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A glance at Google Trends reveals that GIS remains a very popular search word. Moreover, there is no lack of GIS educational programs, professionals, and job vacancies. When asked, I won’t tell you that I do GIS. Here are the reasons.

1.    GIS is a legacy term

The term GIS was coined in the 1960s as an acronym for Geographic Information Systems. It was developed as a dedicated system for the management of geographic data and information. In the current age of technological convergence and integration, this concept no longer appeals.

Members of the GIS community have adapted to this reality and perceive GIS as a technology or a science. However, explaining the meaning and relevance of GIS to an outsider has become a nightmare in view of emerging technologies like drones, earth observation, IoT etc.

2.    Convergence of geospatial technologies

GIS, remote sensing and positioning technology/surveying started as disparate technologies. Remote sensing gained relevance in the late 19th century with the use of aerial photography for surveying and mapping. Surveying dates even further back and was practiced by ancient civilizations to mark land boundaries and support large construction projects. All technologies have advanced, and each continues to make significant contributions to our economic growth and development.

However, with the rapid advancement of digitization and IT, these technologies are converging to provide users with seamless experiences and increased convenience. Collectively they are commonly referred to as geospatial technology. The need for specialized GIS skills will not disappear but GIS practitioners should be able to work with remote sensing and surveying.

3.    Growing value of geospatial data

The importance and value of geospatial data is rapidly gaining wider recognition.

  • BI systems consider location an important dimension in business data. Hence, popular solutions like Tableau and Power BI offer capabilities for interactive map visualizations.
  • A location reference is fast becoming an integral part of many datasets and a rich source for feature extraction and engineering in data science and machine learning.
  • The proliferation of remote sensing satellites and drones has given organizations easy access to geospatial data, information and insights for effective decision-making.
  • GeoAI which combines geospatial data, science and technology with AI techniques helps us to address complex and earth-related challenges such as climate change.
  • Precision agriculture, smart cities, and self-driving cars are just a few examples of innovative technology solutions that are fueled by massive amounts of geospatial data.

Geospatial technology simply becomes the means by which geospatial data is collected, cleaned, managed, analyzed, visualized, shared and ultimately used. This shift from technology to data requires a new set of skills (e.g. statistics) that is lacking in traditional GIS practitioners.

4. Vested interest in the GIS industry

Esri is dominating the GIS software market with its ArcGIS platform, a family of software products that run on cloud, server, desktop and mobile devices. Its closest rival is arguably QGIS, a free and open-source GIS software solution. GIS debates often focus on proprietary vs open-source software, rather than the integration of the two technology stacks.

Over the years Esri’s GIS products have moved from mainframe to desktop, server and cloud environments. Yet ArcGIS remains a closed system that works in isolation from other IT systems. This works well for GIS-centric applications that focus on map production, but it limits the uptake of GIS in sectors and industries that are driven by innovation and integration.

Esri’s success can be attributed to its dominance of a niche market, and its prime focus is to serve its loyal and traditional GIS customer base. This stifles much-needed investment, competition and innovation in a high-value market.

Wrapping up

I just gave you 4 reasons why I don’t do GIS work, even though I have worked with GIS for over 30 years. I very much appreciate GIS as a discipline, a science, a technology or a set of tools. Yet, the term is restrictive, has a narrow connotation and is hard to explain to outsiders. And as GIS practitioners we are often caught up in turf wars with one another or related disciplines that add no value whatsoever.

I strongly recommend that anyone passionate about GIS associates with the wider geospatial industry which includes disciplines like earth observation and surveying. Consolidating the different parts of our industry makes us stronger and helps us to market ourselves in a much better way.

The modern IT landscape has unprecedented opportunities for the utilization of geospatial data, statistics, analytics, AI and visualization in a multitude of use cases. It’s about time that we leave our GIS world behind and deliver business value through geospatial data, information and insights for better decision-making.