Below is some of the community feedback on the debate around is GIS Splitting:
“Thank you for posting your response to the Directions Magazine Podcast. Regarding, “GIS is expanding and maturing.” My viewpoint comes from nearly 25 years of Esri GIS experience with local government. You say, “GIS is not expanding to ‘meet specialized users’, it’s expanding to ‘meet new Non-GIS users’.” I prefer to put the focus on GIS expanding to meet unique workflow needs where it has not been traditionally used or the use has been marginal. In local government, the traditional GIS bias that can hold things back includes an organization seeing the GIS as only “their maps.” As organizations see their GIS as their most up-to-date authoritative data, that can be rendered as a map (and as reports, tables, charts, etc.), and can provide spatial analytically tools for decisions support, use of the GIS explodes throughout for specialized and other uses.”
“If an organization sees GIS as just a map, just a geographic, and does not see the value the information system contains and manages their authoritative data, then we are just a geographic and any geographic will do.”
“Great debate you have stirred up. For context, I’ve been in this business for 45 years and seen many changes over that time, most of them for the good.
I look at this question quite simply. I view GIS as a spectrum which starts with the G part and ends with the IS part. The % of spectrum used in a given situation depends on how the geospatial science needs to be applied and the knowledge/capabilities/skills of the practitioner. Some solutions need more G and others more IS. In any given solution one [G nor IS] can’t exist without the other and their appropriate combination makes the GIS work.
Traditional GIS practitioners primarily came from the G side and learned/knew what was required of the IS side to manage their data, make the software work and solve the problems they were tasked with delivering. Before the advent of the desktop they worked on mainframe technology and were limited as to their role within an organization. With more powerful desktops the GIS practitioner could do more on their own. Now with that power being moved to servers/cloud [in a way back to the mainframe], the spectrum has become blurred with more and more IT people getting into the solution equation. To me that’s a fact of life and is a positive not a negative. We aren’t loosing G people but were are adding IS people and their perspective/technologies as well as providing more robust solutions to our user community. Not a split but a merger.
In our organization we still like to start with people trained in the G sciences but we also look for those individuals that have an inclination towards the IS world because we build applications/solutions that many people have to use and we can’t expect that all of them are as geospatially savvy as we are.”
“First of all, kudos to you Matt, for the discussion. I think it is timely and healthy (without, hopefully, devolving into navel gazing). Makes me sorry I missed your presentation at GeCo in the Rockies! I think this was one of the take aways that the Colorado folks were hoping for. And while I was at first confused by their choice of keynote, I now feel it was a stroke of genius to have Chris Sheldrick there.
I think back 20 years when I was still relatively new to the profession and hearing Jack Dangermond state that in the future people will be consuming our data on hand held devices. Astounding! How could that be? And yet, here we are. So I will have to agree with your respondents that say we are just experiencing the revolution (evolution?) of our profession that Jack predicted 20 years ago”
“Great topic. Technology is always changing, evolving, (splitting too harsh, negative). Anyone involved with technology for more than 5 years has had to evolve with it or get out. For many years, starting up a GIS section, the first order of business was to collect data so in order to provide meaningful analysis. Several years ago when mobile map (geocoding) apps were introduced to the masses on smart phones I thought it was horrible. Crowd sourcing would corrupt the quality data GIS professionals dedicated themselves. Quickly understanding the (statistical) value of thousands of data points over a couple high quality points, changed my mind. GIS professionals are still very relevant, they now have to use their skills to tease out the relevant data, make sense of it for the masses. Bring it on!”
“I first became involved with GIS in the late ’80s. Working for a utility company it was known as Automated Mapping/Facility Management (AM/FM not to be confused with the radio which I was for a while when I would receive mail from AM/FM International and couldn’t figure out why I was getting mail about radio). It didn’t take me too long to realize that AM/FM and GIS were underneath the covers the same thing although the vendor community hadn’t seemed to catch on to that yet. I also discovered that we had a GIS installation (ESRI) within our company and had for a while. It was primarily used for environmental activities such as mapping archaeological sites, endangered species, etc. and didn’t lap over into the operations side of the business.
At the time the GIS vendors weren’t really into GIS use for utility operations and didn’t understand the concept of a network model as it pertains to the utility world. I once had to explain to a vendor that in a network model for a water or gas utility open, as in an open valve, means the water is flowing whereas in the electric utility open, as in a switch is open, means the electricity isn’t flowing.
When I brought up the subject of GIS and the fact that we might actually be able to use those new fangled things called PCs, the consultant from the company that was providing our software, and by the way the hardware it ran on, was aghast that I would even consider such an heretical idea. After all it required mainframe horsepower to do that kind of stuff.
So even back then there was a split if you want to call it that. Or maybe it was just a divide brought about by starting at two different places. Fast forward a few years and I was submitting an RFP to support the utility operations and ESRI was one of the bidders and one of the finalists. So that divide, even though we didn’t select ESRI, had pretty much disappeared.
