It has been estimated that 50 to 80 percent of modern enterprises aren’t using their location data to aid in making business decisions. And yet, the global geographic information system (GIS) market is anticipated to reach $14.6 billion by 2020, signaling massive opportunities for growth. At the same time, organizations are moving away from proprietary software and the burden of single-vendor lock-in towards more flexible and budget-friendly open-source solutions. The concurrent rise in GIS and open source is creating new ways for organizations–to make the most of the geospatial data at their disposal and turn it into actionable insights, particularly those in the fields of energy, agriculture, transportation, manufacturing, finance and government.
Open Source vs. Proprietary GIS Software
Proprietary geospatial software generally consists of subscriptions that determine how many data sources can be considered and how much it will cost to determine optimal routing. Open-source geospatial software, on the other hand, allows organizations to leverage geospatial data without incurring per-user, per-login or per-CPU cycle costs. Additionally, users are not penalized for increasing their number of users or conducting as much analysis as is required to determine ideal routing. The most prominent benefits of open-source software include the following.
Lower Total Cost of Ownership (TCO)
There is a common misconception that open-source software is free due to the lack of licensing costs, but it’s important to note that there are costs associated with transitioning to open-source environments, namely supporting and maintaining the software. These costs are typically only a fraction of the licensing costs accrued with proprietary solutions. Moreover, open source doesn’t penalize for scaling architecture up or out, so companies can grow freely without worrying about soaring costs in the future.
Relying on a single vendor decreases the ability to negotiate pricing, especially if no alternative comparable technology is available. Since open-source solutions are often used in congruence, vendors have incentive to price competitively which, in turn, saves businesses money.
Compatibility with Modern IT
Open-source technology is proliferating modern IT enterprises, enabling virtualized infrastructure, containerization and software automation. Open-source geospatial software is specifically designed to operate in these modern architectures, with many packages offering cross-platform support.
Arguably one of the most important benefits of open source is the resilience and continuity it promotes within an organization. Creating projects in an open framework gives teams the transparency and flexibility to pick up where others have left off to ensure that projects get completed. There are more eyes on any given project, which means a better chance of finding and fixing potential bugs before they happen.
What Can GIS Do for You?
Currently, more data is being generated than ever before; every two days we create as much data as we did from the beginning of human existence up until 2003. Processing this data and gleaning business insights from it is essential for companies who want to stay competitive within their spaces. A few of the top use cases for GIS include the following.
Precision agriculture aims to uncover more efficient ways to farm and increase crop yield using as few resources as possible. The practice relies on GPS data to help farmers make informed decisions regarding everything from seed choice, to crop location to how much to water and fertilize. Open-source GIS solutions let farmers leverage their location-based data to gain insight without risking unpredictable software costs. Cost savings from open-source GIS free up valuable resources and increase productivity for farmers.GovernmentCountless government operations, both local and federal, include location components for which GIS can aid in better planning and decision making. Examples include, emergency management, reporting, engineering design, permit tracking, land-use planning and subdivision review. GIS simplifies government operations by identifying significant patterns and relationships within location data and displaying findings in an easy-to-understand map.
Transportation logistics present complicated challenges for which analyzing location-based data is crucial. Whether it’s a municipal government that wants to establish optimal bus and light-rail routes, a hospital that wants to provide patients with the fastest route to their facilities at a particular moment, or an oil company that wants to plan its pipeline locations, the analysis of location-based data is vital in making informed business decisions.
Selecting the appropriate site to construct a facility is a highly strategic process that can negatively affect businesses if certain factors aren’t taken into account. Whether the project is a hospital, retail store or law office, a multitude of location-based data points regarding the population, weather, regulations and even traffic patterns need to be analyzed. Open-source GIS software is an affordable way to gather, process and make sense of the layers of data that affect site selection.
The Short of It
Open source is helping to resolve the disconnect between the lack of businesses using their geospatial data and the rapid growth of the GIS industry simply by making location-based data more accessible. When organizations’ software architectures can grow freely without cost constraints and work more efficiently in today’s modern IT environments, the sky’s the limit. Andy Dearing is the CEO of Boundless and previously held the role of the Vice President of Professional Services. A commercial pilot and self-taught geographer, Andy has been working with GIS for nearly 15 years. He can often be found working from one of our many locales, or representing the Boundless brand at a number of industry events and philanthropic endeavors throughout the year. Andy resides in Missouri with his wife and four kids, where he enjoys hiking, fishing, and woodworking — when is he is not out camping with his son’s Boy Scout troop.