Friday, February 28, 2020
Home Education GIS or Geospatial - does it matter and why now?

GIS or Geospatial – does it matter and why now?

THREADS ON THE RELATIONSHIP between GIS and the wider world of ICT are common on social media. While posts like “is GIS splitting?” appear contrived to stir debate, others seem genuinely confused over the distinction between the concept of a geographic information system and geospatial technology in general. Such distinctions can be dismissed as semantic, but the focus on ‘GIS’ can reflect an implicit assumption that spatial is somehow apart from general ICT. Should we be concerned by posts like “where should a GIS unit belong in an organisation” or “is it important to keep GIS out of the IT department”? If so, why especially now? Since the early 90s, evangelists have touted GIS as the next big thing in IT, but the visibility and ROI of the traditional GIS model – even single supplier corporate GIS – remain stubbornly low.

The reason has not been misplaced belief in the utility of spatial capabilities – witness the explosion in ‘neo-geo’ apps – but rather how spatial information and processes need to be delivered in today’s highly heterogeneous ICT environments. Every organisation is multidisciplinary, comprising a set of functions or departments. Each of these often deal with the same events or entities, but for different purposes and with each using their own specialised software tools. As a result, elements of the work are highly automated, but the overall operation is fragmented. Process disconnects, manual hand-offs and data duplicated between functions, result in inefficiency, errors and delays that limit the utility of each system and ultimately their value to the enterprise. This is particularly the case with technical platforms that can be harder to integrate due to specialised data or processing requirements. As David Morenz of XchangeCore (a US initiative enhancing interoperability between public safety systems) observed “technical software packages are serving their users very well, but not the wider organisation”.

GIS ROI – or not With respect to GIS, financial profiles vary by sector but studies of utility operations suggest a well-planned and properly executed conventional GIS can deliver ROI of around 2:1. Adding enterprise access increases the benefit, but the combined return still peaks at around 4:1. However, if the underlying spatial data and processes can be integrated within existing operations, such as outage management, network automation, and customer services, the ratio jumps to 20:1 and higher. The route to achieving greater ROI does not lie in distinction between the concept of a geographic information system and geospatial technology in general. Such distinctions can be dismissed as semantic, but the focus on ‘GIS’ can reflect an implicit assumption that spatial is somehow apart from general ICT. Should we be concerned by posts like “where should a GIS unit belong in an organisation” or “is it important to keep GIS out of the IT department”? If so, why especially now? Since the early 90s, evangelists have touted GIS as the next big thing in IT, but the visibility and ROI of the traditional GIS model – even single supplier corporate GIS – remain stubbornly low.

The reason has not been misplaced belief in the utility of spatial capabilities – witness the explosion in ‘neo-geo’ apps – but rather how spatial information and processes need to be delivered in today’s highly heterogeneous ICT environments. Every organisation is multidisciplinary, comprising a set of functions or departments. Each of these often deal with the same events or entities, but for different purposes and with each using their own specialised software tools. As a result, elements of the work are highly automated, but the overall operation is fragmented. Process disconnects, manual hand-offs and data duplicated between functions, result in inefficiency, errors and delays that limit the utility of each system and ultimately their value to the enterprise. This is particularly the case with technical platforms that can be harder to integrate due to specialised data or processing requirements. As David Morenz of XchangeCore (a US initiative enhancing interoperability between public safety systems) observed “technical software packages are serving their users very well, but not the wider organisation”.

GIS ROI – or not With respect to GIS, financial profiles vary by sector but studies of utility operations suggest a well-planned and properly executed conventional GIS can deliver ROI of around 2:1. Adding enterprise access increases the benefit, but the combined return still peaks at around 4:1. However, if the underlying spatial data and processes can be integrated within existing operations, such as outage management, network automation, and customer services, the ratio jumps to 20:1 and higher. The route to achieving greater ROI does not lie in making everyone use a ‘GIS’, but rather planning an enterprise information architecture that enables the wider organisation to integrate spatial data and capabilities with its existing work processes and tools.

IC-ITE – pronounced ‘eyesight’!

The desire to better match technology to use can be clearly seen in the Intelligence Community, Information Technology Enterprise (IC-ITE) strategy published by the US Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI). This highlights the critical need for access to broader and more current sources of data and to deliver taskoriented tools that enable more staff to apply the combined information picture to their work. “It is imperative that information technology provides [staff], wherever they are, with the ability to efficiently and effectively discover, access, and exploit data,” the document states. The ODNI’s goal is not only to provide staff with enhanced information and tools, but also to extend the capabilities of core systems to a far wider audience – making staff more effective, but also more self-sufficient. Providing greater autonomy enables more users to execute complete ‘end-to-end’ tasks without manual hand-offs or reliance on others to process elements of their workflow. As well as speeding-up processes by pushing decision making further out through the organisation, autonomy hrough connected apps also improves efficiency and helps maintain the currency and accuracy of enterprise data. It also releases specialist staff from processing volumes of low-level tasks for other business functions.

