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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.

The Democratization of GIS

February 19th, 2015 by Matt Sheehan

Henry Ford famously wrote in the early 1900’s:

“I’m going to democratize the automobile, and when I’m through, everybody will have one.”

It was a bold statement. And though Ford did not invent the automobile, he was one of the pioneers of mass production providing low cost, reliable automobiles.

Similar to the automobile 100 years ago, are we now at the explosive growth phase of GIS?

The Democratization of GIS

Access and expense are limiting factors in the mass adoption of any new technology. When automobiles became widely available at a price point many could afford, the pent up demand became a flood of adoption.

Mobile technology has raised the profile and demand for location technology. As we move around in space with these miniaturized mobile computers we have natural questions about our (changing) location. That is a geo question. In both work and play there is now a huge demand for information about location.

This new demand has caught the industry off-guard. Many still see GIS as for those who understand GIS. The traditional GIS perspective.

The democratization of GIS is about mass market adoption.

Its about providing easy to use, focused geo-based tools for consumers and business users alike. Its about a map (a simple and easily understood presentation of information) and geo-query (show me the nearest Starbucks).

Much focus to date has been placed on consumers. But the real pent up demand is coming from the business sector. GIS presents new ways to analyse a business. New ways to improve on how employees get their jobs done. We’ve used the term geo-enabling inside WebMapSolutions. How to bring geo to organizations without the expense or headache of integration with existing systems. Building so called ‘touch-points’ between ArcGIS and current business processes. This could be as simple as mapping business data which contains a location (coordinate, address, zip etc) or geo-querying this data: show me the locations of all assets with incomplete work-orders. We recently launched Geo-EnableJS for ArcGIS with the goal of simplifying organizational geo-enablement.

This is GIS for non-GIS folk.

As we have thought about the democratization of GIS we have wondered about mobile’s and Internet connectivity. There are so many scenarios where connecting to the Internet with your smartphone or tablet is a problem, these include:

– Being in areas with no or poor wi-fi connectivity
– The many mobile devices which lack 3G/4G. These are devices which are only usable indoors or where there is a broadband connection.
– The sheer expense of data plans

In an ideal world we should be able to use our GIS or geo apps regardless of wi-fi connectivity, device type or data plans. We should be able to take our map and geo data with us.

Most importantly this process should be simple.

Technology advances, particularly Web technology, mean it is now possible to use your mobile GIS app while disconnected or offline. View maps, edit data, search, identify can all be done using data stored on you mobile device. With products like DisconnectedJS for ArcGIS Internet connectivity is no longer an issue. Take and use your ArcGIS web applications anywhere, and on any device.

We take the view that the democratization of GIS is in full swing. If he were focused on GIS Henry Ford today might be saying:

“I’m going to democratize GIS, and when I’m through, everybody will be using the technology.”

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

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