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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.

Is Google Getting out of the Mapping Game?

January 23rd, 2015 by Matt Sheehan

Two recent announcements caught my attention:

“The Google Earth API has been deprecated as of December 12th, 2014. The API will continue to work on supported browsers until December 12th, 2015, and will shut down on that date.”

See the full Google Earth API announcement

“Google will end support for the Google Maps Engine (GME) product on January 29, 2016. After January 29, 2016.”
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Emerging GIS may not be what you think!

January 19th, 2015 by Matt Sheehan

In this post I am going to return some of the discussions we started last year with our “Is GIS Splitting” post. The general consensus from these conversations was that we are seeing a polarization of GIS. Traditional GIS remains solidly in place, but a new emerging GIS sector is developing. Let’s discuss this polarization.

Traditional GIS

I’ve described traditional GIS as ‘business as usual GIS’. That sounds a little belittling, which is not the intention. GIS has a long history. It has and continues to serve well the geospatial community. Traditional GIS is the bedrock of the discipline. Attend a GIS conference and you’ll be surrounded by peers who talk, think, discuss, and present on deep geospatial issues. Traditional GIS is our comfortable GIS niche.
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2015 GIS Predictions

January 2nd, 2015 by Matt Sheehan

Happy New Year. Like many other we have been mulling over our 2015 GIS predictions. But before we jump in let’s review 2014.

GIS in 2014

We saw GIS in 2014 as a year of advancement and self examination. Mobile technology, fed by data and services in the cloud, has put location on the tips of many tongues.

Show me who and what is near me

Give me the ability to search and query using my current (GPS) location

Give me (spatial) tools to help me run my business

The (niche) GIS industry is in the process of reinventing itself. Our blog post suggesting GIS is Splitting was met with a considerable reaction: from outright agreement to “what do these guys know they don’t even have GIS in their title!”

We don’t actually believe GIS is splitting, but it is definitely changing. In 2014 we saw a more polarised GIS sector; on one end traditional GIS, or business as usual. On the other emerging GIS; the wild west of GIS: uncharted, rule free, a little scary, but filled with opportunities. We also began to see discussions on these changes, challenges and opportunities.

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Taking the gobbledegook out of Location Analytics

December 15th, 2014 by Matt Sheehan

Location analytics is much discussed in GIS circles. We felt taking the gobbledegook out of location analytics was long overdue. Many organizations new to GIS are still grasping at the basic GIS concepts, throw the language of location analytics into the mix and you end up with ??????

What is business analytics?

Put simply:

Analytic systems turn an organization’s data into actionable information by discovering and illustrating patterns, trends, and relationships in business data

The typical output from current business analytic systems is in the form of statistical reports. These usually summarize data in tabular form, often including graphs and charts. Analytics are often implemented as independent business intelligence (BI) systems but can also be part of larger enterprise systems, like customer relationship (CRM), enterprise resource (ERP), and resource management systems (RMS).

But traditional business analytics systems do a poor job of answering the where question:

Where are our assets, where are our customers, where are our sales?

Where is at the heart of GIS. Visualizing data through maps, and spatial analysis.

Spatial analysis …. we are in danger of straying into gobbledegook territory. Keep reading!

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Location Strategy .. Huh?

December 8th, 2014 by Matt Sheehan

The geotechnology industry has always used interesting terminology …. geospatial, GIS, geomatics, Géomatique.

As we discussed in a recent blog post called GIS is Changing, we seem to have have developed our own language.

Location strategy is somewhat easier to understand. Well maybe.

Location Strategy .. Huh?

What exactly is a location strategy?

A plan of action whose aim is to provide answers to the where question: “where are our assets, where are our customers, where are our sales”

Historically where has not been important outside of the geotechnology or GIS industry. But increasingly business executives are realizing that thinking geographically can improve their business and organization: saving money, and helping in the decision making process. Much of this awareness has come from the popularity of cloud and mobile computing.

Why you might ask?

The cloud has made a plethora of services available 24×7. Geographic or geospatial services, which answer the where question, are among these many services. ArcGIS Online from Esri is a good example of such a service.

We are seeing a clear split in how these various service are being used. The consumer and advertising location-based search kind of experience is a key part of the Apple, Google and Bing offering. GIS in contrast is focused on managing authoritative data sources. Thus supporting geocentric workflows like fixing roads, making cities more livable through better planning, environmental management, forest management, drilling in the right location for oil, managing utilities, assets and people.

