Where’s the Innovation ...in GIS?

By Joe Francica

I recently posed this question to a senior executive, who shall remain nameless, at a big name systems integrator in the defense industry.I was not impressed with the answer but suffice to say that when pressed to give an example of how GIS software has shown radical innovation in techniques or technology his recourse was to discuss how over the last ten years the technology has drastically improved in the ability to process lots of data.No doubt, but that was not the question.

So, let me pose this to the broader audience.What's new? What's innovative? Where are the truly radical advances in geospatial analysis, integration, or visualization? In my mind, there is a limit to the number of times that you can rewrite software to display a thematic map or add in just one more spatial query function, or adjust a dialogue box to make it easier to use.

My fear is that mapping technology is "old news." The "new" news is in something different and it was mentioned in the report released last week by Daratech, entitled, "2004 GIS Markets and Opportunities" although even their assessment is a little late to the game.The press release announcing the report indicated the market research firm's adoption of a broader definition for GIS: "This broader definition recognizes that engineering data from CAD systems, billing information from ERP systems, facilities management and many other types of enterprise content must be brought together with the traditional spatial data from a GIS in order to efficiently make decisions."

No kidding.I think Oracle identified this opportunity about 8 years ago with the release of Spatial Cartridge and IBM caught on even years before that.Unfortunately, the Daratech report failed to indicate the market size for solutions that use a spatial database as the primary platform, forsaking the need for a client side desktop GIS.This is where the market seems to be headed today but those numbers are obviously buried amongst the core data for software, services, and data.Solution integration is the reason that system integrators are getting involved; it is the reason why the big three IT companies (IBM, Microsoft, Oracle) are in this game; and it is the reason why our Location Technology and Business Intelligence Conference of this past May drew such a large contingent of senior IT executives from both GIS and Business Intelligence sector companies.The big innovations lie in big enterprise...maybe.

But there is more to it.During two recent conferences, the ESRI UC and the GEOINT 2004, we published articles that sought to identify the "wow technology" from each. As I look back on both articles, what really "wowed" me was the innovation in visualization (See Wow Technologies Found at GEOINT 2004 and WOW Technology' Found Among the Many Exhibitors at the ESRI User's Conference). From holograms to touch sensitive light tables to "surround see" seamless, immersive monitors, the truly unique technology is in how we can get the "big picture" from spatial data.

Driving Innovation
Innovation is often fostered when more people are allowed access to new information sources.That is what the web has done.It has also propelled the notion that interoperability is a linchpin in assuring that mapping technology becomes an integral part of enterprise systems and consumer applications as well.During the past week alone, Directions Magazine has received numerous press releases related to location technology especially in the area of location-based services (LBS).This week's Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association (CTIA) Wireless I.T.& Entertainment Conference is providing a forum for these developments and I would advise looking at the many announcements in our LBS Industry section of our publication.

Today's articles by Carl Reed and Nuke Goldstein focus on interoperability, data exchange, and integration. And the web has by far become the visualization medium and the interoperability platform by which data is delivered to decision makers.Dr.Reed's article discusses the collision of CAD and GIS, and how "there are a number of OGC Specifications that can be used immediately to enhance the sharing and integration of CAD/GIS content." And Mr.Goldstein's article will "point out some of the obstacles met when reading and analyzing capabilities from an Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC) compliant Web Map Service (WMS) or Web Feature Service (WFS)," which are specifications necessary to more fully realize the potential for interoperability on the web.

The web is also the reason why we at Directions Magazine set out to shine a spotlight on the plethora of applications being deployed by governments, businesses, and other organizations to distribute and share geospatial information on the web.Our Web Mapping Contest is not just about having fun or creating a stir to win "high tech toys." Its purpose is to congratulate the developers and users of geospatial information and create a resource for others to use and appreciate the incredible work being done in our technology sector. The 84 entries are just a phenomenal statement about the possibilities of sharing information.The web and interoperability - Do you agree that this is where the innovation really exists? Can you visualize the innovations of the future?

Published Friday, October 29th, 2004

Written by Joe Francica

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