GIS has been an interesting technology for several years now. However, to get a better feel for how GIS will grow in prominence in the coming years, you need to look at its most prominent user, the U.S. government.
There are several reasons for the burgeoning governmental popularity of GIS, including the current focus on Homeland Security. GIS technology like MetaCartas GTS (Geographic Text Search) appliance, for example, allow investigators to quickly analyze documents for geographical references and plot these points on a map.
Likewise, the GTS appliance can narrow a text-based search to a geographic region and can search for relevant documents—a good way to sift through mountains of data.
Homeland Security is one area where GIS and Government intersect, but GIS can also tap information of all stripes to help agencies function more smoothly. Governments—be they city, county, state or federal—have large amounts of data at their disposal. Whether this information is orthographic projections of cities, citizens tax records or listings of business licenses, it can be harnessed in a variety of constructive ways.
In a recent visit I made to the City of San Francisco, I was impressed with how Erich Seamon, Chief of Geographic Information Systems, and his staff leveraged city data to not only save money, but also to actually find money by locating unclaimed revenue.
Using GIS technologies from ESRI, Seamon and his team helped the city locate businesses operating without the proper licenses; gave commercial real estate a shot in the arm with the www.sfprospector.com site, which helps businesses find commercial properties in San Francisco; and are now helping the citys police analyze crime data.
Will GIS become more important to enterprises outside the government? I believe it will, but information sharing—the emergence of Web services and other technology that facilitates information exchanges—will be the key that will unlock GIS for everyone.
Microsofts MapPoint Web service allows developers to tap into geographical data, such as addresses and business listings, from Microsoft to create location-based services. MapPoint could be a step in the right direction, but information exchange between companies will be the long-term answer.
Information sharing from mobile devices to vendors is another key aspect that needs to be worked out. Location-based services (which make themselves available when a user is in a certain geographical position) show promise for commercial use, but will require solid information sharing between vendors and mobile devices in order to work.
In fact, location-based services could become the killer app for GIS, but extremely important privacy questions still need to be answered. Chief among these questions is: "Who should be allowed to know where I am?"
Thus, GIS technologies ascent outside the halls of government could be a tough climb.
Senior Analyst Henry Baltazar can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.