With the announcement that ArcGIS Online is now available for subscription, we’re now aware of what GIS in the cloud can include. Now that this advancement is realized, it begs examination as to the impacts it might have on GIS capability and practice.
After the initial read through of the announcement, the first reaction was one of increased flexibility. With small outfits able to field an enterprise platform without internal IT resources, including mobile access on any device, the full power of the technology is now set to reach much more broadly. It also may free GIS managers from the binds of draconian IT overlords that hold back advancement.
It’s depressing, but also oddly reassuring, when you share stories of IT managers getting in the way of progress. While you may feel that you work with a unique personality that wields power with a certain demonic glee, it’s often the case that those you share stories with have an even more frustrating experience. Something about the workload, complexity, and power seems to change people into roadblocks.
Not to malign all IT managers, but too often there are policies and actions that harshly impact computing capabilities that are mandated from on high. This may mean that requisite hardware upgrades are on hold that there are harsh restrictions on software and hardware use, or even that the installation of purchased software needs to wait a year or more. While many of these complaints can be chalked up to security and stability, there’s also a seemingly universal inflexibility in many organizations. One of the more exciting aspects of GIS in the cloud is the ability to manage geospatial content, data, maps, images, and application online without internal resources.
This added freedom, with all the data resources and sharing ability, has the potential to transform the most frustrated GIS users into power users. This cloud-based offering also offers easy entry and collaboration with non-GIS professionals, allowing them to access services and applications in browsers and mobile devices, and also takes input from Excel, making the creation of custom map products and services accessible to most within an organization.
The cloud provides the means to allow low-level capability without the need for full desktop GIS, although it meshes seamlessly with both desktop and server products. Allowing all potential users the ability to view and interact with maps and data regardless of device, is vital for greater collaboration. With greater user across the organization, there’s also the added benefits that come from this extended exposure, including better data and more creative uses. The seamless extension of GIS to other users also frees up GIS analysts and managers to concentrate on more advanced services, analytical products, and streamlined solutions.
More with Less
With the shift to the cloud, GIS users get a more for less experience that also involves a bold business model extension that bets on the broader exposure to make up for lost per-software seat revenue. While software makers stand to gain revenue with broader exposure, the change is a bit of a gamble given the untested nature of giving away more features for a lower cost.
While there are legitimate gripes about the ability to share data with other GIS formats that are non-Esri, there are advantages to such a controlled environment. Just look at software suites from Microsoft for an example of how a walled in system, that is closely managed with the assignment of user-based roles, gains acceptance. Apple and Google are also on the way toward ecosystems of cloud-enabled services that limit interoperability, but provide assurances due to the degree of management and control.
While much is being made of the Apple vs. Google map war, a quiet but consistent strategy is taking place at the world’s leading mapping software maker. By enabling users with richer and more complete data sources, such as world imagery and topographic maps, the software continues to gain utility. The GIS engine runs on data, so this effort to capture and provide these resources, and enable users to share among each other, means that these tools will get much better mileage for the money.
The cloud approach promises to provide greater use and wider adoption within an organization, without a large IT overhead that has placed GIS under the thumb of IT overlords in the past. While IT may still hold the reins, the cloud provides the ability to extend GIS without the need for permission, which is a truly enabling move in many organizations.