much data. The hard work of GIS Professionals enables this new data to be extremely useful. Geospatial infrastructure data and basemaps enable a foundation or context for sensor data, IoT information and satellite information to be used in ways never imagined. From wildfire management, battlefield preparedness and precision farming to autonomous vehicles, geospatial data is driving enormous changes.

Technology

Technology is evolving at such a rapid pace, it is hard to keep up with. In most cases, any new technology you read or hear about has a geospatial angle. Embedded experiences with new breakthroughs in virtual reality and voice-controlled devices often rely on location and geospatial context. Blockchain is being used to shorten, simplify and secure the supply chain and logistics by adding a location to its tokens.

Another example is digital twins that often require location and geospatial context to provide a full picture. While these technologies are on the cutting edge of adoption, artificial intelligence (AI) including deep learning and machine learning are being used by better leveraging geospatial infrastructure data and big geospatial data. Much of this progress is from the emergence of deep learning accelerators (i.e., GPU) into the mainstream allowing for extremely fast analysis and viewing of databases with billions of records with both geospatial and time information. Check out OmniSci for more information on this trend!

Hardware

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Leveraging GPU’s to drive extremely fast visualization and analytics is just one-way hardware is driving changes in GIS. Distributed computing is another rapidly evolving trend that has tremendous opportunities for geospatial. Sensors and devices connect to the cloud (the IoT and edge computing,) are collecting tremendous amounts of data. With local geospatial processing on devices, real-time changes can automatically be made in the field. Combining weather information with immediate usage data allows a utility to adjust network configurations or change cell tower alignment to better support of customer calls. Expand this capability to the emerging IoB (Internet of Bodies) and the possibilities are endless. Knowing where something is located is extremely important but also how it is connected to other devices and how the geospatial attribute of these locations affect decisions is the secret GIS sauce that will change how we look at the world.

The proliferation of satellites and drones continue to provide unpreceded views of our world from large to small scale. The decrease in the cost of collecting data continues to drive innovation in the GIS and geospatial markets. Smaller companies such as PlantWatchers are emerging that are taking techniques learned in the intelligence community to the natural world to help monitor endangered species as well as agriculture and wildfire management.

Business Model

Traditional GIS companies continue to market their tools as a platform. For large government agencies with vast geospatial holdings, this expensive approach can make sense. In the meantime, developers and users are quickly integrating geospatial functionality into their solutions using open source or other lightweight solutions. For many organizations, they can skip the enterprise GIS step and move right into geospatial analytics with readily available basemaps and geocoding tools. For example, crime mapping is helping police organizations target key crime areas with a simple online tool. Another example is from IQGeo. They look at utility networks as modeling the real world, not lines on a map as most traditional GIS companies do. Their new solution takes a reality-centric approach to building and managing utility and telecommunication networks. Mobile and customer first is a great approach!

The Open Source Geo movement is growing in members and scope. With big government agencies such as NGA embracing open source for GEOINT, funding is rapidly growing the toolset. This flood of tools provides a growing set of resources for developers looking to add geospatial capabilities to their apps for a fraction of the costs. Gaining control over the tools and the costs will provide the freedom to these innovators to drive new apps at a much lower price. Do you have a great idea for a geospatially driven app but were turned off by expensive GIS software? Check out OSGeo and FOSS4G and get involved in the community!

Linux Foundation announced Urban Computing Foundation to promote open geospatial tools for Smart Cities. First up in Uber’s Kepler.gl for geospatial visualization. We will continue to see more and more open source options for geospatial!

What’s Next

The pace for change in the GIS market is increasing. Data, technology, and business models are evolving and are in many cases being driven by GIS professions. Workforce changes empowered by data availability makes the future of geospatial bright. Will it be the GIS you grew up with? No. But the core values and diversity that drove the growth of this market will drive a new geospatial revolution!