The S-Curve of GIS - Or Are We Indispensable Yet?

May 31, 2005

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How mature is geotechnology today? What are the marks of a mature technology? Why does it matter?

According to Harry Dent (in The Roaring 2000s: Building The Wealth And Lifestyle You Desire In The Greatest Boom In History) " technologies never live up to their promise in the early stages, and then surprise everyone by becoming suddenly indispensable." If we subscribe to Dent's theory, it is important to know just when you are about to become indispensable.So, are we there yet?


According to Dent, every technology grows along an S-curve, going through distinct stages of innovation, growth and maturity.Other researchers assert that when you plot expertise with respect to time, it traces a similarly S-shaped curve, as well.

I will accept the S-curve theory on blind faith in this article, and will try to determine where geotechnology and other industries lie along the curve.So where is geotechnology in that analogy? Is it still the domain of early adopters? Or has the arrival of late adopters begun to mark the industry's growth, and even maturity? I don't think we can paint with a broad brush, rather we should look at different segments of the geotechnology industry separately.

Gizmondo is cool, but chances are you have never heard of it.That's because the hand-held gaming unit with GPS is the domain of early adopters.It is definitely in the innovation stage, and it remains to be seen when (or if) it will grow and mature.

So are maps on phones, in my opinion.They are still more of a toy than a reliable tool, and need to grow up before more people give them a serious look.

Laser vision-correction surgery is in its growth stage.Early adopters have jumped on it in droves, but a lot of potential users are still holding out (just look at Bill Gates).

Likewise, Web-based GIS is currently in its growth stage.The early adopters have embraced it, but the more conservative players still watch from the sidelines.A lot of innovation over a relatively short time period has expanded the reach of the technology beyond the traditional users of GIS - large corporations and government organizations - and into the hands of local governments and small but nimble business operations.And as the technology continues to improve, more users will gain the necessary confidence to adopt it.

Cell phones and digital cameras are approaching their maturity stages. Sales continue to grow, as vendors introduce new technology and products every few months, and reduce prices.

TV sets and audio systems have been quite stable for a while.PCs are almost stabilized.And cars have been mature technology the longest of all the technologies I mention here.

Desktop GIS falls in that category, offering known capabilities, stable performance and predictability.Its performance is reliable enough to make it suitable for mission-critical applications, but its innovation and growth rates aren't as vigorous as those of other industry segments.

My Crystal Ball
Do political campaigns use GIS to plan their operations and monitor the campaign's progress? For all I know, maps are used in the end, to illustrate the outcome.This will change.

Do retail store chains use GIS to decide where to locate their next store? I know first-hand that some do not.They use GIS-generated maps to justify the decisions that they have already made using some other method.This will change.

Do city planners use GIS to actually plan cities? I don't think many do.This will change.

I read somewhere that savvy marketers go to trendy malls to check out what the cool kids are wearing and use that information to shape the product lines and marketing campaigns of their firms for the upcoming season.While I was at the Location Technology and Business Intelligence conference in Philadelphia in early May, I felt like a savvy marketer.I was curious to see what the "cool kids" were wearing. And I was thrilled to see in attendance representatives from so many non-GIS industries.It gave the conference a very different feel.And it gives me the confidence to predict that geotechnology is about to become indispensable very soon, very quickly.

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