Powerful New Ways to Apply GIS in 2014 Part 1

Setting the Stage – GIS in 2013

GIS was once a niche technology. It was expensive, and used largely by those who had geospatial training. In 2013 that picture began to change. GIS is undergoing a rapid evolution. The increasing popularity of cloud computing, and mobile devices: tablets and smartphones, have helped broaden the appeal, and reduced the cost of location technology. In this article we will discuss this evolution and look at powerful new ways to apply GIS in 2014.

GIS & Cloud Computing

The move of GIS from a desktop only product to the Internet in the 90’s heralded a dramatic change in access to the technology. Maps and GIS functionality became available in Web browsers. Organizations with IT staff were now able to set up computers which ran GIS servers such as Esri’s ArcIMS and the open source MapServer and later GeoServer. GIS development companies began building custom Web GIS applications providing a range of GIS services. These apps were largely targeted at GIS staff, and included a range of different geo-tools in one application: buffering, measure tools, spatial querying. Internet GIS was largely the bastion of organizations with deep pockets. Setting up, maintaining and hosting GIS servers, licensing and custom application development were costly endeavours.

All this changed with cloud computing. Today it is possible to ‘rent space’ on computers maintained and hosted by dedicated providers. The need for costly internal IT infrastructures is gone. Maintenance, software updates, load balancing is all now handled by these third party providers. The result has been dramatically reduced costs. A number of GIS focused organizations have released cloud based GIS products. Esri’s ArcGIS Online and GIS Cloud are two notable examples of low cost, cloud based GIS platforms. Now both large and small organizations can leverage GIS.

Mobile Computing: Location, Location, Location

As the cost of GIS has fallen, so has the demand for the location based services provided by GIS. The mobile revolution is upon us; smartphones and tablets are low cost mobile computers with built in GPS. The popularity of software which combines location technology with geolocation has skyrocketed. Apps which include maps, and/or show who and what is near have become very popular. A new non-GIS trained audience has emerged, who are demanding functionality provided by GIS. Indeed, many GIS companies, have begun to promote themselves as providers of location services in place of GIS. Today, these companies are building and promoting simple, intuitive, focused applications which require no training or knowledge of GIS.

In the next part of this article we will consider 2014 in more depth. Look at case studies and make some predictions on new applications of GIS technology.

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