I am a consultant who works primarily with Federal Government customers. I have implemented numerous enterprise-scale geospatial systems using a variety of tools and platforms. Consistently, one of the things I hear most often is some variation of "If I had that kind of money, I could do all kinds of amazing things."
As attractive as that notion may be, it runs counter to what I’ve observed lately. Federal Government agencies with seven and eight-figure budgets also tend to be the domain of large system integrators and vendors. They have typically locked into enterprise license agreements (ELAs) and service-level agreements (SLAs) and have committed such large amounts of funding to their systems that they tend to be quite risk-averse. To be sure, there are avenues for research and development but the pipelines to transition to production tend to be quite long.
That stands in stark contrast to what I have observed at the North Carolina GIS Conference and GIS in the Rockies. At both of these events, I’ve seen small governments, academia and other small organizations with limited resources deploying innovative mixes of proprietary and open-source technologies to solve real-world problems. At GIS in the Rockies, Michael Tafel described work he had done with PostGIS to process large data sets. At NCGIS, we learned about work Duke University has done on Marine Geospatial Ecology Tools (MGET), which is a set of geospatial analysis tools built on a mixture of commercial and open-source technologies.
It seems counter-intuitive that, in the current economic times, small organizations with limited resources are pushing the envelope but it makes sense on closer examination. These organizations have to do more with substantially less resources than they had a few years ago. As a result, some people in these organizations have become significantly less risk-averse and have a much more sympathetic ear with regard to alternate tools that may help them achieve greater productivity. In short, innovation has become a grass-roots activity.
So it seems to me that the challenge for those bringing new geospatial products and services to market, whether they are commercial products or open-source tools bundled with support, is to figure out how to scale down, profitably, to serve these smaller and more forward-leaning geospatial users. Doing so can fill gaps in a segment of government often overlooked in the chase for big dollars while also helping newer solution providers build a track record of success that can address the concerns of larger, less adventurous agencies.
Bill Dollins has been a Sr. Vice President and Partner at Zekiah Technologies in Maryland since 2001 and has been developing GIS applications since 1993. He is a programmer with diverse experience in geospatial information systems, relational databases, and application development. Follow Bill on Twitter @billdollins