IT advancement and the revolution of GIS


This month, Geogeeks will converge in San Diego, California for the largest GIS User Conference in the world. The theme of the conference is “The Science of Where”. Almost everything that we do or observe happens somewhere, and in most cases, knowing where things happen is critically important. Geographic Information Systems (GIS) technology has been in existence since the 19th century.

Its roots can be traced back to 1854, when Dr. John Snow created a map showing the spread of cholera in London. This map was important because it showed the relationship between the infected water pumps and the affected people.

In the 1960’s the Canadian Department of Forestry and Rural development designed a GIS system to store and analyze land use data, under the leadership of Roger Tomlinson, better known as “the father of GIS”. Between the 1970s and 80s, development of GIS continued at Harvard Laboratory for Computer Graphics, and later moved to Environmental Research Systems Institute(ESRI), world’s largest GIS software developer. In the 90s, ArcView was developed by ESRI, and became the standard GIS software.

The number of users through this time increased due to increase in the computing power, storage capabilities, the launching of satellites and the integration with remote sensed data. However, this period was marked by low use of the software due to limited access to data and reluctance to use of this technology.

Since the release of ArcGIS software by ESRI, there has been a consistent growth in the adoption of GIS in various industries like Natural resources, Agriculture, Forest, Ocean, Demographics, Health, Transportation etc.

The explosion of open source GIS software like QGIS has seen the tremendous use of GIS in solving spatial problems in almost every industry. Today, Volunteer/ Citizen GIS like Openstreet Map and Ushahidi has led to generation of vast amounts of data, which are offering solutions to different users. Newer technologies in social media like geolocated tweets, have made real time data analysis and visualization possible, through interactive webmaps.

GIS is a set of tools that captures, stores, manipulates, analyzes and visualizes data that is linked to location. This data is referred to as spatial data, due to the location aspect. Information systems help  manage what we know, by making it easy to organize and store, access and retrieve, manipulate and synthesize, and apply knowledge to the solution of problems.

GIS stores spatial data which mimics the real world, by using features that are as representative as possible. Data is obtained in analogue formats through digitizing from existing data like topographical maps, or in digital formats.

Today GIS is no longer restricted to the desktop. It has evolved to online and mobile platforms, where maps are available on interfaces that can be used by Geogeeks and novices. However, the traditional GIS desktop platform must be rendered fully to apps in the mobile, cloud and SaaS.

The expansion of cloud computing platforms will make GIS fully emergent on the web, which will eventually become a standard. This is where GIS meets IT since skills in programming are currently needed, to be able to create new apps, customize and design workflows to reduce redundancy, saving time and cost.

The growth and consumerization of IT has seen the development of unlimited apps which are being used for crowdsourcing, expanding the user experience and application in almost any industry. The apps have interfaces for loading notes, photos and voice recording. Products like Google Earth, ArcGIS Earth, ArcGIS Explorer Desktop has made GIS available to everyone.

The GIS industry is changing rapidly. A report released by P&S research has shown that the GIS market has grown exponentially since 2013. Globally the GIS industry will continue to grow at a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 10.1%, an increase from $8,985.5 million in 2016, to reach $17,510.9 million by 2023.The trends has shown an increased demand of 3D GIS, especially for smart cities surveillance systems and for disaster management.

Today touted as the Fourth Industrial Revolution, the role of IT in GIS cannot be ignored. There is a fusion of physical, digital and biological paradigms, impacting numerous disciplines and industries, and economies. Growth in the remote sensing industry especially LiDAR (light detection and ranging) is also driving GIS growth.

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