The ODNI says the changes will be achieved by moving from the “current state of duplicative [function]-centric infrastructure to one characterised by common, secure enterprise capabilities and services”. Focusing on enterprise needs, rather than individual technologies, will not only enhance capabilities but also the organisation’s ability to adapt: “Missions will benefit from improved agility, scalability and security while realising lower operating costs”. This win-win scenario seems almost too good to be true, so why might this be possible now? ICT has changed radically over the preceding five years and the rate of change continues to accelerate. The maturing of what were previously regarded as disruptive technologies – cloud, mobility, the Internet of things, actionable analytics, and others – is transforming the industry. Indeed, Gartner predicts these ’nexus forces’ will drive and dominate change in enterprise software over the coming decade. This revolution is transforming IT in many ways, but of particular interest to geospatial is the softening of ties between the interface experienced by an enduser and a defining back-office system. This is allowing a new generation of app to emerge that is far more task- and user-oriented, one that is not limited to or, perhaps more importantly, defined by a single software product. The back-end systems are themselves becoming platforms, decoupling their data and capabilities from the packaged product, enabling them to be consumed within other packages and apps via web services, functional components, APIs and other means.

Hybrid IT

 This new ‘hybrid IT’ can harness data and functionality from multiple sources to fulfil an entire workflow rather than being restricted to a specific aspect such as engineering, finance, even geospatial. A mobile solution deployed by UK water company, Anglian Water, provides a good illustration of this trend and its benefits. What looks like a conventional mobile GIS is in fact a hybrid app whose workflows exploit the data and processes of multiple office systems, including SAP, Intergraph’s G/Technology asset GIS, CRM, scheduling and others. These resources combine to give a single, logical, taskoriented tool that not only delivers everything field engineers need to fulfil their work but also, crucially, keeps multiple enterprise systems and operations updated. Next generation apps give users greater autonomy and immediacy in executing their work while also feeding back operational data directly to the enterprise. This highlights another powerful characteristic of hybrid IT – the processing logic is no longer linear. In conventional clients, the user accesses information, performs some action and gets a result or outcome. Now, the user is no longer an end user, but a connected part of the enterprise information architecture. They are both a consumer and source of dynamic operational data with their actions directly affecting data and processes in multiple operational platforms. For example, tracking and dynamic analysis combining the position of field units on stand-by with historical event data, can enable units to be positioned for optimal response times to calls. Other benefits of hybrid IT identified in the ODNI strategy are increased agility and greater sustainability. Wider use of standards supports a more modular approach to development that allows greater re-use of components, including commercial off-the-shelf capabilities. This cuts development time and cost by reducing the need for custom-developed capabilities which, in turn, enables organisations to respond to changing requirements in more timely and affordable ways. The ability to exploit mainstream consumer platforms and development environments can dramatically change cost models, enabling capabilities to be deployed to a far wider user base. Not surprisingly, enterprise use of smartphones and tablets is firmly established even in the most demanding contexts, including defence and public safety. Looking to capitalise on shorter development cycles and lower costs, the US Defense Information Systems Agency has deployed an App Store for its Defense Department Mobile Unclassified Capability. The agency “expects user numbers to exceed 100,000 in fiscal 2014 and be well beyond that number after 2014”. The significantly lower cost of consumer mobile has also enabled New Zealand Police to connect 10,000 devices to operational systems, including real-time exchange with I/CAD command and control. According to Anne Speden he end of GIS? Does this new era herald the end of GIS? Gartner’s nexus forces are indeed dominating the focus of developments, both in commercial product and organizations’ projects. The cloud, mobility, harnessing real-time information from devices, sensors and society and others are providing enhanced insight and more effective and efficient services.

However, these efforts tend to add complementary capabilities and workflows by working with existing systems rather than replacing them. As outlined by the ODNI, the approach promises solutions that are both better (being more complete and closely aligned to the needs of the wider community – not just specialist users) and more sustainable. The challenge for geospatial is to ensure it engages with the new hybrid landscape and does not remain isolated, technically or conceptually. As such, OGC interfaces, native spatial data types in databases and neo-geo apps are less existential threats than enablers. In order to realise the benefits of hybrid IT, capabilities need to be driven by an organisation’s information and process needs rather than the idiosyncrasies of individual software products, hence the imperative to break out from the introspection of GIS.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Must Read

All you need to know about soil-transmitted Helminth

Soil-transmitted helminth infections are among the most common infections worldwide and affect the poorest and most deprived communities. They are transmitted by...

Everything Happens Somewhere

I wasn’t born early enough to meet their days but thanks to education, I was taught from my basic school that our forefathers had...

GIS!! A Vehicle For Structuring Problems, Finding Answers, And For Expressing Solutions

For some time now the GIS industry is showing it relevance in Ghana. A lot has embraced it and efforts are been made to...

GIS Application to Support Land Administration Services and software development in Ghana

In Ghana, as in other parts of the world, land is a unique resource of fixed location, unable to expand in the...

A drone saves a life: lessons from the response (Adena Shutzberg)

BACK IN MAY, Canada’s Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) shared news that an unmanned aerial vehicle, a UAV, or in common parlance a drone,...