GITA 2007: The Geospatial Industry in Transition

By Joe Francica

For a moment forget that attendance at the 30th annual GITA Annual Conference in San Antonio was far from what it had been in its heyday. Forget that only about half as many vendors were in attendance as had been in the past. The fact that GITA is not what it once was indicates that GIS is a maturing technology sector. It further suggests that GITA might have a future as a venue for learning and understanding more about geospatial information technology. A new generation of geospatial technologists is needed and there is an opportunity that should be exploited.

Fact: Most utility companies made a choice of a geospatial solution provider several years ago.
Result: Users attend the conference of their chosen vendor.
Consequence: GITA attendance drops.

Fact: GITA sponsors a separate Oil and Gas Conference.
Result: Some who would attend the GITA annual event are "siphoned off" to that event.
Consequence: Specialists attend the event targeted to them, and do not attend the GITA annual event.

Fact: GITA, as an organization, expanded its mission to focus on the broader geospatial user community, including government.
Result: This refocused this event from the original AM/FM conference, projecting the image, if not the reality, that the event served no constituency in particular.
Consequence: GITA is rethinking its mission to serve its original membership more fully.

I believe the GITA Annual Conference is still, and will always be, a conference focused on the utility and telecommunications industries that need to manage as-built environments using geospatial technology. GITA should not be apologetic about this fact. GITA needs to serve its members and will do so by focusing on, and educating, a new generation of users working as geospatial professionals within these industries. I recommend that if GITA wants to increase attendance, it should forego the moniker of an "annual member event" and simply rebrand the event as the GITA Utility and Telecommunications Conference. This naming and marketing would parallel its successful event for the downstream oil and gas industry, the GIS for Oil and Gas Conference.

Don't misconstrue these comments; GITA still creates a robust program for attendees. However, the organization has a problem targeting its core constituents who are still utility industry workers. This year some exhibitors grumbled, while others were pleased with booth traffic. It think the move by GITA to co-locate its 2008 event with the American Congress on Survey and Mapping (ACSM) will help both organizations and provide attendees with superior value for their attendance fee. I would go further and suggest that the annual URISA event should also be included in this mix to create a super-GIS conference, much like the original GIS/LIS event.

Let's look at the GIS technology sector from yet another perspective and use the GITA event to explore the transition of the geospatial industry. GITA used to be a huge event with 3,000-plus attendees and probably 100-plus exhibitors. It used to host the major GIS providers - Autodesk, Intergraph (which used to also include Bentley Systems as its CAD provider) and ESRI - along with some large consulting providers like UGC. The major GIS companies did it all: application software, hardware, database, visualization and plotting. But those combined solution sets are now served by other specialized technology vendors. Hardware became a commodity when the PC arrived and mini-VAXs were replaced. IBM, Dell, HP and others dominated. Then Oracle and Microsoft took away the database business. Now we find that visualization is becoming the purview of Google and Microsoft. What remains are spatial analysis and query and perhaps some very specialized solutions like outage management and SCADA. And even some of those can be served by specialist technology companies.

So, the shifting needs in the market are affecting how GIS solution providers offer new products, how professional organizations develop educational programs through their conferences, and how users consider their options for investing time and money for geospatial technology systems. GITA 2007 offered a microcosm of these trends.

Published Friday, March 16th, 2007

Written by Joe Francica

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