Then there was much debate about what GIS was and who really was a GIS practitioner. Those on the cartographic side of the world argued that you could not call yourself a GIS practitioner without being a licensed cartographer and would ensure that anything you mapped was accurate down the to nanometer. I pretty much ignored that argument since I was already using data provided by the census bureau, ETAK, etc. to plot the approximate location of trouble calls, approximate customer locations, etc. where close was good enough. So yet another split or divide that eventually went away.
So my answer to the question, based on my experience over the years, is that GIS like the rest of the world of technology is just evolving. The number of people who utilize GIS, whether they know it or not, and the number of uses of GIS will continue to expand as the underlying technology becomes easier to use, as it is embedded in more applications and as more geographic based data becomes available.”
“Roles in a organization!
For example, CEOs are GIS users?
GIS is a system, systems has components, a GIS component is people…are CEOs there?
Of course! So, they are part of the system, they are part of the GIS, like each user that only have a webapp in his smarthphone is part of the GIS!
That is the change, GIS for everyone.”
“I think that there is a split. If you think of GIS as a problem solving platform to make maps and perform analysis then there are more tools now and only some of the people know how to take advantage of the new tools. I think it would be helpful to define traditional GIS to figure out how things are changing/splitting.”
“CEO’s are comfortable with the output from business platforms (analysis, graphs, charts etc). I generalize but GIS often sits in the corner, its value recognised by the GIS trained staff but not across the wider organization. That is maybe in part due to a myopic departmental viewpoint. But speaking to a GIS professional yesterday he said he feared for his future. Now publishing maps has become so much easier his is perceived as less valuable. In reality this is quite the reverse.”
“Since you asked for thoughts….
In reading the series of comments and statements, I was hoping to find some new arguments to help better explain what GIS “is” to peers and decision makers. Instead… two connected topics seem to surface which may appear to create a divide; but are in fact part of the founding definition of GIS taught some 15-20 years back. These topics may be categorized as:
1) Information is rapidly becoming not only digital, but more spatial in nature.
Back in the day of the “old guard,” public maps were not even computer generated! I remember a weather man standing in front of a green screen and pointing at some cheesy “power point” like graphic. The most basic of every day maps were just a bunch of sunshine and cloud cut-outs on a template.
2) With this new availability of information, expectations have increased
Jack Dangermond made the statement he was no longer “lost” during an ESRI/esri user conference. This was due to the fact his smart phone could figure out both where he was; and could access the internet to determine where he was trying to go. This personalized experience is actually quite profound.
Looking at these two changes…
Now, most mainstream databases have a spatial aspect and maps are much more available. Weather maps are not created just for the news weatherman anymore! Everyone has the ability to pinpoint their location and see the radar returns on a custom map. BUT… Not everyone in our society has access to this technology or an awareness of the associated use and limits. I myself watched out a window as a predicted rain event dissipated as the cloud reached the location I had been standing before taking shelter…
The old definition of GIS was a collection of people, hardware, software, and data… connected to solve some relevant issue at hand.
So what has changed? The consumer aspect!
A PBS series on “how we got to now” is quite relevant to this discussion as we appear to be in the midst of a revolution…. not within the GIS profession but the informed/connected society. Looking at the availability of maps in the same context of the historic introduction of simple tools such as personal pocket watches and hand held mirrors; a segment of the population is certainly asking for more. The series itself even noted how maps were used to prove a point in a Chicago cholera epidemic!
The question… “How do you spell GIS?” is probably no longer on the top request list. But we as GIS practitioners simply need to be more aware of our audience.”
“Looking behind the desk, across the bookshelf at the varied titles collected over the years… I can’t think of many other professions (we can finally call ourselves that) who have seen as much change based on outside influence. We are simply continuing the legacy of adapting to solve problems and collaborating with the larger GIS community.
There will always be those out front, trying to push the limits… and those who are seemingly buried in past workflows/methods. I would hope the GIS niche is by design more full of visionaries and proactive efforts. I find myself working on a vast range of topics on a daily basis; sometimes without knowing the focus of the day until complete. Just last week I thought I was going to be reverse engineering a workflow within Geocortex and found myself investigating where a paroled drug dealer’s car had spent his last month; starting with a call from the prosecutor’s office with, “I have all this GPS data and don’t know what to do with it”… This week, who knew I would be debating the role of GIS simply as a result of reading a Linked-In post.
Problem is…. we don’t actually know what we “do,” and to propose a split would indicate that the unknown was becoming more and uniquely different things. Unless we are dating ourselves by coming to this niche from some outside profession; and the change is more due to attracting new folks who did not fall upon GIS with a prior unfilled need!
I recall when esri chose to define themselves as E S R I and was not fond of folks calling them esri…. My question was… so when are we all going to start saying gis. You can’t take any part of the “system” out of GIS! We are defined by the changing sum of all the dependant parts of the GIS definition.”