Skip to content

The (near) future of GIS as we know it

2014 June 29

UUtrechtSharing a few thoughts with a (hopefully) interested audience is always somewhere between a privilege and a true challenge, depending on multiple variables. This time, at the University of Utrecht, the topic was about future developments of Geographic Information Systems. Especially after a chat with Joseph Kerski, I felt quite comfortable with the topic at hand. My only caveat: “Our past has known many futures”, meaning we tend to predict a lot more than the actual future can bear.*

Independent of the school of strategy you follow, strategy is often viewed as a ‘predicting far away futures’. I rather view strategy as about positioning yourself today and focusing on what will change in the very near future. Far away futures in information technology tend not be very realistic at all anyway.

For the future of GIS, regardless of your definition of the term, it is likely to refer to changes to people, software and data (and most often brings up data capture, management, analysis, presentation and distribution). Although it is always hard to summerise a presentation in a few paragraphs, I have given it a try below, in bullet point style (whereas the presentation itself is using mostly images). In order of priority:


The P in GIS has changed quite a bit ● From data capture by experts only, e.g. through photogrammetric plotters, people themselves have now become sensors and are actively participate in the data capture part (sometimes without their knowledge and approval). ● GIS has escaped the basement of organisations and is now reaching out to the whole organisation, and beyond. ● It is becoming a foundation of working together in enterprises. ● This is impacting the role of those working with GIS. ● And it should have an impact on the curriculum at universities as well.

In the near future: more and more people (as sensors) will contribute to geographic data, in real-time. It calls for different ways of interpreting that data.


Like technology, data has become abundant (big if you will) which is good news for geography. Content has always been an important part of the ecosystem of GIS. ● Open data is too big a trend to ignore. ● 3D data changes the ‘face of a map’● The challenge with 3D scene (they are often too realistic to be named ‘maps’) is the to make them  ● Maps are not reality and should not depict reality too realistically. ● Content is the oxygen of the (GIS) ecosystem.

In the near future: we will have an intelligent 3D basemap in the Netherlands, which allows for interesting 3D analysis, and off course for great 3D visualisations as well.

In the near future: intelligent 3D basemaps (Image by Esther Carney)


Once rather monolithic tools have transformed into smaller building blocks and enriched by programmable environments ● Small functionality is now accessible in many ways. ● Maps and apps: users expect simple interaction answering complex questions.  ● The life span of the apps is relatively short. ● Users expect (read demand) and applications to work in an integrated fashion. Anywhere, anyplace, anytime.

In the near future: ‘tiny’ functionality will enrich applications which not a lot, yet crucial functionality.

tostiRecommended skills 

At the end of presentation I discussed the geospatial management competency model and then brought up a few recommended skills for professionals-to-be, more like ‘tips’ for your career if you will. I encourage students to find a balance between talent & compassion, hobby & work, curiosity & stubbornness (not sure they are opposites). I also urge them connect to the professional world as soon as possible, to specialize in one of those current trends (e.g. 3D visualization, big data, realtime GIS etc) and work towards a t-shaped profile (a bit more info).

I also did share a few of my personal misconceptions ‘when I left school’ (like I actually thought I was done educating myself) but these misconceptions are more easily shared during a presentation then in a blogpost. Had to end with a short overview of what Esri aims to contribute to the student community, the commercial break if you will.

We had a Q&A and a short discussion at end of my talk, but the better part of the discussion was during the world-famous Tosti lunch at EGEA, whilst discussing with international students where to go next and what minor to take there. Talking about near future ahead.


* read the Black Swan by Nassim Taleb if you are interested.

Do note: the cover is a scene from one of the standard CityEngine data sets. The landscape looks very much like the surroundings of Zürich!



No comments yet

Leave a Reply

Note: You can use basic XHTML in your comments. Your email address will never be published.

Subscribe to this comment feed via RSS