By Michael Terner, Executive Vice President
With the turn of the New Year I read many of the pieces that both looked backward at the year past and forward to what is coming, and I naturally tried to decide what I would have said. So, after nearly three months of mulling things over in quiet times walking my dog, and also at louder times as our company actively plans for the coming year, I think I actually have an answer:
The most influential thing I heard last year was Paul Ramsey’s typically brilliant talk at the OpenGeo User Meeting that followed the inaugural FOSS4G North America conference in Washington, D.C. His talk posited that our industry may be both misnamed and held back by the term “GIS” (geographic information systems). He argued that “GIS” connotes a particular type of software and doesn’t fully describe what many of us are actually doing, and he proposed an alternative name, Spatial IT (information technology). This new nomenclature strongly resonated with me. Brian Timoney’s blog piece from October 2012 provided an important and articulate “second” to many of these notions. Probably more importantly to me, my colleagues at AppGeo (founded in 1991) seemed to share the “ah-ha” moment of this relatively simple observation.
To me, the core of the argument for a “Spatial IT outlook” is that “GIS has grown up.” The professional-grade software (e.g., from Esri, founded in 1969) is incredibly powerful, mature and feature-rich. Most of the big data automation and digitizing projects have been completed or are underway. The “case for GIS” has been made to most geographically oriented organizations – be they government agencies, utilities, or the established cartographic houses like National Geographic – and “GIS” is in daily action managing and publishing geographic data. Most importantly, the public awareness and expectation for electronic mapping is extremely high whether on the Web or on a smartphone; whether in your house, office, car or city park. The battle for “geo-relevancy” is over.
So while lots of “GIS” is going on, the most interesting and challenging problems are no longer “about GIS.” Rather, the problems many of us find ourselves working on involve integrating geospatial information into complex workflows; or coordinating the efforts of stakeholders, data providers, and data consumers operating at different levels of government; or, publishing an ever wider array of geospatial information to new audiences who use the latest devices and user interfaces; or, extracting business and/or environmental intelligence by exposing and mining the spatial relationships, both hidden and embedded, within corporate databases, web statistics and sensor networks. Indeed, we are tackling many of the same challenges that the rest of the information technology and software development industries currently face. We just have a particular vantage on the “spatial” dimension, and the term “Spatial IT” captures these concepts perfectly. continue reading...