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Introduction

Are GIS and geospatial one and the same? That is the question we will tackle in what will be our first blog post of 2018. In many ways this topic sets the stage nicely for what should be a fascinating year.

What is GIS?

GIS (Geographic Information Systems) have a long history. GIS is technology focused on answering geographic or location based questions. That is the where: Where are our city water lines? Functionally a GIS allows for the creation, storage, manipulation, analysis, and visualization of geo-data. A GIS is a 3 part system: geo-data, geo–engine and applications:

  • GIS uses geo-data; that is data which contains an address or location. Think earths features, both man-made and natural: mountains, rivers, pipelines, parks, buildings. Think people.
  • A geo-engine provides the mechanism for storing, analyzing and visualizing geo-data. A GIS is designed to answer a range of questions, from the simple to the most complex. A geo-engine simply provides the geo-services required to get answers to where and why questions. A Geo-engine allows users to store location based data, map that data, and ask questions of that data.
  • Applications are how you interact with your geo-data through a geo-engine. Applications can include desktop, web and mobile apps.

A common output from a GIS is a map.

The true power of GIS is in solving complex geo problems. The Science of Where is how one GIS provider brands itself. Think about managing the city of Los Angeles: water supply, parks, transportation etc. Think about how to find the most ideal location for your next grocery store: demographics, drive-times, competition.

Solving problems using GIS requires training. Most organizations like WebMapSolutions have staff with advanced degrees in geography and geo-science.

What is Geospatial?

Geospatial is a relatively new blanket term for geographic data and technology. That covers the more obvious: satellite data providers (Digital Globe), consumer maps (Google), custom maps and navigation (Mapbox),  and the less obvious: ride-share companies (Uber). All can be categorized as geospatial companies.

GIS v Geospatial

GIS is a niche within the wider geospatial sector. Long ago, if you needed a map, GIS was where you turned. Today that is less true. Simpler, lower cost non-GIS mapping solutions have emerged. As demand for answers to geo-based questions has expanded, so has the breadth and depth of geospatial solutions on offer.

Geo-Sector: Market and Demand

The overall geospatial sector is seeing enormous expansion. Much of that is being driven by mobile, and cloud technology, and low cost data storage. Mobile devices with built in GPS accessing cloud based technology and storage are a new phenomena. Location is a key component of this mobile revolution.

GIS has its core user base in the public sector: local, state and Federal. It has struggled to expand into the commercial sector. The complexity of the technology and rigid vendor business models have been two key limiting factors.

The expansion of the geospatial sector is being driven by non-GIS solutions. That is focused, simple geo-technologies.

Looking Ahead
– GIS will continue to dominate the public sector. The GIS landscape is changing as new providers enter the market. Greater competition will result in a continued decrease in prices, with expansion in both flexibility and innovation.
– Simpler non-GIS systems will increasingly satisfy the growing demand from the commercial and consumer sectors. The integration of geo-spatial components into existing and new business systems will accelerate.
– Open source will continue to grow in importance in both the GIS niche and in the wider geospatial world. Open source technology will provide the building blocks, helping to drive a new wave of geospatial innovation.
– Modular solutions will replace existing large, inflexible geospatial platforms. That means both modular apps, and more importantly component-ised geo-engines. Platform-as-a- Service will increase in popularity, with users only paying for the geo-services they need, when they need them.
– The importance of geospatial as a sector will continue to expand exponentially. The historically over-hyped 3D, VR and AI technologies will begin to have a real impact. While the advent of autonomous cars, powered by geospatial, will have potentially profound affects on society as a whole.

Final Thoughts

Not long ago geospatial meant GIS. That is no longer the case. GIS is a small part of a much larger whole. We once described ourselves at WebMapSolutions as a GIS company. Today we take an agnostic view of geo-technology. Our focus is on the problem, and putting in place the best geospatial technology mix to solve that problem.

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Author: Rory Biggadike

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