Mapping Out the Future of Geospatial Information Systems

Mike O'Brien

From the local to federal level, all governments use geospatial information systems (GIS) to carry out their daily business.

The advancement of GIS on the web has put an end to the days of investing in costly software and hardware and the time-consuming training of specialized staff.

Here geographer Glenn Letham, the co-founder and Editor of, tells what he believes have been the major changes in the GIS arena in recent years.

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He said: "No doubt a ton has happened in the last decade, even the past year. One of the strides in the traditional GIS space has been the opening of the technology to the masses. GIS really has become more well-known as a tool for professionals and the technology is migrating into the hands of everyone.

"This is particularly thanks to user friendly software and the entire industry moving to a less ‘specialized’ mindset. GIS really is a tool for all - nobody has encouraged this more than Google."

The explosion of mobile technology has been another key factor in the changing use and gathering of intelligence. Mr. Latham said: "With more platforms, the mobile space has been like the Wild West ... with iOS and Android shooting it out for domination. The result though has been opportunity for all. Now if only developers in the Geo space can figure out how to keep it simple!"

Mr. Latham, who has co-founded four geo and mobile tech web magazines and has sat on several technology panels, cites the development of cloud computing as a major contributor to the proliferation of GIS.

He said: "Storage and memory is now cheap and this has resulted in the proliferation of big data, imagery and the like. There's tons of imagery out there and storing and serving it up has become cheaper.


"There's data all over the web and standards have matured, making it easier for systems to communicate with each other. The more recent opengov movement is placing added pressure on public agencies to serve up data and make it accessible to all.

"Also, the open source movement is adding lots of pressure on software companies to deliver and has created opportunities for contractors and consultants to support the growing area of open source software."

So what does the future hold for GIS? Mr. Latham says he believes that, with more open systems evolving and mobile playing a much more important role than it does now, GIS will become less "special" and used by all.

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He said: "The GIS professional is being pushed into more of a supporting programming role (largely involved and integrated in IT) and the end user will be anyone at all with simple access via network and/or mobile."

The subjects raised in this article will be discussed in full at IDGA’s upcoming GIS for Government summit in the Washing DC area in June. For more details, go to