What do we mean by authoritative data source?

Another term used here is the system of record, and defined as:

It provides the most complete, most accurate and most timely data, it has the best structural conformance to the data model, it is nearest to the point of operational entry and it can be used to feed other systems.

Traditionally heavily used in the public sector, GIS is now seeing dramatic growth in the commercial sector. This will accelerate over the next few years, with greater access to maps across organizations and the increasing use of GIS to manage the business.

The increasing popularity in GIS, and changes in the traditional user base, has created much disruption in the GIS industry. It would be an overstatement to use the term chaos, but considerable change and self examination is underway. More on this in a future post.

At WebMapSolutions we have geared ourselves up to help a new set of industries and users. We have GIS jumpstart processes in place to help organizations implement and use GIS. Contact us for more information 801-733-0723.

The New Future of ArcGIS Web Applications

November 30th, 2014 by Matt Sheehan

The New Future of ArcGIS Web Applications is all about Javascript

Javascript is an open standard scripting language. With a truly global developer base, it is today arguably the most popular language on the planet. In combination with HTML5 advanced functionality is now possibe. The largest Esri software team is the Javascript team. Some of the ArcGIS Javascript API advances this team are about to roll out, including 3D, will make heads spin.

Javascript Disconnected Functionality and more

It is now possible to do things in a browser, using Javascript, we could only have dreamed about just a few years ago. One of our companies areas of focus has been disconnected ArcGIS.

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Web ArcGIS Apps are Amazing

November 24th, 2014 by Matt Sheehan

An odd title for a blog post: Web ArcGIS apps are amazing. Why would we make such a profound statement?

We still see mobile and web apps treated separately. “Mobile enable your web page” we hear. Have clever ‘native’ developers build your iPad, Android or Surface Pro app is another.

In Praise of Web Technology

Web technology is wonderful. Anybody with a browser can use a web application. That means access from any device: office PC, smartphone, tablet. But what we can do in an ArcGIS web application is limited right?


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Splitting, Expanding, Maturing, Polarizing …. GIS is Changing

November 6th, 2014 by Matt Sheehan

Splitting, bifurcating, expanding, maturing, polarizing …. GIS is changing.

We are living through a time of transformation in our industry. The advent of cloud and mobile technology has put much focus on location, and technology which is location focused. That’s our technology. Demand is growing from outside our industry for the output from a GIS: mapping, analysis, discovery and more.

But the question has to be asked: are these winds of change internally driven or fueled by this new demand?

Splitting, Expanding, Maturing, Polarizing …. GIS is Changing

The recent blog post I wrote asking the question “Is GIS Splitting?” was met with a large response. Splitting suggests two or more disparate parts. Joe Francica at Directions Magazine in a podcast discussing the question suggested maturing or expanding (note, the term “splitting” was used in the original post to start the conversation. I agree with Joe and most of those who responded, that GIS is actually expanding).

Brian Haslam provided some interesting feedback on this question:

“My viewpoint comes from nearly 25 years of Esri GIS experience with local government. I prefer to put the focus on GIS expanding to meet unique workflow needs where it has not been traditionally used or the use has been marginal. As organizations see their GIS as their most up-to-date authoritative data, which can be rendered as a map (reports, tables, charts, etc.), and can provide spatial analytically tools for decisions support, use of the GIS explodes throughout for specialized and other uses.”

Terminology aside, there is a strong suggestion that two clear-cut communities are evolving: “old and new” (note, though i will use these terms in this post I actually prefer “traditional” and “emerging”). And that the marketplace is driving this divide. The “old” serves predominantly the current user community. While the “new” is focused on the newly emerging user base.

Joe Berry commented as follows:

“My minor contribution to the discussion is two-fold:

1) The root source of the divergence is the level of understanding of the full potential of geotechnology (both in the developer and user communities); and,

2) Geotechnology advances are effectively driven by the marketplace (users, not developers).”

Finding a Common Language

Geospatial, geotechnology, geomatics, Géomatique, mapping ….

We have developed our own language. The language of geospatial. Discussions continue on our somewhat insular vernacular. See this discussion started by Joe Berry on this topic. One respondent I think sums things up nicely:

“All the names and acronyms we use among industry-insiders really don’t work well at all for outsiders. All seem to leave puzzled looks and beg the need for more explanation.”

