GIS – Don’t believe the hype

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I read lots in the industry press about the rapid growth of Geographical Information System technology. But in the pursuit of ever more advanced functionality, I wonder whether the increasingly competitive nature of the GIS software industry has meant that we’ve lost sight of what most customers need.

If I look back at the GIS work I produced as an analyst in the late 1990s, I am staggered at how quickly things have progressed, particularly in terms of output quality and speed. These are things that matter to all users, but most should question whether complex functionality and the addition of the latest innovations (GPS technology and 3D visualisation being two prime examples) really benefit their business.

There are clearly a significant number of companies for whom GIS remains an unexplored opportunity. And these are not just small companies – there are plenty of potential users within very large companies for whom GIS is completely new. These newcomers are likely to be bewildered by the multitude of GIS software available and by the technical language used by many vendors.

What the majority want, in my experience, are cost-effective tools that are fast, intuitive and ready-to-use. As a result, they are increasingly adopting tailor-made and streamlined solutions that are customized to suit their particular business or project.

They aren’t interested in buying empty-shell, off-the-shelf products, or in systems that only contain data owned by the vendor. They are demanding the flexibility to combine their data with any third-party data in order to reflect the true dynamics of their marketplace and they need the ability to cross-analyse this data at the touch of a button.

After all, ifyou are a retailer, it is just as important to know the daytime workplace population and nature of business activity in an area as it is to understand the consumer geodemographics. And if you are a manufacturer or FMCG company, it is vital to match your brand criteria to the underlying consumer geodemographics as well as identifying the best retailers in the right locations to distribute your products.

There is no doubt that there is a growing demand for GIS technology as awareness increases, but if the rate of technological progression continues to outpace typical levels of user knowledge and demand, GIS will continue to be perceived as a specialized niche. GIS should be an inclusive technology, catering as much for the new, inexperienced user as for the software expert.

In their haste to enhance functionality, the major vendors are creating an opportunity for smaller players catering for the less experienced user. The number of suppliers operating in this space is currently limited but is likely to grow over time, opening up GIS technology to a whole host of new users who are demanding speedy, flexible, ready and easy to use, competitively priced, tailored solutions, output of the highest quality, and no need for any existing GIS experience.

It is a tall order. But with the right software product, you have got the makings of a very lucrative business.

By Caroline Johnson, data & insights director, Serendipity2

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