Caution: I’m poking a hornet’s nest with this post. read at your own risk and know this is my PERSONAL opinion.
Should tax dollars be directly supporting the general budget funds of a GIS ‘Consultant’?
Your answer to that question may be “Yes”. You may not like me asking the question and I may not like your answer, but it’s a good discussion for the Geo-Community to have. Here’s the backstory: I work for a growing new startup; a Geographic Information System (GIS) consultant. We compete on fairly small projects all across Illinois. Our target client is a small-town public works director in need of a GPS inventory or county engineer too swamped to maintain the few GIS layers they already have. Time and time again our experience has shown one of our largest competitors of such professional GIS consulting services is not other for-profit companies, but taxpayer-funded Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs), Planning Commissions and state universities / community college GIS Labs. I’m not picking on anyone this is just what I’ve found.
Now, if you know me, you’d think this is a bit hypocritical: I graduated from a state school with a GIS Lab, taught GIS at a community college and I had my first GIS job at an MPO. So, I get it. I understand that the schools just want their students to gain ‘real-world’ experiences. I also know that some MPOs and planning commissions have GIS consultation services to fill a vital (sometimes unmet) need. They help build GIS for a small community who could not afford it otherwise. That’s great, GIS used to be expensive, VERY expensive. But not so much anymore. With cloud-based solutions, faster internet connections, ArcGIS online, free aerial imagery and LOTS of other inexpensive and easy solutions; the $500,000 price tag just isn’t there anymore. Try telling this to someone paying $35/hr for an MPO or even less for student labor. Competition between for profit companies is expected, but this isn’t an equal playing field. (Whine- Whine- Whine) I understand that all governments are being asked to do more with less, I’m reporting what I see and asking the question.
These governmental organizations can simply price out the competition because of two factors; 1. They can supplement operations with other funding sources. 2. They really don’t have to make money.
I also appreciate loyalty. If you honestly assess the progress of your GIS and are satisfied with it. Great. I’ll move on. But do yourself a favor and critically analyze the quality and progress of what you are getting. And it should be progressing. Like any other technology, the geospatial field is constantly advancing so should your GIS. Blindly paying for a consortium for 20 years because that’s what you’ve always done is simply poor management.
Before you think I’m just whining. This issue is as old as time. There are small business advocates, anti-governmental competition lobbyist groups and Chamber of Commerce’s all across America who have been talking about this subject since before my father was born.
If this is a hard concept or topic, then it’s a good subject to talk about.