Any discussion about the present and future of the GIS industry is incomplete without perspective from the man some call the "Father of GIS," Jack Dangermond. He and his wife, Laura, founded industry heavyweight ESRI in 1969. Dangermond is regarded by many as a global authority on geographic information systems, and he has the educational credentials to back it up: stops at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona; the University of Minnesota; Harvard University's Laboratory for Computer Graphics and Spatial Analysis, and honorary doctoral degrees from Ferris State University and the University of Redlands. 

As interest in GIS grows and its applications are more frequently marketed to the general public, ESRI and its professional GIS tools may be approaching a crossroad. Dangermond took a few moments to share with Government Technology his insight about where GIS technology is now, where it is headed, and what impact new tools like Google Earth are making on what used to be a field accessible to only the technically skilled.  


Q: What impact have user-friendly geospatial visualization and mapping applications, such as Google Earth and Microsoft Virtual Earth, made on the GIS marketplace?

A: Google and Microsoft have done an amazing job of publishing online the imagery basemaps with visualization technologies that are easy to use and are built on the Web 2.0 environment. The impact of these services on the GIS industry -- users and vendors -- has been positive. It has opened geospatial visualization to many new users.  

ESRI is working on several technologies that integrate these technologies with our own platform. Specifically ArcGIS is being extended to support REST [Representational State Transfer] services that can be mashed up using JavaScript with these consumer visualization technologies and their related basemaps. And at [version] 9.3, we will provide improved KML support.


Q: What do new "mash-up" products mean to ESRI? Do they take customers away, or do they enhance interest in GIS?

A: A more important question is, "What do they mean to our users?" 

Our users are the organizations that create and maintain geographic knowledge -- databases, maps and spatial analysis models. They also support geospatial applications for use within their mission areas: government, utilities, businesses and science. These Web environments provide new ways for our users to make their knowledge available to broader audiences. They do not replace GIS systems, but rather complement the way geographic knowledge is accessed by a non-GIS audience, sort of like publishing maps in a newspaper.


Q: Is the Web-based model the future for GIS apps?

A: There's no question that the Web, Web services, and service-oriented architecture (SOA) provide a new pattern for implementing GIS systems -- just like desktop and multi-user server patterns. The central focus of the Web environment is a GIS server, such as ArcGIS Server. Increasingly this platform will be used to serve data, analytic models and maps for others to use on the Web. The server will also be the platform for supporting integration of GIS knowledge into enterprise systems.   

My forecast is that as society becomes familiar with looking at things through geospatial visualization, they will be increasingly interested in services that go beyond simple maps and images. GIS servers managed by public and private GIS organizations will be used to provide these kinds of complementing services.    

While a great deal of GIS data will not be served in the open Internet (for security, cost, proprietary and privacy reasons), many subjects that are of interest to the public such as crime, natural hazards and environmental conditions, will be made available by the GIS community.  

While some have suggested that the traditional GIS organizations hoard

Chad Vander Veen  | 

Chad Vander Veen is the former editor of FutureStructure.