I’ve never hidden my dislike for the term geospatial. It is off-putting, confusing and to some degree intimidating to those outside the industry. Maybe most importantly it poorly communicates what we do. As the conversation Joe started suggests, old GIS is happy with our current vernacular, while new GIS sees change (additions/updates) as essential to help communicate with, and provide solutions to the new user base.

A new Breed of Geographer

GeoSpatial practitioner, geospatial developer… location specialist

Any GIS client solution is a combination of input from trained geospatial experts, often geographers, and geospatial developers. As Clark Beattie puts it:

“I’ve been in this business for 45 years and seen many changes over that time, most of them for the good. I view GIS as a spectrum which starts with the G part and ends with the IS part. The percentage of spectrum used in a given situation depends on how the geospatial science needs to be applied and the knowledge/capabilities/skills of the practitioner. Some solutions need more G and others more IS. In any given solution one [G nor IS] can’t exist without the other and their appropriate combination makes the GIS work.”

I agree with Clark, this status-quo serves old GIS well. But for new GIS, are we missing a third expert or at least skillset? Those who can understand the challenges faced by the “new” user base. Who can talk a common language and present appropriate understandable approaches and solutions.

Again Joseph Berry:

“The ‘old and new’ paradigm gaps for both the developers and users are at least partially the result of geospatial education’s focus on ‘Specialist’ training with commercial software; and to some degree a movement away from the development of “flagship” software to “business case” solutions”

There is little doubt that GIS practitioners are worried about their future. They see their value as eroding, and wonder if they should become more certified (GISP) or learn programming. Publishing a map is one thing, understanding the data and concepts is quite another. Ever more computer scientists are learning GIS concepts, and applying their IT skills within our industry.

But this proposed third group (I’ll call them location specialists) is rare. There is no training or even widespread recognition of their need. But for new GIS to flourish we need ‘translators’. We need individuals, who understand the challenges faced by the wider ‘non-GIS’ community. Who can bridge the divide, and communicate spatial solutions to a new set of problems, targeted at a new diverse group of users.

One can speculate on the source of these ‘translators’. Maybe from two directions — analytically thinking GIS’ers and spatially thinking domain experts. Since GIS education has not made its way across campus, the latter group remains small. The widespread adoption of SpatialSTEM at the college level, is potentially very important.


There seems little doubt there is a shift underway in our industry. A new very large potential user base has emerged, which is driving change. As an industry we are in the recognition and defining phase. And there is plenty of resistance.

To quote Joseph Berry again:

“Regardless, folks both outside and inside the field need to recognize that digital maps have taken us well “beyond mapping” to entirely new ways to collect, process, analyze and display mapped data and spatial information.”

My opinion is that we will over time see greater recognition of this divergence, and an increasing effort on the part of our industry to bridge the emerging divide. Old GIS continues business as usual. Those focused on new GIS are entering new uncharted territory. Opportunities and challenges abound.

As the saying goes change is good. At the minute two communities have emerged inside our industry: the “old” and “new”. Will they coalesce or remain separate? Only time will tell.

Agree. Disagree. Thoughts?

Let me know

Strong Response to Podcast on Is GIS Splitting?

October 22nd, 2014 by Matt Sheehan

GIS faces huge challenges. Far greater than it faced in the 90’s with the explosion of the Internet.

And the opportunities for those who solve these challenges are unprecedented.

GIS is moving from being a peripheral, niche technology to an integrated core technology. Let me repeat that: GIS is moving from the periphery to the core.

This is at the heart of both the challenge and the opportunity. What this means is that .. none of the old rules apply.

Sure the core technology remains the same. And is evolving at an astounding pace. But the technology is one thing, how we talk about, and apply it is quite another. We have a new set of users. A much wider group who neither understand nor care about GIS.
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What do we mean by GIS Integration?

October 12th, 2014 by Matt Sheehan

In previous blog posts we’ve discussed the split in GIS. Not so much a split in the core technology, but in the users served and thus solutions provided. Traditional GIS will continue to support GIS professionals. “New” GIS is now serving a far wider user base. These are users who want to move beyond charts and graphs and visualize data on maps.To query business data based on location. These are users who want to replace their use of pen and paper while in the field, with mobile GIS. They want have access to maps and data in both populated (connected) and remote (disconnected) areas. There is much much more.

Its an exciting future. But just how do we bring GIS to this wider set of users?

Through integration that is how.
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