Part 2 - Commoditisation clouds GIS market
Prices of digital mapping solutions are falling fast, as mapping companies make their solutions available through new models such as software-as-a-service (SaaS), and new platforms like cloud computing, bringing the technology within reach of smaller businesses.
What's more, the growing popularity and maturity of free and low-cost alternatives such as Google Maps and Bing Maps are also exerting downward pressure on prices for once-expensive enterprise GIS and digital mapping solutions.
The traditional GIS players have started to feel some competitive heat from free services in recent years, says Etienne Louw, MD of mapIT. But he's adamant the functionality these offerings provide is limited compared to the features of an enterprise GIS or digital mapping solution.
Free services come with two major drawbacks, says Louw. The first is that providers like Google take ownership of data that companies might prefer to keep proprietary in exchange for use of the service. The second is that the data quality might not always be up to the level that companies would expect from an enterprise software provider.
"Free and low-cost solutions typically address the 20% functionality found in traditional GIS systems that 80% of the users want and need," adds Louw. The exposure that such solutions are giving digital mapping in the boardroom is a double-edged sword.
Free and low-cost solutions typically address the 20% functionality found in traditional GIS systems that 80% of the users want and need, Etienne Louw, MD, mapIT.
On the one hand, more decision-makers are being exposed to spatial representation of information than ever before. But on the other, many executives have a narrow understanding of what high-end GIS systems are capable of because they're only exposed to the 'dots on maps' functionality of Google Maps, says Louw.
Louw adds that SaaS has made GIS available to smaller businesses by bringing down infrastructure and licensing costs. Importantly, SaaS has also reduced the risks of a GIS deployment. Smaller companies can integrate digital mapping into their businesses using free application programming interfaces, to try it out before they commit to a large purchase.