What is GIS? (continued again!)

In previous posts [1] and [2] I talk about identity crises in GIS/Geospatial world related to real economic changes in the way the geospatial sector is structured.  Comments have been many, but it seems that (my fault here) it quickly devolved into Planning GIS vs. Spatial IT (after all, I was responding to Paul Ramsey’s meme), in other words IT vs. Planning, and the cultural identities of the various parties involved.  That dialectic I find tiring.  GIS/GeoSpatial is both, largely because I’m the type of guy who likes to hack around with code, and I like to do big picture stuff.  To the extent that those are separate things, I see as artificial and generational.  I’m (almost) of the digital native/GenY/Millennial Generation, so I lay claim to the possibility of being good at both.

But let’s get back to James Fee’s supposition of fundamental shifts in the geospatial industry and what they mean to GIS professionals.  To frame this more deeply, I’ll tap Clayton M. Christensen’s article in the New York Times entitled “A Capitalist’s Dilemma: Whoever Win’s on Tuesday” (written just before the presidential election).

Without getting into Mr. Christensen’s conclusions, Christensen frames the innovations associated with economy in three categories:

  • “empowering” innovations
  • “sustaining” innovations
  • “efficiency” innovations.

Empowering innovations are things like the Model T Ford relative to previous automobiles– industry creating efficiencies that result in innovations at scale.  “Cloud” computing he also places in this category, as it allows individuals, small, and medium businesses access to technologies once available only to enterprise level investment.  Empowering innovations create new sectors, new jobs, new career opportunities.

Sustaining innovations are self competing innovations– Toyota Prius as a competing product with the Toyota Camry, in order to prevent competition from without.

Finally efficiency innovations, like Geiko Insurance, are places where refinement of existing technologies results primarily in cost ratio efficiencies of great scale.  This is where labor and other costs are reduced significantly (jobs lost, capital gained).

The distinction between empowering innovations and efficiency innovations fascinates me, as both are about driving down cost ratios– the latter to drive up capital returns, the former to do the same, but by scaling to new markets.  In other words, both are about efficiency, but with a different vision and different outcomes.  Empowering innovations seek efficiency for the purpose of scaling horizontally.

To place this back in the geospatial geoid, and reference again James Fees “Goes without saying“, if you learn to program and engage in geospatial development, then you can hang on to the rope for the ride up that the empowering innovation of the larger field geospatial development allows for.  Yes, your work will become more efficient.  Embrace that.  There’s much more work to be done in the sector, so embrace the efficiencies.  If you choose not to engage in geospatial development, then you may get squeezed by efficiency part of the equation from others, and will not benefit from the horizontal scaling.

Learn a little Python; learn a little PostGIS.  And welcome!

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