Over the years, Geospatial Information Systems (GIS) have become the backbone for many organizations to best make sense of the world and drive effective decision-making.
To broaden that utility, there is a developing movement in which organizations are seeking to expand the reach and the return on investment (ROI) in those systems by adding complementary lightweight location-enabled applications and capabilities for people not trained in GIS: decision-makers, analysts, scientists, engineers, mobile and field personnel – really just about everyone else in the enterprise.
Rather than just deliver a map, recent innovations in the geospatial community enable delivering interactive location-enable applications. By using open geospatial and IT standards and practices, they combine maps, spatial databases, business logic to provide instead a product, which invites exploration and the answering of questions on one’s own.
The movement is about developing and using lightweight applications and capabilities that integrate seamlessly into common workflows, making everyone in the organization a potential customer and beneficiary of the GIS department’s work.
The True Value and Challenge of GIS
GIS professionals are firm believers in the technologies that they embrace every day, and their return on the considerable investments made in them with jobs, tools, and training bear that faith out.
The foundation of this belief is that they are helping to provide the intelligence and insight that drive fundamental decision-making. Whether for defense and intelligence applications, or helping utility companies better track and manage field assets, spatial information provides true power to any organization.
Until recently, GIS professionals have served the enterprise either by distilling their work into relatively static maps and reports, or with mind-bendingly complex applications and concepts, understood only by people trained in GIS as ancillary skill to their main profession. This cognitive overhead has sometimes led people who aren’t so trained and view the GIS department as something peripheral to the main organization, leaving a relatively small subset of the organization that could actually leverage the considerable work done by the GIS team – clearly a suboptimal arrangement.
GIS systems will always provide value, but they become more valuable when the work can be distilled into simple, but powerful applications that can unlock the power of spatial data and reveal it to those who will drive the organization’s future.
The Rise of GIS-Lite
In order to be useful, data first has to be transformed into information by placing it in its proper context. Then, that information needs to be transformed into knowledge and insight by placing the information into the proper person’s hands with the right tools and often with the original data itself. Location is a key component of understanding. As such, solutions that neglect the power of place miss the opportunity to maximize that distillation of data and information into knowledge and insight. To enable that distillation, what’s needed are GIS-Lite capabilities in an astonishingly wide variety of business workflows. GIS can’t be all things to all people, but GIS can be of direct value to almost all people if you can reach them with GIS-lite.
So, what is GIS-Lite, then? Simply, the ability to leverage the power of place to explore the products of the GIS department, to have a chance to answer questions without having to find someone with the access to tools and information, and to better understand what’s in front of them. While GIS is essential for what is delivered, GIS-Lite isn’t GIS, but rather a subset of functionality which enables those abilities; e.g., the ability to understand where the information relates to, to measure, to inspect the underlying data, to extract and repurpose that data, etc. This can be achieved today by leveraging self-contained, interactive geospatial applications that can be made with the push of a button and can be delivered on the Web to mobile devices or the desktop.
GIS-Lite is made possible by mashing up of the latest, most appropriate geospatial and IT standards, practices and capabilities, which helps extend the reach of GIS to anyone, anywhere.
For many GIS professionals, their day-to-day work is producing maps. If in addition to making a map, they could extend that map to their end user as a GIS-Lite application at the push of a button, what kind of conversations and possibilities for collaboration might that engender? What would the return on GIS investment be if everyone were both client and potential contributor to the GIS be?
This new approach increases the potential audience of this data tremendously. Also, by providing GIS information to every aspect of the enterprise, it is possible to further enhance collaboration, driving more efficient and effective decision-making and implementation.
Today’s organizations face competitive challenges on local and global scales. In order to meet these challenges, organizations need to work more collaboratively, agilely, and in increasingly innovative cross-disciplinary processes. No organization that has invested in GIS can credibly claim they have maximized their ROI in their GIS if the GIS doesn’t reach and contribute to the productivity of all of the people in the organization that it might. GIS-Lite is one capability that’s required to reach some of those people.
Author: George Demmy, Chief Technology Officer, TerraGo Technologies
About the Author:
George Demmy, Chief Technology Officer, TerraGo Technologies
George Demmy is Chief Technology Officer at TerraGo Technologies. Demmy is one of the patent holders for the process that creates georeferenced PDF files. He holds a BA in Physics from Florida State University and an ME and Ph.D. in Agricultural Engineering from the University of Florida.
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