The Changing Face of Mapping Organizations

Riding the wave of new technologies and trends

The map, chart and data production (MAPS) industry is being revolutionized by changes in technology, societal trends, and the mapping community itself. This wave of change is not only reshaping the MAPS industry landscape, but providing new opportunities.

Mapping has evolved from manual methods, to computer assisted cartography on workstations, to map publishing software on PCs and now to database-driven cartography that can be accessed by a variety of devices including mobile phones, tablets, notebook PCs, and personal digital assistants.
Society is changing and so are its expectations of what a map is and how it should be used. Consumers expect to receive their desired online content quickly and easily, including maps. People are beginning to expect maps with all their apps from driving directions and Point Of Interest searches, to multi-model way finding and 3D map visualization.

The MAPS industry has experienced a 50% drop in production of paper maps, charts and atlases in the last decade, and another 50% drop is expected in the next five years. However, the number of maps generated online has increased substantially in this time. This increase can be found in electronic maps and derivative map and data products for the web and mobile devices. Business is booming in these areas and smart MAPS organizations understand this is where the growth opportunities are. Providing the right map to consumers accessing web and mobile devices is the key to harnessing new business opportunities.

Some MAPS organizations are riding the waves of change, tapping into their core mapping competencies and revolutionizing their organizations, while others are not adapting to these changes and have been washed away. The turbulent MAPS community itself can provide opportunites to savvy MAPS organizations partnering to find synergies and strengthen their collective businesses.

What strategies and resources are organizations employing to leverage changes in technology, social trends, and the mapping community?

Mark Cygan

About Mark Cygan

Mark Cygan leads the map, chart, data production, and SDI (MAPS) industry solutions team at Esri. He has more than 30 years of experience working in GIS and mapping. He is on the Joint Board of Geospatial Information Societies and participates in many other international organizations.
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  1. As an industry, we have to innovate, collaborate, and educate – both internally and externally. At, we touch many areas – we are a publisher, a packager, and a developer; a retailer, a distributor, and a wholesaler. We provide production services, content licensing and consulting.

    Our innovation therefore has to span multiple markets. To accomplish this, we’ve added new staff with specific skill sets and cross trained our existing staff to ensure that we have a broad stable of cutting edge and even “bleeding edge” technologies, advanced interactive platform capabilities and techniques – along with our expertise in traditional cartography – to stay ahead of the curve in providing what our clients and their customers will want and need. Even if our clients are not yet aware of it themselves.

    This element of education has become essential in leveraging the changes in technology in the mapping industry. Our clients look to us to help them determine what will best serve their customers’ evolving needs and expectations.

    Beyond innovating and educating, we also collaborate both internally and externally. We share ideas and expand upon examples and practices learned from other industries and from our colleagues within the mapping industry. Conferences, blogs, best practices, associations and sources such as the IMTA newsletter keep us informed and provide examples of how others are generating new business opportunities in this changing landscape. And therein lies the bottom line – these evolutions in social trends, advances in technology and changes within the mapping industry will continue to provide opportunities for growth as long as we continue to innovate, educate and collaborate with an eye toward what’s around the next bend.

  2. Ayub khan says:

    can you send more detail.

  3. Mark Cygan Mark Cygan says:

    Ayub – thank you for your question. The purpose of the Spatial Roundtable is to generate a collaborative discussion on a topic and question. You will be seeing more discussion on this site over the next 4 weeks. Can you please specify what you would like more detail on and if you want that from me or Sarah Sinclair? Thank you.

  4. How can we make better maps, for our daily use in developing countries. Alot of people have a poor perception in GIS and the environment in general. How can we make people aware of GIS?

  5. Roger Davis says:

    A local religious organization wants to make a large format map covering eastern Missouri & western Illinois, centered on the St. Louis region. They want color-coded symbols showing church locations. How would they go about securing the services of a commercial mapping organization, preferably in the St. Louis MO area?

    I think this would be more than our small 4-H project could take on.

