“How will GIS Companies Weather the Cloud Computing Storm?”, By Philip O'Doherty, CEO eSpatial

GIS as SaaS:

Is the debate about cloud computing and software as a service (Saas) over? Philip O'Doherty, CEO of eSpatial, thinks it is and details what that could and should mean in the world of GIS.

29 April, 2010 -- The debate about cloud computing and software as a service (SaaS) is well and truly over. SaaS has just too many advantages to offer for anyone to credibly argue against it. The pay-as-you-go service model provides ease-of-use, scalability, reduced maintenance and support effort and lower total cost of ownership. More and more customers expect SaaS or cloud options when they evaluate new software. But what does this mean in the world of  Geographic information Systems (GIS)?  We know the potential that GIS and online mapping and analysis offers, but can GIS software and the use of spatial data evolve to meet the needs of a world that consumes its software as a service in the cloud or do we need to rip it all up and start again?

SaaS is a complete game changer. It’s not only changing the way software is bought and deployed, but also the very notion of software itself. GIS and the mapping software companies need to stop thinking like software companies and start thinking and acting like service providers. However, there is little evidence in the announcements so far that the larger GIS software incumbents have made that mind-shift. Just ask Marc Benioff, founder of probably the best known and most successful cloud computing company, Salesforce.com. He claims his big rivals in the customer relationship management (CRM) space, Oracle and SAP, don’t have what it takes to make a go of it in the new cloudier climate. He could be wrong, but history would support his point of view. Innovation and major paradigm shifts – such as what is required to move from traditional on-premise solutions to offering software as a service – are not easy for large incumbents.  This problem is obvious in the GIS sector, dominated by a few large incumbents. Ultimately it is going to take the newer, smaller and hungrier vendors to provide GIS customers with credible SaaS and cloud offerings

I’ve been following the market since SaaS first emerged back in the early 2000s. Cloud computing was seen as a way for small and mid-sized organizations, with tighter IT budgets and fewer technical resources, to gain access to enterprise applications that were previously the preserve of large organizations with deep pockets – GIS immediately comes to mind. Now, bigger companies and government organizations are investing in cloud-based solutions and GIS customers want in! 

The “SaaSification” of GIS could be just what the doctor ordered. This new deployment model could be what finally delivers GIS capabilities to a much wider corporate audience. Those of us who have worked with GIS and mapping software for decades know the power and potential of geospatial technology, but we also recognize that it has failed to set the business world alight on a global scale. However, widespread availability of basic online mapping such as Google Maps, Google Earth and Microsoft Bing Maps has created consumer interest.  I believe that fully functioned GIS service in the cloud could take that interest one step further and could finally lead to widespread use of GIS technology in all types of businesses.

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About eSpatial

Since 1997, eSpatial has been helping businesses improve efficiencies and reduce costs through effective use of spatial data.  We provide full-strength, Enterprise-wide Web GIS solutions that combine the latest innovations in software delivery and usability with the performance of traditional GIS to deliver on our vision of "World's Best Web GIS."  eSpatial’s award winning solutions deliver easy-to-use yet powerful GIS functionality over the web.  providing universal access and faster integration.

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