A recent discussion about the direction of a major GIS software provider led to this blog entry. This unnamed company is moving in a direction of Platform As A Service (PaaS). I understand, it’s very new & it’s very early, but these are my thoughts:
When my Grandpa Howard was still alive he took 23 pills a day; 10 in the morning and 13 at night. As I would pour them into the little brown bowl and get him a can of ‘peps‘, I often wondered how many of these medications fight against each other. The goal of all the Doctors and this medication was to make him feel, act and move with less pain and damage internally. Thereby providing a long and easy life. For the most part, this worked but it wasn’t without confusion and frustration. Meds would change, prescriptions would expire, pills would feel or taste differently (he didn’t see too well) and I’m pretty sure he thought we were trying to poison him. With all these medications and organization and the constant changing state of Doctor’s suggestions, we were just trying to help. But I think it often confused, angered and caused distrust with Grandpa. When we sat at long expense and explained the situation, things went better.
The lesson here with my Grandpa is the same as with the Pillbox GIS (BTW www.pillboxGIS.com is available) approach. I’ve heard it referred to as the cafeteria or shotgun approach. Whatever spin, the setup is the same: Provide many, many, many different options for your GIS users (both internally and externally). Let them make a choice about which application to use, which basemap they prefer, which layers they want and how they want to view it. If you have several little APIs, fine put them all together and let the user choose what they want. Choice is wonderful, but sometimes it can be a curse.
I see two problems with how this is unfolding: Confusion and Competition
Disclaimer: I am all about new technology and inspiring vision. I usually sign up and install beta-ware. I fully support change in government and private sectors. I am not a negative-nelly.
We have an awesome GIS site. You can do so much: choose basemaps & layers add tons of graphics, download data, query on hundreds of variables, create a custom thematic map, and more functionality is in the can OR you can simply search for a house and find the information you want. Why would I introduce a competing application that would take away users? I’ve trained over 150 people in the area on our website. Now I’m supposed say, “Well now you have a choice”? It has the appearance of internal conflict and dissatisfaction. It’s been said , “No, they don’t compete, they compliment” I say, if a user chooses one site over another, that’s competition.
This is the larger issue. The many choices our GIS provides already confuse our user base. Por Ejemplo: We have the aforementioned awesome GIS website running on Silverlight. Say someone doesn’t want (or can’t) have Silverlight, we have the Flex-based companion for that person, it’s a much lesser application, but it’s there. Confusion. I get calls: “I’m on your GIS site and I can’t find <blank>”. Me, “OK, well that’s available in 3 different locations… what does the site you’re on look like?” Confusion. Now throw into the mix a completely new mapping solution. Well, you can make a map here or here or there. Don’t know where it is? Just search for what you want, then add it to your map. BTW the easy search solution is not currently compatible with my awesome GIS site (see Competition above) It’s not just a new solution, It’s a new way to look at the whole Enterprise GIS Infrastructure. The PaaS model fundamentally changes the way users find GIS layers, information and then consume it. More than data in the cloud, more than software in the cloud; Everything is in the cloud. Explain that to a 90 year-old man when his pills taste different.
Again, I’m not against this. It’s very tough to adhere to or even write a technology/GIS plan in these times. I’ve been told this is the direction Xxxx is going. I’m all for change. It will take time. Like Years. I thought I was bleeding edge because I’m planning to move our webserver to a cloud-based virtual image later this summer. But what about my data server? Where will my imagery be? Will I always have SDE? What about parcel maintenance? What about security? I’ve signed up for this Beta program. But I have to push back, It’s my nature. When I’m an old man, I will always ask my doctor if I really need all these pills and if they have competing side-effects.
If you choose not to decide about PaaS you still have made a choice.