The title of this blog post is the combination of titles from 2 interesting articles I recently read: GIS for Everyone? and What’s next for GIS?. Both very thought provoking, oh and somewhat controversial. Worth digging into deeper, and that’s what we will do in this article.

GIS for Everyone?

Let’s start with Stephen Keen’s article. As a Brit, I’ll admit to laughing at his use of the term “bodger” (done fast and poorly). Stephen’s Directions Magazine post discusses how we need to continue to share the value of GIS but ensure the technology remains within the GIS professionals wheel-house. I love his line:

“In our fervor to spread the GIS message, we are indeed turning to strangers and saying, ‘Come on, have a go, everyone can do it, and it is fun,’ when sometimes we should be saying, ‘Put your hands in the air and step away from the data.’”

I agree that we need to make sure all understand the value we, as GIS professionals, bring to solving problems using GIS. I disagree that “there is a very real threat that GIS will flourish but professional GIS will lose its shine”. Using one of Stephen’s analogies this would be like brain surgeons allowing others to do their jobs. The results would be disastrous. This is the same with GIS. “Bad data, poor statistics, lousy analysis and ugly maps” would invalidate the technology. People would stop using GIS!

The GIS industry has been too keen to suggest GIS is now easy. Sure, the new cloud based platforms have made publishing maps easier. But answering business questions using GIS requires those with specialised training.

Maybe rather than GIS for everyone we mean: answers to any business ‘where’ question for everyone!

What’s next for GIS?

Linda’s article was a little more controversial. But I do agree with her general thrust. I’ve argued in many blog posts that GIS is moving from the periphery to the core. No longer a niche technology. Linda uses the term “commoditized”. I also agree that GIS remains a back-office system. A key challenge for many GIS vendors today, is moving existing customers into the new subscriptions based platforms. Or as Linda says “migration from desktop to apps/cloud”.

Certainly, moving from old to new is a challenge. But widening GIS use to new-users is a challenge on quite a different scale. That is where Linda is moving with her thoughts around the need for “new lightweight, innovative solutions”. Within our organization we frame this as “answering where questions”. Less the technology focused conversations we once had with traditional users, more the path from problem to solution. Certainly I think this opens the way for innovation, new approaches and thinking. This does potentially open up the door for open source based solutions, and as Linda says “limitless possibilities”.

What’s next: GIS for Everyone?

In summary, I agree in general terms with the thrust of both articles. They are both refreshingly honest.

Ever more ‘where’ questions are being asked. The demand for location intelligence – I still have mixed feeling about the term since I feel it is still poorly understood – is increasing rapidly. That means many new opportunities. Change is upon us. New companies and technologies will emerge. Old thinking technically, and in sales and marketing will need to advance. But change can be tough and takes time. Current vendors will adjust. Those of us on the cutting edge will find our own niche.

We are lucky to be living through such times of change and opportunity.

Let me know your thoughts. Contact me on 801-733-0723.

matt_sheehanAuthor: Matt Sheehan

Matt Sheehan is a Principal at WebMapSolutions. Matt evangelizes GIS and intelligent maps around the world through keynotes, articles, tweets and his books. Follow him on Twitter: @webmapsolutions

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