    Thank you

  6. Bennett Moe says:

    Your dilemma is pretty common. Knowing when “good enough” is “good enough for your needs” vs. knowing when your organization needs a professionally created custom map can be a tough call and is one of the services that provides. Depending on your club’s capability, this could be something that you could take on and use as a teaching exercise (and we may be able to give you some guidance). If not, creating these types of custom maps is one of our specialties and the map that you describe is one type of map we routinely create. Either way, I am sure that we can help. Feel free to contact me at bennett (at) or 800. 929. 4627 x 124 or feel free to pass my contact info to the folks that need the map.

  7. Mark Cygan Mark Cygan says:

    @ Roger Davis & Bennett Moe – Thanks for your input here. There are a number of companies that are Esri Partners and International Map Trade Association (IMTA) members that could help and is certainly a good one.

  8. Mark Cygan Mark Cygan says:

    @ Umar Nasiru Umar – Good questions. First, there are a number of resources for making better maps (and developing countries would benefit from them as they are free) including: , , , , and others.

    To your second question of how we can make people aware of the importance of GIS, I would say you have identified a key issue. I do not have space to cover the whole subject here, but can offer the following examples that I have personally done committee work on: a) The United Nations has recognized the importance of GIS, and the UN Economic and Social Council just passed a resolution stating this and establishing the High level Forum on Global Geospatial Information Management – , b)The Joint Board of Geospatial Information Societies – passed a resolution supporting this when I was the Chairperson in July. In June, the Cambridge Conference (CEOs from national mapping orgs) suppported this as part of 4 resolutions on GIS and mapping, and I talked about it in the plenary – . We had another Spatial Roundtable recently that also addressed this – . These are just some of many examples.

  9. Charles Regan says:

    Even in such difficult economic times, the consumer mapping industry has never had more opportunities for growth. Thanks to Google, Microsoft, Garmin, Esri, and others, more people are using maps and mapping tools today than ever before in history. People are learning how to read and utilize maps and geospatial data at a younger age. This means our potential customer base is expanding.

    At National Geographic, we have been positioning ourselves as a multi-platform publisher. While we continue to produce the world’s top selling atlases, reference wall maps, and outdoor recreation maps, that same content has now been ported across several additional platforms to reach this expanded consumer base. Our World Atlas app has been the category leader in Apple’s App Store for a year now; our content reaches over 15 million visitors to our website every month, and hundred’s of thousands of teachers and students use our online mapping tools. It is important to reach the consumer wherever they are and through whatever platform they best want to access and view our content.

    As our industry changes and our markets expand and diversify, it becomes more important than ever to stay connected with one another and take advantage of collective knowledge and experiences. The International Map Trade Association ( is the only association solely focused on the business of maps. The trade shows have evolved into an indispensable opportunity for everyone associated with the consumer mapping industry to network with one another, share successes and setbacks, identify opportunities, and look forward to how our industry is changing. Our participation in this and other networking industry organizations allows us to keep up to date with industry trends and focus on future growth.

  10. Umar Nasiru Umar says:

    As a GIS developer, we face alot of challenges in using softwares. For example, when you are using ArcGIS 9.3, with the coming of ArgGIS 10, you need to hire someone to come and train your staff. There was a time when you cannot use a software for one or more tasks e.g in layout development, you use ArcGIS to produce a compensation plan (Farm boundaries), but its hard to make layout plan (of the same farm) using ArcGIS. In this case you use AutoCAD.
    My question is that, how can we rely on one software without using another in GIS work?

  11. We have certainly come a long way transitioning from paper maps to the latest online web/mobile mapping applications, or should I say “mapps.” The whole mapping ecosystem is increasingly diversified, thanks to the advent of new technology and social media platforms. Consumers are now producers (Openstreetmap is a good example) and users now range from professional mappers to volunteer open street mappers / crisismappers to fun loving common public mappers.

