By: Thomas J. Marquardt, A.I.C.P. (member of LIGIS Steering Committee)
The Long Island Geographic Information System (LIGIS) organization was created as a forum for users of GIS. Initial meetings revolved around questions like: What is GIS? How does it work? How did you get the Board to approve the funds to buy a system? Where do you get data? Can we borrow data? Do we have to pay for that? Can we go to jail if we share data? How do we get training? How did you do that?
Eventually discussions evolved into debating the merits of ESRI versus MapInfo or evaluating the benefits or disasters of the latest release. Data was shared but it was not always standardized or formatted to suit the needs of the user. Emphasis was put on building the perfect GIS with all the right hardware, software, bigger monitors, printers, plotters and latest database updates. The focus shifted from the GIS user to the GIS developer. This developer driven process began to de-emphasize the needs of the user and serve the needs of the developer’s intense interest in the ever expanding technology of GIS. In the race for releasing the next generation of GIS technology the user was challenged to keep up or get left behind.
To bridge this gap more “user friendly” front end viewers were deployed to give the end user GIS technology without needing to know everything that was “under the hood”. This tool provided the information that was needed by 75% of the users 90% of the time. It also allowed I.T. departments to put data out on a network that was more secure and maintained by their staff. This resulted in a very cautious courtship between the GIS community and the I.T. world. Sometimes the I.T. world made demands on the GIS community and vice versa. The user was often caught in the middle and wandered in the wilderness looking for guidance and training.
The very large and ever expanding universe of the internet also brought options to the GIS user. Google Earth will eventually satisfy 90% of the GIS needs of 90% of the planet. Who needs all this drama when one can just go to friendly Google Earth? The 10% of the users who need something a little more than internet GIS but not the full power of ArcInfo may opt to morph into what Jim Touchet calls the “savvy GIS user.”
By browsing the GIS menu for various options on the internet or the organizations’ “GIS Light” the user might utilize some of these features that suit his or her needs. Generally these decisions are fed by STRESS. In the heat of the moment when someone needs it NOW; users resort to any trick that is handy. Any technology that will produce some needed output will be utilized. This may result in some hybrid applications of word processing , GIS .pdfs imported, e-mails, video clips, links to websites, mark up tools pointing to features on aerials and digital images referenced. The whole point of technology is to make our lives easier and not more difficult. Humans will take the path of least resistance.
Remember; it is not shameful to be lazy. Use all of the tools whether they are simple or complicated; but get the job done with the least amount of effort.
Example of Geocortex .pdf marked up for NYSDEC application that was e-mailed to agency: