What would you say is the most common unmet GIS need for businesses, as far as technology goes?

I'm a programmer and I'm trying to think of a business idea. I like GIS, so I think I might want to do something related to GIS. In order to identify opportunities, I'd like to know what the most common unmet GIS needs are for businesses.

  • 1
    Might be of some help: gis.stackexchange.com/questions/260/…
    – radek
    Dec 2, 2010 at 16:55
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    You could always improve something already done, It's done by many successful business
    – eiefai
    Dec 2, 2010 at 20:28
  • That's true. I'm trying to identify WHAT has room for improvement. Dec 2, 2010 at 20:59
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    Then there's still a lack of support for the European INSPIRE directive in current GIS stacks. That affects a lot of National entities on this side of the ocean. ;)
    – relet
    Dec 3, 2010 at 7:46

8 Answers 8


User friendliness. There are "meat and potatoes" spatial questions which arise often, but for one reason or another take a lot of work to get an answer, and they really shouldn't.

For example, until Arcmap 9.3 answering "where is that? [stabs finger at screen]" with a set of coordinates snapped to the object required creating a VBA expression and attaching it to a button. Ditto for putting the XY coordinates into an attribute field. The GIS software I cut my teeth on, Pamap, now defunct, could do this out of the box in 1992. I don't bring this up to say Arcmap is so bad and Pamap was so much better, but rather to point out that there are problems which are too small for the big boys to solve, but will make a real difference to end users. Hard to make money from this though, which is why in the more than a decade for ESRI to notice and fix this problem nobody else did either. Who would pay $ for a 3rd party addon that did something so trivial?

Anyway, whatever the reason, the need is there and unmet for many small yet significant tasks.

This is a build up to Personalised Workflows, where there is more potential for making a living. I think there is a lot to be gained by streamlining workflow and improving efficiency. Take existing processes and remove as many of the friction points and hindrances as possible. There are so many places where it takes 30 clicks, or 30 points of decision, to get a bit of data from point A to point B when in reality only half a dozen are necessary.

Watch people do their work, and make note of the points where a dialog box pops up and they slap a button without even reading it. That's a useless decision point. Once you start counting, you see them everywhere. Software which is designed for everybody, or as many people as possible, necessarily has to provide more of these pauses. I think there's room for a service industry which examines how people in an organisation actually do things, removes impediments specific to their environment, and adds (or takes away!) things to push them along.

  • I like this comment
    – Brad Nesom
    Dec 8, 2010 at 15:50

Business intelligence for whatever a business does is largely unmet. I think it is hard to devote time to developing ideas (around mapping) that most business owners don't already know about.

You can pick just about any segment of a business and find a GIS answer for the person that does that job.

Probably just me blabbing but perhaps it is something useful.

Edit: As suggested in the comments I will try to make my answer clearer.

I often say that GIS (not for me but for the average person sitting at the desk down the hall) is a cloud. They may hear the term and may know it stands for gps (or they may know better), but don't know how it can apply to them. More and more people relate GIS to getting directions to Starbucks (which in itself is not bad). They do have a hard time understannding that practically every piece of information they have can or could be related to a position. Which means a GIS could be designed around that information.

With all that said on to the business of GIS in business.

My experience stems around... finding someone that will ask, talk to me, or otherwise show any interest in GIS/mapping. Then through visiting with that person find one thing about their job that has any kind of repetition to it and has an element that can be mapped. Whether it is customer zip codes (geocoding), drive time (routing), change detection (image processing), facilities management (enterprise gis), or any number of other business challenges. Find (especially to start with) something simple to show on a map and make it work for the (one) user. Expand from there!

One of the pressure points or holdbacks that business owners have is that everything relates to money in business. The cost of, and/or time lost are some of the first considerations they may have. Because GIS is still a cloud to them they don't see the direct benefit and first consider that their employees will be wasting time (this is past the point of spending money on the initial system) finding new routes to starbucks.

It amazes me at how little the cost to build a small system that answers a key business need is in this day and age. Software (osgeo, arcview, and others) is relatively inexpensive. Data can be acquired free or almost free and much of it online. Even hardware requirements are not as stringent as my early days.