    Organizations must understand that the motivation behind the mapping interests among these users are diverse and must strategize accordingly. The supply chain is no longer linear ending with users; rather, it is circular with no more “end users.” It seems as though “simple” should be the motto for businesses. Users are attracted to simple product names and easy to use products. Also, the common public perceives the synonym of GIS to be complex. I am sure we have all seen non-GIS, yet well-educated public hesitant to create a map using a online GIS application as opposed to using Google maps. Using the term ‘GIS’ seems to be a psychological deal breaker. #My2cents!

  12. How can GIS & remote sensing softwares be accessed by students?

  13. Mark Cygan Mark Cygan says:

    @ Umar Nasiru Umar – thank you for your follow up question, I appreciate your engagement here. Yes, there are situations where organizations decide to use one or more software in their workflow. While this allows them to use the s/w specialization, it requires additional costs in training and converting data as you mention. In the case of AutoCAD, Esri’s ArcGIS has included many CAD like tools. However, organizations may still maintain their existing CAD files in AutoCAD and use ArcGIS for AutoCAD , providing full GIS functionality with access to their legacy CAD files.

  14. Mark Cygan Mark Cygan says:

    @ Sentil Prakash Chinnachamy – Technology and social trends are definitely converging. I agree with most of your comments. However, GIS is not an either/or, either simple or complex. Rather if provides a full range of simple to robust and specialized capabilities, and you can decide which you want. For example ArcGIS provides easy to use mapping capabilities in , as well as robust GIS analysis in ArcGIS basic, standard and advanced functionality that other online mapping companies can not provide. ArcGIS provides you the option of s/w to use from simple and easy to robust analytical capabiltities.

  15. Kari Craun says:

    The USGS National Geospatial Program has, like many other national mapping organizations, been heavily involved in working with technological changes since the beginning of the program more than 125 years ago. The pace of change, of course, seems more rapid today and the level of expectations from users of USGS mapping products seems to continually increase.

    We do little independent primary data acquisition. Instead, data that are part of The National Map and The National Atlas come from many different sources. The USGS’ role is to integrate these data and to act as an authoritative data steward for USGS A-16 data themes. We are taking advantage of the tremendous amount of geospatially referenced data being collected already (from other government organizations (Federal, state, local) and the private sector. We are now also working to understand how to incorporate citizen contributions or “volunteered geographic information.”

    The USGS National Geospatial Program delivers data in ways that allow users to have maximal ability to integrate it into their own applications. This means delivery through standard web services and in industry standard formats. For the most part, our data are in the public domain and, as a publicly funded organization, our goal is for everyone – from individual citizens to large corporations – to be able to make use of that data.

    Today, we are moving away from being a primary source for paper maps, instead moving in the direction of providing maps primarily in digital form. We still recognize the need for map users to access a printed product and have designed digital products, such as the US Topo But, we are focusing USGS resources on creating quality digital products and relying on business partners for printing and distribution of paper map products.

  16. @Mark: Excellent comment! As an advanced user of the ArcGIS system myself, I truly understand the range of capabilities (from simple to complex) being offered to the varied set of users. However, my comments were meant for the common public, that is, people new to an online GIS application. Also, I am looking at this from the common public’s perception and buying behavior and not the product capabilities per se! Those set of public users constitute untapped market (for Esri too!) and where businesses should consider focusing on :)

  17. Mark Cygan Mark Cygan says:

    @ Samuel Malinga – Thank you for your question. I have asked one of my colleagues on the Education team to respond to you. However the following reference is a good starting point . All the best in your studies.

  18. Mark Cygan Mark Cygan says:

    @ Sentil Prakash Chinnachamy – You make good points, especially about the common public (to use your term) and the importance of keeping maps simple to use. Esri has recognized we need to provide easy to use solutions for the common public on the web and mobile environments. Esri has been moving this direction, but we are certainly not there yet. The purpose of the question I posed to the mapping community was to begin a dialog of how they can expand their markets in this area. Your comments have amplied this and I appreciate the additional insight you have provided. Thank you.

