GIS Day 2017

15 November 2017

GIS Day 2017

Blog written by Natalie Scott, Senior Consultant, Interpret Geospatial Solutions

Today is GIS day. Every year since 1999, geographers around the planet have come together on the third Wednesday in November to celebrate the role spatial information plays in our lives. I've taken a few moments to reflect on what spatial means to me.

Spatial is important. On an increasingly globalised and stressed planet, being able to understand the spatial context of problems is key. Location matters because the causes and consequences of the issues we face are not uniformly distributed. By looking at the where, as well as the what, we can start to get a better picture of the why.

It’s fair to say that, as a planet, we are facing a range of problems – environmental, social, political. While there is no magic bullet to resolve these, I think that spatial information will play a central role in finding solutions. As spatial professionals, we have a responsibility to ensure that our contribution is helping to build a fairer and more peaceable world.

Spatial is special. Or maybe this should be, is spatial special? We all certainly like to think so. Spatial technology and GIS hold a place in the heart of geographers. Most of us in the spatial sciences are incredibly passionate about what we do. The question of 'where' flows over into everyday life, with hobbies like geocaching, spirited discussions around favourite projections, or an ever-growing collection of maps without NZ.

I wouldn't claim that this level of interest and engagement is unique to GIS or the spatial world. But, at the same time, I do feel privileged to be able to work in an industry which is as exciting and dynamic as GIS. When colleagues and clients are passionate about the work we do, solving spatial problems is notably simpler and more enjoyable.

Spatial is increasing. As our world generates ever more data, the opportunities for understanding our environment spatially are increasing dramatically. The majority of New Zealand’s (and soon, the world’s) population have access to a smartphone, creating a dense network of data-capture devices. Increasingly, this data is real time, location based, and offers a unique insight into the way our world operates.

However, more data does not necessarily result in better outcomes. Data by itself means nothing; it is only through analysis that we can understand what the data means. It is imperative that the spatial industry takes advantage of these new data sources, in order to use this information to solve real-world problems.

Spatial is changing. Alongside the growth in data capture, we have seen a sea change in the way GIS is used in everyday life. Virtually everyone uses spatial information and analysis on a day-to-day basis, whether it is getting directions from Google Maps, using proximity data on Tinder, or receiving targeted advertising in the mail. This is all GIS, but perhaps not quite how we 'GIS professionals' usually consider it!

This consumerisation of GIS has both positive and negative consequences for the industry. A lot of traditionally ‘GIS’ tools which no longer need involvement from a spatial professional. Routing engines are an example of this. Getting from A to B used to be a spatial problem to solve; now it is the press of a button. Esri's ArcGIS Online has pushed mapping and analysis firmly into the consumer domain. We need to up our game and think beyond maps.

But the other side of the coin is that these changes have created huge opportunities for spatial professionals. Increased awareness of the value and availability of location data means that people are becoming more aware of the possibilities it offers. Spatial offers smart companies an edge, a chance to get ahead in a competitive market. Somewhere between run-of-the-mill consumer GIS, and the promises of future technology, is a fertile ground for spatial professionals to do amazing things with data.

What are your thoughts? What will 2018 bring for the GIS industry? We’d love to know your views.

Have a happy GIS day!

GIS day video