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Could cloud computing help GIS grow?

By Emma Finch
May 26, 2015


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Geographic Information Systems are growing in a big way, both in the applications available and how they're being used by commercial entities and governments. However, as with any emerging technology, there is a basic hurdle standing in the way of large-scale adoption - namely, risk aversion.

Could cloud computing help GIS grow? Especially at the government level, the prospect of significant capital investment in what may turn out to be unproven hardware or in a system that they may never be able to fully implement due to complexity, creates concerns. Unfortunately, this type of bet-hedging prevents the benefits of GIS from being leveraged to its full potential for government operations. One possible solution to this problem may exist in the growing prevalence of cloud-based GIS programs.

Understanding the reluctance

Despite the fact that the benefits of GIS are numerous and documented, many institutions, especially at the government level, have been reluctant to embrace full adoption. According to The Municipal, a trio of factors - identified as fear, uncertainty and doubt - are the driving force slowing the progression of greater GIS adoption.

The circumstance is unique in that many GIS systems require significant initial investment while at the same time not yielding benefits until months or years down the road. For those responsible for government budgets and corporate spending, that's not the recipe for deciding to integrate GIS services. As a result, current hardware-based GIS systems are unlikely to see much implementation outside of very large companies and government entities that have large enough capital budgets to invest in such a project.

Looking to the cloud

Cloud computing offers a variety of benefits that make GIS more attractive. First, new cloud-based GIS is much easier to use and quicker to implement, removing the fear factor of trying to install and learn a complex technology. These systems are more “off the shelf” for users so that they can get up and running in a timely manner, and thus, see benefits more quickly. Permissions can be set to control who has access and at what level so that users and decision-makers alike can benefit from the software. Upgrades and maintenance of software are taken care of by the vendor, further removing some of the complexity of a tradition installed GIS.

Low costs level the playing field

Another significant benefit of cloud-based GIS platforms is the severe reduction in cost that organizations can enjoy as a result. These financial savings are seen in a variety of ways. Not only do administrators and officials not have to purchase software licenses for themselves, but they also aren't responsible for paying for maintenance, diagnostic operations or software updates that may otherwise eat into time and budget.

Instead, because the software is administered by the developer and hosted on its server, organizations can have access to these products for no more than a monthly subscription fee. This fee is not just more affordable than an outright purchase, but it often includes customer support and maintenance that the organization would otherwise be responsible for footing the bill for themselves.

Removing the fear and uncertainty about GIS while decreasing the cost has an interesting implication, which is that this technology is now more widely available to smaller and mid-sized governments and organizations, who may not have been able to afford it previously. Having higher adoption rates of GIS means more opportunities for various entities to work together in new ways to see patterns and trends, make more informed decisions, and offer better services to the community.

Download our latest white paper, Improve Your Government's Operations with Cloud-based GIS, below.


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