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GIS has throughout its long history been largely a tool used by the public sector. That is where its application is most obvious. It is also where most GIS experts are employed. All but the largest companies in the commercial sector have ignored GIS. So let’s consider the question: Will GIS ever crack the commercial nut?

Commercial GIS Barriers

Have you ever sat with commercial sector focused staff employed by GIS companies? Most are very honest, and nearly unanimously will agree:  “Selling GIS to the commercial sector is very tough”. Let’s consider why, and discuss 4 key barriers:

1. Map Barrier

I hear it often “Its just a map so what?” Maps have a serious perception problem. They are still most often associated with travel. Unlike graphs and charts, maps are not seen as simply an easy way to view and understand data.

2. Where question Barrier

We asked a real estate agent recently “What are your key where questions”? Can you guess his response? “No where questions come to mind”. This is in a “location, location, location” business. In the public sector where questions are very obvious: Where are our water lines? Where is the closest park? Where are the broken traffic lights? Where questions are (seemingly) less obvious in the private sector.

3. Expertise & Knowledge Barrier

C-level executives in the commercial sector have little knowledge of GIS technology and its benefits. That has proven a major barrier. The commercial sector has plenty of IT staff, but a dearth of GIS expertise. That means folks to maintain a GIS, and those trained to use a GIS to answer business questions. GIS is a technology requiring specialized skills.

4. Business Models and Marketing Barrier

Many GIS companies have out-dated business models. These are models built around traditional public sector markets.

Finally GIS marketing has been universally poor. Messaging has been sales focused instead of educational. Content remains mostly uninteresting.

Improving Commercial GIS Adoption

As we have outlined in the previous section, there are some significant barriers to wider commercial GIS adoption. That said, let’s consider ways to break down these barriers:

1. The importance of Education 

Shifting the perception of maps and GIS is much about education. Changing the conversation is critical. Instead of focusing on the technology, we need to encourage commercial sector decision makers to understand how GIS can help solve business problems.

2.  Breaking old GIS Business Models

Business models need to change. For widespread commercial adoption, rigid, opaque pricing structures need to disappear. The largest GIS providers are guilty of taking a “we know best” approach to their businesses.  They have stopped listening to their users and partners.

We see modularity as critical to the future of GIS. That is modular, widget based applications which integrate easily with other non-GIS solutions. Also modular GIS back-end services. The age of single large GIS platforms is ending. Platform-as-a-Service is becoming the new paradigm. That means what you want, when you need it. Open source is a key part of this exciting (cost saving) new world.

3.  Deciding what and who you are

It would seem major GIS companies have moved from being just the providers of core GIS services, to both services and application providers. Does that make sense? Maybe. But (GIS providers) remember this does negatively impact your partners. It does change your positioning in the market. It does require more R&D and specialized staff. One of my colleagues was given some good advice recently: “You cannot be everything to everybody, decide what you do best and stay focused there”.

4. Improving GIS marketing

GIS marketing badly needs a face-lift. Too many GIS publications are unreadable. Filled with sales messages and “aren’t our products so wonderful” case studies. Articles which are both informative, and provide a window into what is possible are still the exception not the rule. GIS writers have historically been too technical. It is good that a new wave of GIS writers/editors are entering the industry, to add a new perspective. But many still don’t know the geospatial world well enough. I heard a story recently about a senior GIS editor who believed that *indoor GIS stories were not worth writing since indoor is ‘old news’. We need to collaborate around content. The ‘we know best’ approach needs to end.

*Indoor GIS is an exciting new addition to the GIS landscape.

How do we bring GIS to C-level executives? We need to inform and educate. We need to be flexible, and be able to integrate with their existing systems. We need to listen, learn and adapt. GIS has an exciting, successful future ahead as it expands into the commercial sector, but that success requires change.

What are your thoughts? Email me at [email protected]

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Author: Staff Writer

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