Developers need a map for geo-spatial positioning

Once the world’s 14 million business application developers wrap their heads around the possibilities of geographical information systems (GIS) and improve wireless communication networks, they will launch a new class of business support and personal productivity software, said one GIS authority.

Although some companies already use location and demographics software to understand existing customers and acquire new ones, David Sonnen, analyst firm IDC’s senior consultant for spatial information and president of the Blaine, Wash.-based Integrated Spatial Solutions Inc., recently told about 200 business and IT types that “this area is going to become very large.”

Speaking at a downtown Toronto seminar sponsored by MapInfo Canada, a maker of location-based CRM and demographic software, Sonnen explained that GIS – which is concerned with creating, managing and analyzing geographical data sets – is a now a mature technology. As a result, it is increasingly useful for software developers to look at the ways in which location fits into the overall architecture of information systems, said Sonnen, whose interest in GIS dates back to his “distant undergrad degree” in forestry.

“Why deal with geo-spatial information?” Sonnen asked. “The answer is simple – we live in the world [and] location is one of the very few organizing principles for information, one of the very few basic organizing principles of how we think … [and] it is a critical part of any business process.”

For example, he said, if you look at the chain of data entry events that are set in motion after a car accident by paramedics, police, fire, insurance companies and auto repair shops, every group needs different information, but all entries have one thing in common – location.

So far, the possibilities of geographical information have not been well understood by mainstream developers because GIS was a closed technology, said Sonnen during a post-seminar interview.

“The developers that built these geo-spatial applications were trained geographers first. They really understood in great depth all the intricacies of dealing with geo-spatial data and geo-spatial modelling but they were a small group of people – a couple of thousand worldwide. Now there’s code that needs to be written for telcos, dispatching and other business applications…and the geo-spatial industry needs to help people understand and use this technology,” he said.

“Do we need to send 14 million people to (the University of California at) Santa Barbara to become geographers? No, but the industry has to make the (geographical) technology really, really easy to use. That means standard libraries, open code, testing environments, QC procedures, and all of the things software developers need. As an industry we geo-spatial people have got to leave out all of our favourite buzzwords and lingo and we’ve got to learn how (business) developers think, because they’re not coming to us.”