Is the GIS Industry Splitting?

GIS Contributor


Matt Sheehan, from WebMapSolutions, shares some of the results from a survey asking, “is GIS splitting?”

These are exciting times for GIS. We are in the midst of a GIS revolution, driven by the popularity of mobile and cloud technology.

Suddenly location has become very important. The demand for  maps and location intelligence has been increasing exponentially.

There has been a huge groundswell in interest from non-GIS users. GIS is moving from a niche sector to the center of many software stacks.

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The business sector is showing particular interest in integrating with GIS. Driven by the recognition that so much of their data contains location.

Businesses are looking to GIS to provide new ways to analyse and visualize organizational data, and through geo-marketing, a new approach to interacting with consumers.

But is the GIS industry ready for this new demand?

We posed this question after attending the GeCo Conference in beautiful Grand Junction. In a blog post we asked Is GIS Splitting?  

Our premise: GIS now serves two populations, traditional GIS users and new GIS users and industries. The industry is splitting. A new breed of GIS practitioners has emerged whose focus is on new ways to apply GIS, serving a new user base.

The blog post received a surprising amount of attention. And enough feedback for us to write a follow up post in which we included responses.

Some of the comments that answers “Is GIS splitting”?

GIS has moved beyond adolescence and is heading towards maturity

The split is happening .. now I worry my GIS skills will be wasted

Spatial is no longer now the preserve of GIS (practitioners) only

There are three (or more) GIS “worlds”…. old, new, plus a mixed hybrid. Personally, I wouldn’t call it a split, but rather….. evolution.

GIS is a holistic system whose nucleus is the underlying data.

The split is happening .. we are midst of rethinking our GIS program vision/strategy, looking at this “new vs old”.

I think your perception of the divide is right on. I recognize that I need to adapt to the newer ideas about the industry. However, I do think that it applies predominantly to the delivery of the data and not to the creation of the data.

I believe this is more of a cultural split than a technological. The dichotomy is more representative of a split between those who produce data and those who (prepare interfaces to) consume it.

Is GIS Splitting? No, but nothing ever stands still and GIS continues to evolve. We are coming from a time where GIS meant GIS specialists, and moving towards a time where GIS encompasses both specialists and a new group of people who understand the power of spatial

The split/divide in GIS. I noticed it several years ago…specifically, when attending FOSS4G in Denver (2011) …time to get working on the ‘integration’ and ‘analytical’ waves for geo data.

Many people now realize that you can access and analyse location data quite easily and in many cases achieve the desired results. Over time I believe the non-technical side of people using GIS will grow exponentially.

GIS is about the data

The conversation is interesting. What emerges is … GIS is ultimately about the data. The core technology will remain the bastion of GIS practitioners.

But a new set of implementors are emerging. Those who can apply GIS to answer a new set of questions. Industry experts, taking a new and fresh approach, not constrained by traditional thinking.

About the author

Matt Sheehan has been working with GIS for over 20 years. He is a Principal at WebMapSolutions, which specializes in providing mobile GIS solutions.


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