  19. Asmat Ali says:

    Indeed NMOs should adapt technology but at the same time, they should also focus on capacity building as technology does not work itself.

  20. @ Samuel Malinga asks “How can GIS & remote sensing softwares be accessed by students?”

    Samuel, Esri offers several free or low-cost software products for students and others.

    One is called ArcGIS Explorer, which is available free in both desktop and online versions. Visit for more information.

    Another option is ArcGIS Online (, a relatively new platform that allows you to make and share maps and apps “in the cloud” for free.

    You can expect the capabilities of of both of these free platforms to expand dramatically in the coming months.

    Finally, you should contact your regional Esri distributor to see if, as a student at Makerere University, you are eligible for a low-cost or no-cost educational license to ArcGIS Desktop. In Uganda your distributor is:

    Esri Eastern Africa Ltd.
    3rd Floor KUSCCO Centre
    Kilimanjaro Avenue, Upper Hill
    P.O. Box 57783 – 00200

    Best wishes to you!

  21. Mark Cygan Mark Cygan says:

    @ Asmat Ali – Thank you for your comments. You bring up a very important issue for national mapping and survey organizations (NMOs). Many NMOs are experiencing budget reductions and are cutting back on non-essential budget items. Unfortunately, training is often included in this. As you have identified, capacity building is critical to effectively leveraging technology to improve efficiencies in our mapping organizations. This is particularly true as we seek to modernize and expand the capabilities of our NMOs to meet the increasing expectations of our stakeholders. For more on this please see a previous Spatial Roundtable . There are many training resources available at Esri including long distance learning and webcasts – for more see . I welcome your further ideas on this subject.

  22. Patrick Wong says:

    I started my career as a cartographer and soon ventured into serious photogrammetry. In my 35 year-long tenure, I have survived 4 generations of photogrammetric technology…analogue, analytical, digital and now GIS-Direct.

    In my early years, I was instrumental in building the foundations of many municipal GIS. Later I was a proponent in digital retrofitting of analogue mapping instruments in many NMO, including USGS…many of whom were able to sit out the analytical era and leap-frog into digital.

    However, despite 3D capabilities of digital mapping software, almost all languished in a 2D world…the inertia of legacy data is difficult to overcome.

    Digital photogrammetry is now 2 decades old, but many still do not realize the power of stereoscopic 3D superimposition as maps are being complied…now evolved into Arc geodatabase-direct. The simple fact that errors and omissions could be avoided at source is a joyous thing.

    I had read many posting here and surprised that the assumption that good data exists is so prevalent. I have not witnessed too many existing mapping survived a stereoscopic reality-check. I hate to see anyone wasting a career dealing with the olde “garbage in, garbage out”.

  23. Mark Cygan Mark Cygan says:

    @ Patrick Wong – thank you for your comments and I agree with you. Data is prevalent, but good quality data is another story. Current and accurate data is in fact a hot topic in the industry. I certainly could have included imagery as a critical aspect in my ‘Changing Face of Mapping’ comments, as it has been revolutionary in mapping over the past century. However, since space was limited and we just did a Spatial Roundtable on Imagery in May 2011, , I focused on the new platforms providing opportunities for the mapping industry.

    To your point, because it is very relevant, Photogrammetry has provided mapping organizations the process and methods to dramatically improve the quality and positional accuracy of mapping. The dramatic increase in imagery and decrease in cost (described in the May 2011 Spatial Roundtable) has accellerated this. Stereo Photogrammetry can significantly increase positional accuracy, but at a cost. The product you developed and marketed by Esri-Canada, PurView for ArcGIS, provides a lost cost Stereo Photogrammetric solution for many mapping applications,

    Data availability, quality and accuracy, including those extracted from imagery, will continue to play an important role in geospatial mapping data. These geospatial data are crucial to solving the world’s pressing problems, as we described in the November 2010 Spatial Roundtable, titled National Data Providers Respond to Critical Issues ,