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Matt Sheehan
Matt Sheehan
Matt holds an MSc in Geography and GIS. He has been working with clients solving problems with GIS for over 17 years. Matt founded WebMapSolutions whose mission is to put innovative, intuitive GIS driven applications into the hands of new and existing users.

Mobile GIS Challenges and Opportunities in 2014

December 30th, 2013 by Matt Sheehan

Through the WebMapSolutions youtube channel we received a very interesting question. I thought it worth posting in our blog with our reply on the mobile GIS challenges and opportunities in 2014.

“I am a Geography student from the UK doing a module on Geospatial technology. As part of this module, I am attempting to gain an overview of the research challenges that face mobile geospatial computing. Since there isn’t a huge amount of approved literature on the subject, I have been using your videos as a source of information, and have found them very useful and informative.

I was basically wondering what you feel are the few challenges most relevant and problematic to functionality and development to apps such as mobile GIS, as well as location-based geospatial computing tools. Many of the tools you talk about in the videos require an online server to exploit some of the tools of ArcGIS. Do you know of any other mobile software that does not require any online server but provides all of the perks of programmes such as ArcGIS.”

Maturity of the Technology

In 2013 we saw a rapid acceleration in the evolution of GIS technology. Cloud and mobile computing were key drivers, and in 2013 GIS reached a tipping point. As a company WebMapSolutions recognised back in 2011 the potential impact these technologies could have on GIS. At that time, we began talking about location services rather than GIS. Cheap mobile devices with built in GPS, and cloud platforms we believed would transform our industry. It has taken nearly 3 years, but our prediction is proving correct. Now we have low cost GIS available at any time and place on any device. But the technology is still maturing. ArcGIS Online was released in early 2013, and continues to evolve; new services being rolled out gradually. New companies like GISCloud offer low priced cloud based GIS but remain limited. That will change.

In 2013 WebMapsolutions rolled out some innovative product offerings in the mobile GIS space: disconnected mobile data collection and editing, location analytics and ArcGIS Online Dropbox integration. These were technically challenging. In 2014 innovation will become easier, as enabling GIS services are released.

GIS Companies, Innovation & Old Business Models

Too many GIS companies lack innovation and are not far sighted enough to realise the new exciting world we have entered; too often taking a ‘looking in the rear view mirror’ approach. Some have products which will be replaced by the new mobile cloud based paradigm: these changes are thus a threat not an opportunity. Others talk loudly about being leaders in the GIS space, without leading. Today the most forward thinking and nimble are the small GIS companies. These are the companies pushing the envelope, looking for new innovative ways to apply GIS. There are many innovative thinkers, take for example the folks at GeoJobe. Their new WordPress plug in ‘Web Maps for WordPress’ is one of a number of products released or planned. Very cool.

An acceleration in innovation will come as more GIS and location focused companies grasp the new opportunities.

Bridging the ‘How to apply mobile in our organisation’ Gap

Mobile is new to GIS. Desktop and Web based GIS applications have been with us for over a decade. Clients still are challenged to adopt a mobile mindset. We have spent much time in 2013 discussing the potential applications of mobile GIS, as complimentary to other GIS applications. In many ways mobile is a new frontier. We anticipate 2014 to be the year the penny drops.

Security and the Cloud

Cloud computing is too often met with resistance due to security. In a number of industries this is a real concern: protecting data is paramount. But too often in 2013, security became an excuse for not adopting new technology, rather than the underlying reason.

Open Source Solutions – GeoServer Mapping Platform

We are big fans of open source technology. We have always marveled over Geoserver, and love the Leaflet Javascript library. But we would like elements of ArcGIS Online to be implemented with open source technology. Cloud based geospatial solutions will never be free, since to date there are no free cloud offerings at least not that we know. So maybe that removes open source as a cloud technology per se. Simple publishing, the web map ‘mash up’ concept, and built in authentication are major benefits of ArcGIS Online. A cloud based Geoserver equivalent would be a big deal we think.


A big push by WebmapSolutions in 2014 will be GIS integration with other technologies. We’ve mentioned our Dropbox integration. In the business world we will be working with Esri on SAP integration. The future of GIS is integrating with other technologies and thus appealing to a wider, non-GIS audience. These are early days; still challenging. But the potential in this area is almost endless.

Indoor GIS, Virtual Reality = Distractions

In our view there has been too much focus on ‘edge case future’ GIS, and not enough on the here and now. Cloud and mobile are new. We’ve highlighted some of the challenges with adoption in 2013 above. GIS companies should be focused on today’s challenges. To us, its a mistake to focus on the moon rover before you have built the rocket to the moon. Let’s talk and think about indoor and virtual reality GIS etc in 2015, and stay focused on today’s realities.

As ever we are interested in your opinions. Contact us and share with us your thoughts.

Categories: ArcGIS Online, Mobile ArcGIS, Mobile GIS, Web and mobile GIS

One Response to “Mobile GIS Challenges and Opportunities in 2014”

  1. Luis Aguilar says:

    I’m agree with the main lines of article but i think that Indoor GIS and Virtual Reality will be elements very importants of mobile GIS. I do not think they have importance as main actors but if like new tools integrated mobility GIS.


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