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Consumer-driven changes in the GIS market

M.K. Munshi
Rolta India Limited, Rolta Bhavan,
Andheri, Mumbai 400093
Tel: 91-022-8327708, Fax: 91-022-8365992
Email: [email protected]

This paper addresses the changes in the roles of the Doers, Users and Viewers brought about by a domination of the GIS market by “consumers”, whose expectations from the technology have increased, driven by the role of Internet as the most powerful medium for data dissemination. The various issues involved in terms of primary data acquisition, data integration, key applications, customization and role of Internet have been discussed.

The GIS community can be broadly divided into three categories – Doers, Users and Viewers. This paper looks at the issues involved in terms of the technology, data and applications concerning these three groups within the GIS community. The topics covered include issues pertaining to the requirements of primary data acquisition, data integration, key applications, customization and role of Internet. A broad outlook on the implications of these issues vis-à-vis the role of the Doers, Users and Viewers in the country is addressed.

Doers are involved in data creation. This includes national mapping agencies like Survey of India (SOI), Geological Survey of India, National Bureau of Soil Survey &Landuse Planning, Forest Survey of India, and so forth. It also includes agencies involved in providing satellite data, bulk and custom processed, like the NRSA, Space Imaging, Earth Watch and so forth.

Users make use of the GIS data from different sources through data integration, value-addition and data analysis.

Viewers are the consumers or decision makers who need access to information for planning / management.

Primary Data
The key requirement in any GIS application is primary data. The type and scale of data are functions of the application. Thus, while 1:50,000 scale SOI maps may be sufficient to build up a Forestry database, larger scale maps would be required for micro-watershed management. Some of the key areas of GIS applications are listed below.

  • Forestry
  • Pollution Control
  • Police / Security agencies
  • Utilities
  • Urban Planning
  • Water resources
  • Business GIS
  • Defence

The applications related to Defence form a major topic in itself and are not addressed in this paper.

The main problems related to primary data in India are as follows.

  • Non-availability of digital data from SOI
  • Legal implications of SOI map digitization
  • Non-availability of maps on scales larger than 1:25,000 on a systematic basis

The other sources of primary data are aerial photographs and high-resolution satellite images. The restrictions in data availability also apply to aerial photographs. While IRS-1C and 1D data with 5.8 m resolution supports primary data requirements of medium-scale applications, large-scale data collection still remains unaddressed. The data from IKONOS with 1 m resolution holds potential for the future. The availability of data from Cartosat by the year end will also be a crucial aspect with regard to large-scale mapping.

Data Integration
In the light of the problems associated with primary data acquisition, it is extremely important for GIS applications to be capable of integrating data from diverse sources. The Open GIS Consortium and the emergence of Data Sever technology have been the main driving force behind this. However, it would no longer be practical to limit the significance of data integration to the narrow sense of combining data from different sources. It should also incorporate value addition in terms of data. This may include:

  • Field data collection through GPS / Laser based surveys
  • Sampling for attributes like air quality, pH, etc.
  • Building-level details
  • Information on underground utilities like sewerage, power, telephone cables
  • Information on traffic flow and pattern

The GIS solutions in the market address several requirements of the diverse applications mentioned earlier. However, the users invariably have specific requirements that may not be addressed by the out-of-the-box solution. In some cases, a simpler and easier-to-use solution is required. This would necessitate customization of the GIS application. In this context, it would be very important that the GIS solution should support open customization tools. Proprietary tools would only make the task of customization more expensive and less productive.

The Viewer Community
The Viewers, as mentioned earlier, are the GIS data consumers, who utilize the information for decision making, leisure and other purposes. The future of GIS development is driven by the requirements of the Viewers. They require access to data as quickly as possible for various reasons, without bothering about “Who created the data?”, “How it was created?” and so forth. These Viewers are not expected to be GIS experts

The Internet has now become the “most powerful communications medium on the planet”. The ability of Internet to “communicate vertically” is perhaps its greatest utility. It provides unparalleled facility for quickly disseminating information to a very large number of users. Today, the technology is available wherein one can publish the entire GIS project on the Web (Internet or secure Intranet). This GIS data can then be accessed by “thin” clients (low-end machines with only Windows 95 / 98). The remote Viewer can perform various GIS queries as if working on a GIS package, without a GIS Application running on the system

It is obvious from the above, that the GIS data ‘consumers’ in our country have great expectations vis-à-vis the utility of the technology. This is clear from the increasing demands by the users for turn-key solutions. These developments will essentially lead to changes in the role of the Doers, Users and Viewers.

In the case of the primary data available from the Doers, there is an urgent need for review of the outdated data restriction policies. This review becomes all the more relevant in the context of the availability of high resolution data from various satellites like IKONOS and the proposed Quick Bird.

The greatest change would be in the role of the Users, who will have to be more “technology savvy”. They would consist of vendors / service providers and Government departments with in-house resources. The role of the Users would be data integration, value-addition and data analysis. The value-addition is in terms of supplementary data acquisition and customization. This change is the most significant one, which has led to the revision of the role of GIS vendors as value-added service providers.

The change in the expectations of the Viewer community has been driven by the tremendous growth of Internet as a medium for data dissemination. The Viewers are decision makers / planners / consumers, who access the GIS data “served” by the Users. They are “thin clients” who can perform queries on the GIS data over the Internet or a secure Intranet with only standard Web browsers.

The GIS market today is driven and dictated by the consumers, making it a buyers’ market. The growth of Internet as a medium for data dissemination has increased the expectations of the consumers. These developments have resulted in changes in the roles of Doers and Users.

The problems involved in primary data acquisition are related to both the outdated data restriction policies and non-availability of large-scale data. There is an urgent need to review these policies.

The change in the role of the Users has been the most significant one. They are now going to be increasingly involved in data integration, value-addition in terms of supplementary data acquisition and customization, and data analysis.