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SpatialTau - GIS Needs and App Store for Integrations

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I blogged about GIS Automation earlier this week and I got a ton of great feedback. The concept of looking at GIS as taking an input, doing something with that and then pushing out an output is basically GIS 101. But that ecosystem, other than using tools such as Safe FME, has been very limited. The problem GIS has had many of these years is that getting information into the pipeline has been overly difficult. How many times do you sneaker net a CSV file out of a system because it is the only way to do it? Outside of the monolithic GIS software platforms, the world does everything they can to not have to manually copy a CSV file over, for good reason. It doesn’t scale. So I’m wondering two things, does GIS not scale and does GIS not see value in being a middleman to workflows.
Jimmy Fallon attempting to show how well GIS scales in the enterprise.
Jimmy Fallon attempting to show how well GIS scales in the enterprise.
Let’s take the first thought, does GIS not scale. The TLDR on this is no, but with a BUT. GIS has been really behind the times with being part of the larger ecosystem. There are countless examples of GIS being part of an enterprise workflow only to be thrown away after a couple months because it isn’t performant, it usually isn’t easy for people to use or understand and it uses proprietary ontologies that make it almost impossible to understand how to use it. I take full blame here; I’ve implemented some of these enterprise GIS systems, so I know the battle and the failure. The problem is that because of this failure, GIS becomes a side show to the business processes for most companies. Rather than being integrated, leveraging what GIS does great, companies only send what they have to off to the GIS reservation where it sits until someone emails a PDF or CSV back to the team.
And that gets to the second point, GIS does not like being the middleman. GIS love silos, where everything is control from the point of collection to the PDF. This makes it really easy to use when you can control all these points, but in larger organizations, this is very impractical for any company or system. So bringing data in and out is very convoluted and confusing. Heck, I made a living years ago just addressing this point.
The future of GIS?  Not if it embraces true interoperability.
The future of GIS? Not if it embraces true interoperability.
So what is the solution here? Honestly there really isn’t an easy one. While GIS companies seem to be starting to embrace delivering to Salesforce or SAP in addition to Excel or PDF, the inputs are still generally a huge PITA. Yes you can take a JSON file from an API and bring that bad boy in, but the tools built into the software make it almost impossible to work with unless you use something like Safe FME. The transformation from input to output is inelegant because as I said above, GIS tools love being in control of everything. This is why there is no shortage of spatial data formats, every tool creates their own for their own purpose without care of how that data fits within the bigger picture of the organization. ETL does address this problem but it too is complicated. In the age of app store integrations, we’ve seen none of this paradigm with GIS.
There is the possibility that people want to work with raw data, sure. Every time I bring up the idea of hiding raw data I get hate email. But we need to stop thinking like that. Who cares how the data comes into the workflow. If at the end of the day I can go SAP -> Esri Geodatabase without having to lift a finger, that’s a huge win. There is a lot of room to disrupt in this space, but I fear the will is not there.
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James Fee
James Fee @jamesmfee

Spatial, workflows and technology

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