course of the last several years, I have
identified two major voids in the GIS software market. I have discussed
them with many of my friends at ESRI and at other software shops. As
far as I know, nobody has jumped at the opportunity to make millions of
dollars from my insights. Yet.
The first void, which I will only mention in passing, is the lack of a
solution for GIS/CAD users. Since ESRI
retired ArcCAD, a product I
loved, in 2001, a majority of my clients have suffered. Some of the
younger individuals have come up with product development ideas for a
revolutionary product that would be pretty much like ArcCAD. I know
all the vendors' official positions on the subject ("Ours is the
solution!"). But looking from where I sit, there is no solution for the
small-to-mid-size AutoCAD shop that also wants to implement ESRI's GIS
and keep both databases in sync. There are many, many, many such shops.
ESRI and Autodesk: take heed. Join forces again. You'll thank me later.
The second void is a product to serve the populace at the base of the
"GIS pyramid." ESRI ended development of ArcView 1 and released it
under free license for several years, in the 1990s. It no longer runs
on today's operating systems. It was another product I loved, and there
hasn't been an adequate replacement for the hundreds of thousands of
casual GIS users who just want to look at a map once in a while.
Let me first explain what I mean by GIS pyramid, as I have heard the
term used to describe varying concepts I refer to the
pyramid-like structure of a GIS implementation in a typical
organization. The GIS guru sits at the top, running all sorts of fancy
GIS analysis and data management tools. A second tier of GIS
professionals sits below the guru. These individuals are responsible
for data creation and maintenance. Finally, at the base of the pyramid
is a large pool of casual GIS users, with casual GIS needs. These are
the users who would have used ArcView 1. But what are they to do now?
Use ArcView 9.x? ArcReader? ArcExplorer (which version)? ArcIMS? A
homegrown application? Google Earth? ArcGIS Explorer?
There seems to be a lot of confusion, not only among the members of
this largest of GIS users group, but also among seasoned GIS
professionals, system integrators and software developers. I submit
that a significant part of that confusion comes not from the very real
uncertainty about which technology will prevail or take off, but from a
more fundamental cause: a lack of understanding of the most important
need of this group - the need for a simple and reasonably lasting
Everyone seems to agree that this group should be using tools that are
inexpensive and are simple to use and maintain. But the rate at which
software vendors develop, and then often abandon, one solution or
another often exceeds the rate of adoption of these tools. Almost all
tools share the same downsides: they are usually half-baked; "free" is
not really free; all are quite inflexible; by the time they are
implemented, the technology is almost obsolete.
Hence - confusion. Wouldn't you be confused if your bank changed your
ATM's interface every week? I would. After a few weeks, you would
probably stop using the ATM altogether. So is it surprising that the
base of the GIS pyramid is still not using its version of ATMs, and is
opting to go to the teller instead (e.g., walk down the hall to look at
the tax map book, or manually generate the 200-foot abutter's list)?
I am not nostalgic, and I am no GIS Luddite. I am not calling for the
revival of ArcCAD or ArcView 1. I know that this would be impractical
and impossible. But I am contemplating the lack of a simple solution to
replace each of them, because those products did fill a need. The GIS
pyramid base is real, and it's huge. It needs a simple solution. That
is the only solution that will work. And whoever finds it will deserve
the rewards it will generate.