The State of the Union…of GIS & Columbia Remembered

By Joe Francica

I'm here to report to you that the state of our union is, uh...not so good. Don't take it from me.Here are some recent excerpt's taken from statements made by some high-profile public GIS companies:
Commenting on the results, Intergraph Chairman and CEO Jim Taylor said, "We have completed another challenging year, with the depressed economy dictating most of our business strategy.Unfortunately, we do not see an improvement in the IT sector of the economy in the near future, and the uncertainties of future terrorist attacks and a possible war are not helping." (February 2003)
Not a happy camper.And this...
"We had a disappointing start to fiscal 2003.Demand from some of our telecommunications customers in the Americas was much softer than expected and location-based services (LBS) revenue was less than planned," said Mark Cattini, president and chief executive officer, MapInfo.Concluded Cattini, "In light of our first quarter results, we have made and will continue to make adjustments to our business model and cost structure and these actions will be completed in the second quarter." (January 2003)
Read...more layoffs and little potential for increased investment in marketing and product development.And then this:
"This is perhaps the toughest technology buying environment we've seen...Carol Bartz, Autodesk, chairman and CEO (November 2002).
Perhaps the understatement of the year.

To be sure, 2002 was not a good year for investments in information technology and GIS was no different.Spatial information, however, remains a key ingredient in cost cutting as the ability to pinpoint savings in field force management, due diligence for site selection and "deselection," as well improved efficiencies in land planning through better visualization.

International Data Corporation (IDC) released a report late last year entitled "Spatial Information Management: Competitive Analysis and Trends." In it they summarized what software solution providers must do to facilitate better recognition of spatial technology benefits: "In 1999, IDC predicted that mainstream IT providers, particularly database vendors, would increasingly become ecosystem leaders in the SIM market.We also predicted that mainstream IT providers would incorporate core SIM technology in their flagship products, forcing SIM vendors to seek new roles as complementors...In 2002, this transition is well underway.IDC expects a complete transition from traditional GIS to spatially-enabled IT by the end of the current forecast period. The primary driver behind this transition is that most businesses want to handle location information as simply and cheaply as possible, just like they handle any other data.Therefore, businesses demand applications and tools that add spatial capabilities to information systems simply and cheaply."

And there, concisely, is the challenge for 2003.

Columbia Remembered

Huntsville, AL - As a resident of Huntsville, Alabama, The Rocket City, it is hard not to feel a personal sense of sorrow for the souls lost aboard the Space Shuttle Columbia, as well as for the engineers who are my close friends that work on the shuttle design and propulsion systems. They must not only face their own grief but also get on with the work of finding the cause of the disaster.

For those of you unfamiliar with our city, Huntsville is the home of the Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC), one of only a handful of major NASA facilities that manages various aspects of the shuttle program and other space-related initiatives including the International Space Station. It is home to the U.S.Space and Rocket Center and the Redstone Arsenal, which manages the Army's Aviation and Missile Command.The names of our schools reflect the memory of fallen Apollo space heroes Grissom, Chaffee, and White, as well as those lost aboard Challenger.Huntsville was the home of Dr.Wernher Von Braun, the first Director of the Marshall Space Flight Center, the father of the Saturn V rocket that propelled Apollo missions into space.Huntsville is still occasionally shaken by the roar of engine tests on shuttle rockets at Marshall, which has responsibility for the solid rocket boosters as well as the main oxygen and hydrogen fuel tank (a prime focus of the current investigation because of loose insulation hitting the left wing during liftoff) and the three main shuttle engines.

At this time, I think it is important not to solely focus on finding the cause of the disaster (and finger-pointing), but to also reflect on how difficult and amazing it is that we undertake space flight at all. We should recognize the accomplishments of those that put people into space, and the risks the astronauts face without pause for personal safety.Rest assured, those who I know from MSFC are on a mission to find the cause and fix it.To them, it is personal; to them, family members have died. But anyone who has had the occasion to visit a NASA facility and stare inside a mock-up of a shuttle engine, Apollo capsule, or lunar lander, should share a sense of pride that we understand the science of launching women and men skyward and bringing them home to earth.And to understand that human space travel is still quite perilous.

Published Thursday, February 6th, 2003

Written by Joe Francica

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