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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.

How does GIS Cross the Divide?

May 23rd, 2016 by Matt Sheehan

We talk often in this blog about the increasing need for answers to WHERE questions. That is what a GIS provides. A common way to visualise the answers to these WHERE questions is through a map. Similar to a chart for spreadsheets. But today GIS lives in an odd place. It is still seen as a mapping solution and not a technology which solves business problems. How do we cross the divide and have GIS seen and used differently? That is the focus of this blog post.

What is the Problem?

I made this mistake the other day. We were in conversation with a real estate company who needed a mobile GIS app developed. They provided a rather confusing picture of what they needed, then asked for a demo from us. I decided to show some examples of mobile GIS functionality, just to help move the conversation forward. MISTAKE. What I should have done is dug deeper. Understood better myself (and maybe more importantly have them understand better) the problem they were trying to solve and the story. I should have followed more closely our from WHERE to THERE process. Showing things we think might interest a client is a mistake we all make. Understand and steer the conversation always towards the problem. How do you propose a solution if you don’t understand the problem?

Stop Talking about Maps

I read it all the time GIS is mapping software. Drives me crazy. Sure the output from a GIS is map. But to reduce GIS to simply mapping software lessens its value. Think about this. I’m an insurance company, a huge swath of thunderstorms have hit an area in which we have insured homes. Hail 3″ plus caused large scale damage. How do I estimate the potential claims for roof damage which will be made as a result of this storm? This doesn’t seem like a WHERE question does it? It certainly is not a question you’d turn to ‘mapping software’ to solve.

But think about it. If we could view the area affected by the hail, break this down by hail size, then overlay our insured homes .. we can calculate the potential impact of the storm in terms of claims. Focusing on maps limits understanding of the true value of GIS.

Guide … Don’t Sell

Business folk know little about GIS. Nor, in many cases, do they care. They do have business problems which are currently being poorly answered by existing business intelligence (BI) platforms. They want answers to WHERE questions. And with GIS they need hand holding. To GIS folk the technology is familiar. With the cloud and new platform releases GIS has got easier. But not to those new to GIS. “Where do we start?” is a common question. Guidance and hand holding is key to widening the understanding and appeal of GIS. As we discussed in our Can GIS Help the Mad Hatter? blog post talking about GIS being simple when discussing the technology is problematic. With expert help GIS can provide organizations answers to their WHERE questions

There you have it. Three suggestions on how we can move GIS forward: cross the divide between the perception of GIS as only a mapping solution to a true business solution. What do you think?

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

One Response to “How does GIS Cross the Divide?”


    The basic geographic question of ‘Where’ in geography has been answered before GIS by the existence of accurate world map. However, contemporary GIS has gone beyond the ‘Where’ answers to ‘What is where’ and ‘Why’. GIS has gone into spatiality of Regions. Seeking to explain the dynamics of regional changes and the role of man. Seeking to give answers to the ‘Why’ factors and events. These has no limit, leading to collapse and emergence of new paradigms.

    Rather that concentrate on giving answers to ‘Where’ questions, GIS experts should dig deeper on seeking to give answer to ‘Why’ questions.

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