The Future Looks Bright for Spatial Thinkers

Many industries have suffered during the current economic downturn.  So why is it that during this same period, demand for geospatial technology professionals has grown significantly?

I think that this trend is due to the growing understanding of the value of spatial information and analysis.  There are many reasons to implement GIS, but the benefits that we see driving organizations in lean times are cost savings resulting from greater efficiency.  And as we come out of this economic downturn, the efficiencies realized from GIS will become a standard way of doing business, so the need for geospatial professionals will increase even more.

Government has long been at the forefront of this movement, and there will be opportunities here for people with geospatial knowledge, most notably in the area of homeland security and in anything to do with increased transparency and accountability. But we’re now seeing a huge shift in momentum in the commercial arena.  Many of the future career opportunities for geospatial professionals will be in the private sector, as businesses increasingly realize the benefits that government has understood for some time.

The current high unemployment rate is sending a lot of experienced workers “back to school” to learn new skills more relevant for the 21st century workplace. This is one factor driving the growth of focused geospatial programs at universities and community colleges, both at the degree level and the certificate level.  These programs are doing a great service by training the geospatial workforce of tomorrow. They are also providing many opportunities for seasoned geospatial professionals to take on new roles themselves—passing on their vast knowledge by instructing and teaching the next generation of geospatial professionals.

As the reach of spatial information expands, new opportunities are created for spatial thinkers in many areas.

As the reach of spatial information expands, new opportunities are created for spatial thinkers in many areas.

But the career opportunities here are not just for the people who sit in front of keyboards and “do GIS”. It’s much bigger than that.  I think that the real growth opportunity is in the area of spatial thinking.  As people in all types of positions become more familiar with the value of geography, they begin to ask more intelligent questions about the world, and they begin to make more informed decisions. The coming opportunities for spatial thinkers will be even greater than those we are seeing for geospatial technology professionals.

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Jack Dangermond

About Jack Dangermond

Jack Dangermond founded Esri with a vision that computer-based mapping and analysis could make significant contributions in the areas of geographic planning and environmental science. The recipient of 10 honorary doctorate degrees, he has served on advisory committees for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Academy of Sciences, and the National Science Foundation.
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  1. says:

    Last year I started graduate work at the University of Maine in the Spatial Engineering department. Jack’s comments reflect the reason I selected this program. They focus on understanding Spatial theory and practice.

  2. dmede says:

    I hope this prediction for the future of spatial thinking is correct. From my current perspective I see more opportunities in GIS in areas involving heavy use of programming and scripting and often little emphasis on fundamental geographic concepts. The market for those of us with more rounded backgrounds GIScience and geography (and cartography) in general seem more limited at the moment.

    As far as the growth in education for spatial thinkers, I believe that’s largely true but I’d say that there are more people going for a basic GIS degree or certificate in which spatial thinking and geographic concepts are limited in comparison to general technological proficiency. The result is a large pool of GIS professionals who really don’t know how to think spatially (or design a proper map!).

  3. GeoMikeC says:

    And here’s me thinking the forecast was cloudy!

    Why should this surprise us? Throughout history the competitive advantage afforded to those with access to mapping is abundantly clear even if the consequences have not always been positive ones.

    To quote Robin Morgan; “Knowledge is power. Information is power. The secreting or hoarding of knowledge or information may be an act of tyranny camouflaged as humility”.

    If the function of business is to sell more stuff more profitably to more people and not forgetting legally! Or if business has a much greater purpose that makes the world a better place, then GIS has the potential to deliver substantial ROI and Governance benefits.

    The story is so sticky and compelling that I am convinced that geographic services will become ubiquitous across many business functions; geo services will become a standard component in core operational processes rather than a stand-alone application. And..I also believe that the economic models and the skills we need to operate successfully as Commercial Geographers will also develop.

    The cloud, storage, bandwidth, processing power, GPS accuracy and availability, access to content, development environments, open source, open data, mobile and not forgetting the impact of huge consumer brands like Apple and Google have changed the way we value and consume geographic services and will change the way we operate as geo centric businesses in future.

    It’s also clear that we need to better understand just what level of functionality, precision and geo sophistication is actually required for business to realize the geographic advantage and how those services will be delivered in the coming years. Optimal geo based services delivered simply and efficiently at a cost appropriate to the size of the problem.

    The barriers to entry have come down and now anyone with minimal development experience can create useful geo centric applications in just a few days using free API’s, mobile SDK’s, widgets, templates and data such as Esri’s ArcGIS On-Line service, now freely available to entrepreneurial developers with the commercial nous and skills required to spot an opportunity.

    Users want to be free to consume anything, anywhere on a wide variety of clients.

    Yes the future looks bright but for whom? With change happening at such a pace and Toffler’s 1970’s Future Shock vision a reality, I suspect many are stuck in the fog and look to us to provide the leadership required to provide a clear pathway.

  4. stumitch says:

    It’s the same as per many other industries that are reaching that point of understanding by purse-string holders. We’re starting to see it in data quality, and we’ve seen it in GIS: that the value that geographic services and the ability to use location to connect brings its own positive business case.

  5. davidswann says:

    Great article and the growth in the industry is certainly reflected down here in NZ. Regarding the comment ‘dmede’ made, I would counter with a different perspective.

    My organization is seeing a shift from hardcore ‘big’ development to small, modular, reusable development and then a subsequent configuration of applications… and that change in technology deployment is making the well rounded GI Scientists and Geographers very valuable indeed… but ONLY if they’re prepared to see and understand the business context.

    I see too many GI Scientists and Geographers coming to interview who fail to grasp the business context of GIS. It’s that business context that turns a good idea into a great outcome for the customer.

    To me, the ‘well-rounded’ GIS professional has deep knowledge of GIS concepts; an awareness of the business outcomes; and a high-level understanding of the ArcGIS platform.

    Put in a nutshell: don’t just tell me the theory; show me why it matters and how best to implement it.

  6. sanju100 says: