I listened to a fascinating discussion last week on the future of GIS. The conversations reinforced thoughts I’ve been having for some time; that the future of GIS will be to provide two key services to the geospatial sector:
- Data preparation
- Spatial analytics
Let’s explore in this blog post
The Future of GIS and GeoSpatial
Once there was only GIS
There was once a time when if you needed a map you needed GIS. Before 2004 you had two primary ways to generate maps: Esri products or open source. Desktop software dominated. In the early 2000’s web based GIS solutions started to appear: ArcIMS from Esri and Mapserver from the open source community.
At that time organizations in the public sector were the primary users of GIS. Why?
- The need to manage geospatially distributed asset are obvious in the public sector. Think water supply, parks, building, roads etc.
- Most GIS trained staff worked in the public sector
- GIS was expensive. Large public entities were among the few who could afford GIS.
Then along came Google
In 2004 Google Maps was launched. That was a big milestone in the world of online web maps. The release meant maps for all. No more scratching around for basemaps or other map data. Over the years Google provided ever more free data and access to sophisticated easy to use maps.
Google Maps shook up the world of GIS. And sent many of the larger providers scrambling. Google ultimately chose to remain focused on the consumer market and to not enter the enterprise space. That was a relief for GIS software providers. But that relief was short lived.
The rise of map-based geospatial
The geospatial sector has seen staggering growth over the last 10 years. What has been the driver?
Mobile and cloud computing!
In the late 2000’s, suddenly everybody could afford a mobile computer – smartphone, and/or tablet – which had a built-in GPS. That resulted in the exponential growth of location based, or where, questions. Today over 50% of all Google searches have a location component. The majority of the most popular mobile apps have a location element.
These technology advances and the resulting demand for location based services has created a rapidly expanding mix of solution providers. These are both new GIS focused companies, and map based geospatial solution providers respectively. As we show in the image above, today the geospatial world has two distinct sectors:
- An increasingly more competitive GIS space
- A rapidly expanding map based geospatial space
The likes of Mapbox, Uber, Airbnb are inherently geospatial companies but they are map-centric not GIS.
A key point here is that you no longer need GIS to create and share maps, there are now other options.
The future of GIS
Let me pull out the crystal ball and consider the question: Does GIS have a bright future or is it in slow decline?
GIS will remain important in the public sector. But, as mentioned, GIS is no longer the only solution available to create and share maps. There are now many mapping platforms and solutions available. Though GIS is still important to those looking for a way to present data in the form of a map. That overall importance will lessen over time.
My belief is that GIS will remain key in two areas:
- Data preparation
- Spatial analytics
Desktop GIS will remain a big deal. GIS experts will continue to prepare data to be visualized on a map; finding employment increasingly outside of traditional areas.
GIS is designed to answer complex spatial questions. The rise of big data will see ever more demand for spatial engines which can work through complexity and provide answers to location based questions. Regardless of the mapping platform used, GIS will always be the easiest and most efficient way to get answers to complex questions.
The future of Geospatial
Let’s finish by talking about the future of the geospatial sector as a whole. We’ve discussed the rise of non GIS map-based geospatial solutions. As the diagram below shows, we are now slowly seeing the rise of non map based geospatial solutions.
This moves us more towards geospatial being embedded in everything. So moving the technology to the background and making it ubiquitous. Everything we use will have the ability to answer location based questions, and to present that data back to a user in one of many forms.
In summary, the geospatial world is expanding at a rapid rate. The importance of GIS has lessened as other map-based geospatial solutions are released. But that does not mean GIS is going away. GIS will increasingly support the geospatial sector as a whole, providing important tools and services.
What do you think?