Digital transformation

The top 10 trends in the (local) world of GIS

Jan 12, 2017

During last year’s South Australian SSSI GIS Day event, I was invited to take the stage and discuss the top ten GIS trends currently shaping the industry here in Australia.

What I have observed is that underlying all the trends is one phrase that keeps being repeated by senior management in all sectors: ‘return on investment’. Put simply – organisations are demanding a very strong business case to invest in any sort of technology, and GIS is no different.

Executives say that spending is prioritised towards core business functions (i.e. the ‘must-have’ rather than the ‘nice-to-have’). The challenge for GIS professionals is to continually demonstrate and document the efficiencies, savings, revenue generation, social benefits, risk mitigation and unique analytics performed, to ensure GIS technology is seen as a must-have business function.

A great opportunity to ensure GIS is a must-have relates to the trend of self-service mapping. Staff can use web mapping at home and anywhere on their mobile devices, so expect to be able to do the same at work.

This means GIS professionals must transition from being map makers to organisation enablers, by providing intuitive, user-friendly applications.


One way to do this is by recognising that the monolithic web app is dying. Apps with hundreds of layers and 20 tools just don’t work on a tablet or smartphone screen. Simple, task-driven applications requiring no training to use (like any mobile app) are taking over.

Teams need rapidly deployed apps in order to be agile for changing business needs, which is why organisations have to embrace the portal world – a single access point into many apps.

Another common approach to making spatial data available to everyone within an organisation is putting the map in the app. The trend is not bringing other systems’ data into GIS – it is putting the map into other systems.

Organisations are choosing their systems with COTS integration with each other (e.g. ArcGIS Maps for Office, Esri Maps for SharePoint, IBM Maximo Spatial, Esri Maps for IBM Cognos, ArcGIS Maps for Power BI, etc.).

There is an ROI aspect, as custom integration is expensive, while COTS integration adds value to both systems.

However, beneath the surface of the application tier is the issue that data management is a challenge everywhere.

Organisations often talk about non-existent data management strategies resulting in disconnect between spatial technologies and siloed datasets across multiple sources. So why isn’t the situation taken seriously?


Is it because data management just isn’t that sexy? Is it because the outcome is a death by a thousand cuts, with efforts quietly duplicated across many people, teams and departments? I’m not really sure.

What I do know though, and you probably do to, is that most organisations are adopting ‘cloud-first’ policies and moving their servers to cloud-based infrastructure. Many tenders, meanwhile, are now asking for software-as-a-service (SaaS) options.

By doing this, organisations can avoid paying for server hardware and software, as well as the people to manage it – allowing them to focus on their core business functions (i.e. not IT). Other reasons, such as a preference for OpEx spending, agility and scalability, are also raised regularly. 

And what an outstanding opportunity for desktop-trained GIS users to share web mapping applications across an enterprise.

Previously, these apps could only come to life via a combination of expensive servers, training and coding. Now, the development process is much more simple, accessible and cheap. But I digress…

Now this buzzword is a bit of a catch-all, but ‘openness’ (i.e. open data, open standards and open source), is, in its own a right, a trend within the GIS industry.

Many government agencies are adopting open data policies in response to citizen expectations and governments wanting to encourage innovation and investment. Tenders, meanwhile, require adherence to international OGC standards as this assists integration and interoperability between systems and data formats. There are increasing open source options, with even the major vendors eager to display ‘open’ credentials.

Another catch-all trend I’m sorry, but the smart/IoT/real-time phenomenon is becoming massive around the world. The concept of connected devices, assets, vehicles, appliances, cars, sensors and people is predicted to have impacts on just about every part of our lives and work.

Geography is at the centre of IoT, as it has the unique ability to store, visualise and analyse many feeds in a single map-based view, so this is a great opportunity for GIS professionals to take the static-to-real-time step, akin to the desktop-to-web transition made a few years ago.


One of the biggest new conversation topics of the last 12 months – particularly among organisations that manage assets and/or work remotely, such as those in the resources sector – is drones.

Drones are becoming more common in the consumer world, and the business world is following as they’re getting easier to operate, cheaper to buy and more useful in their output. Products like Esri’s Drone2Map for ArcGIS are making it simpler to process the imagery, georeference, mosaic, create DEMs and 3D point clouds.

Drones allow you to be self-sufficient with small-area imagery capture, and they’re great to use for monitoring change, however, they shouldn’t be used to substitute traditional large-scale imagery capture or to replace ground surveying all together. Drones should be seen as complementary technology for such tasks.

And the final trend is that GIS is moving beyond the traditional 2D map. 2D and 3D images can now be viewed side-by-side in ArcGIS Pro, BIM is emerging, and people taking GIS inside buildings is improving the management of indoor spaces and facilities.

As visualisations become more powerful and realistic, the amount of analysis you’ll be able to perform in 3D will increase exponentially. This transformation will also empower you with the tools to provide new services to your organisation.

So, to recap on the top ten trends in the (local) world of GIS:

  1. Measurable return on investment
  2. Self-service mapping
  3. Simplified web apps
  4. Putting maps in apps
  5. Data management challenges
  6. ‘Cloud-first’ policies
  7. Openness
  8. Smart, connected technology
  9. Drones
  10. 3D GIS

On review of these, I find the first one a bit depressing. I mean, no one gets into GIS to write business cases or continually justify their professional existence? But that is the reality of the economic times we live in.

The other nine trends, however, fill me with tremendous optimism and excitement.

With more and more advanced tools at our fingertips, GIS technology is capable of becoming a central driver of change in any organisation, providing:


  • Self-service mapping to the entire business through easy-to-use apps and the embedding of maps into other systems
  • A system of record that helps manage risk, while offering easy access to data and the ability to introduce open data initiatives
  • The platform to embrace new technology, from cloud-based solutions and smart hubs to drones and 3D data visualisation
It’s time to be an enabler and an innovator within your organisation, and GIS is a technology with the potential to transform your enterprise. You can find out how these trends are coming to life via the latest updates to the ArcGIS platform, and see what the full suite of Esri products can offer you.