Putting Open Source GIS to Use

The global GIS market is expected to reach $14.6 billion by 2020, presenting massive opportunities for growth. At the same time, organizations are moving away from proprietary software and the burden of single-vendor lock-in towards more flexible and budget-friendly open source solutions. The concurrent rise in GIS and open source is creating new ways for organizations to make the most of the geospatial data at their disposal and turn it into actionable insights, particularly those in the fields of energy, agriculture, transportation, manufacturing, finance and government.

Here are a few examples of how geospatial data can be put to use in a wide variety of situations, and how leveraging open source software enhances the benefits.

1. Precision Agriculture

Food shortage is a serious global issue – according to the UN, food production must double by 2050 to keep up with the world’s population growth rates.

Precision agriculture, also known as satellite farming or site specific crop management, is an approach to farming designed to find smarter, better ways to produce more food using fewer resources. The method involves farmers using GPS data to boost their efficiency and incomes by making better-informed decisions on everything, from seed choice and crop location to when and how much to water and fertilize.

With open source GIS, farmers can scale their technology as needed and integrate location-based data into their existing farm IT environment. When not locked into a single GIS vendor, the farm staff can gain flexibility and attain well-rounded expertise by becoming proficient in more than one type of software. Monsanto, for example, has integrated open GIS alongside proprietary software in a hybrid environment. This more cost-effective solution has enabled Monsanto to expand their architecture to support ‘big data’ analysis, and migrate to new technology without extensive retraining or high costs.

An open source approach to precision agriculture allows farmers to choose the best geospatial tools for their jobs, change or update those tools at will and integrate their GIS with other technology tools.

2. Transportation Logistics

Moving people and things around often involves enormous logistical challenges. Consider a hospital that wants to provide its patients with the best and fastest route to their facilities at a particular moment, a municipal government that wants to establish optimal bus and light rail routes, a manufacturer that wants to ship its products as efficiently and cost-effectively as possible, or an oil company that wants to plan its pipeline locations. Each of these scenarios requires analyzing complex location-based information.

Proprietary geospatial software subscriptions determine not only how many data sources can be considered, but also how much it will cost to determine optimal routing. Open source geospatial software, on the other hand, allows organizations to leverage location-based data without incurring per-user, per-login, or per-CPU cycle costs. TriMet, a provider of bus, light rail and commuter rail transit services in Portland, Oregon, overhauled their interactive trip planner to leverage several open source components such as GeoServer, OpenLayers and QGIS.  This migration enables TriMet to scale their architecture to meet customer demand, without being penalized by high cost licensing. This level of flexibility is particularly important during unpredictable times or situations.

3. Site Selection

Selecting the best site for a brick-and-mortar facility is a complex process, as there are many variables to consider. Maybe the facility is a hospital or medical office, or a retail clothing or home goods store, or a financial services or law office. Similarly, maybe the site being selected is for marketing purposes, such as what region or neighborhood to run ads or promotions.

In any case, the decision process involves overlaying several different sets of information, including demographics, laws, infrastructure and so on. What are the ages, incomes, occupations, hobbies and media habits of the people in a given location? What pertinent regulations and laws apply? Do weather, traffic or public transit patterns have an impact on any of the sites under consideration?

GIS can be enormously helpful in gathering, processing, organizing and analyzing these layers of data. Open source GIS makes it easier and more affordable to bring many different data sources into the picture, and to scale the IT infrastructure both up and out as needed. The ability to thoroughly explore all options, and to overlay all the data that might be useful, allows organizations like New York City’s Department of Information Technology & Telecommunications (NYC DoITT) make well-informed decisions for site selection. NYC DoITT uses open GIS to help understand broadband internet access, minimize pedestrian injuries from vehicles and to visualize current street closures.

GIS solutions help businesses make sense of their geospatial data and turn it into usable insights. And in today’s modern IT environments, where elastic cloud infrastructures, containers and mobile technologies are the norm, open source software is the key to doing so efficiently. Applying open source software to geospatial data provides location-aware users with the GIS tools they need and the ability to scale those tools up and down as needed.

Author: Anthony Calamito

Anthony Calamito is the Chief Geospatial Officer at Boundless, an open GIS provider.


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