With these factors in place there should be and really to some degree is, a boon in GIS related services. A good programmer with some GIS savvy and good people skills would be able to coax smart, adventurous CEOs to listen.

I think that also it might be possible to pull an inside job and utilize open source data and software to build a "free" system that fixes a problem and get the attention of the CEO (Do it first and ask forgiveness or ask for funding for open source project).

To keep it all from sounding so simple: There is a requirement for all GIS systems. That is validity. What I mean is that the data must be touched, cleaned, updated, and maintained from now on (constantly). It is a good idea to count the cost and design the maintanence system at the beginning (not as an afterthought). If users can't trust the data they won't use it.

Use the KISS (keep it simple stupid) method. It is easier today than it has ever been. Only 5 years ago it was relatively unheard of to expect a national force of GIS people editing your data. Now with OSM (open street map) that is exactly what is happening (especially if your business requirement is national)! So using KISS you can have a few datasets that you spend most of your time maintaining. Using online or regularly download offline data for background and services. Serve it out to the web and desktops with opensource. Using COTS software for the heavy load data analysis and manipulation.

What a dream job!

  • I'm glad you brought this up. This is something I've already given a little thought. Is this an area where you have some experience? I wonder how I could get my foot in the door with such a thing. One thing that's important to me is to have a least one customer early on so I know I'm aiming for the right targets. Dec 2, 2010 at 20:18
  • Since you clearly have experience doing this kind of thing, I'm curious - do you run some kind of GIS consultancy or something? Dec 3, 2010 at 19:10
  • Not now, I have been unemployed before though (just kidding). Right now I'm in oil and gas.
    – Brad Nesom
    Dec 3, 2010 at 21:20
  • I have used Microsoft MapPoint for geocoding and basic business intelligence tasks. microsoft.com/mappoint/en-us/default.aspx
    – jvangeld
    Dec 5, 2010 at 2:51
  • @Brad your up-voted comment is good, informative. The answer itself though is so vague it's hard to attach meaning to it. Perhaps fold the two together. Dec 6, 2010 at 23:06

I think that is the ability to locate objects in TIME other than only in space. Today time is an atribute of objects and X Y Z are coordinates. Maybe in a near future it will be possible to have X Y Z and T coordinates and, make with time, the same nature of interference that we do with space. For example, find objects that overlaps each other in time.


Fill the gap between research and industry.

It is surprising to see how rich are the spatial data handling methods developed by GIS researchers, and how poor are the existing solutions provided in common softwares.


I don't know where you are in the world, but providing training to small non-profits and local governments in the USA using open-source tools, is one area I can see a lot of potential. Of course neither of them have much money. Also, I realize as a programmer this might not of specific interest.

One other area is developing plugins for user-friendly GIS tools (QGIS, for example) to assist with specific challenges these organizations have.

  • 2
    +1. Would anyone like to start "GIS for America" (emulating teachforamerica.org )?
    – whuber
    Dec 3, 2010 at 19:34
  • @whuber I would certainly like to help start it!
    – djq
    Dec 4, 2010 at 4:19
  • @whuber & celenius: You might be interested in codeforamerica.org
    – Dan S.
    Dec 7, 2010 at 17:15
  • @Dan S. & @whuber - that looks, interesting though it's quite high-level. I am more interested in grass-roots training to share the skills (training individuals, or training trainers), rather than codeing something mindblowing! Both are necessary, but my skills lie more in lower-tech problems.
    – djq
    Dec 8, 2010 at 14:52

Unmet need: an automatic generator for unmet GIS business needs.

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    Add to that an automatic generator for solutions to unmet GIS business needs, and we are all set.
    – jvangeld
    Dec 3, 2010 at 0:44

I think there might be demand for a webservice you could install on the same machine as ArcGIS, that exposes log messages. Then provide a thin client to view and filter the log file(s). More background here.

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    Switch to GeoServer and you can already view the log through the Admin Web Interface.
    – Ian Turton
    Dec 3, 2010 at 19:09

Develop a MVVM architecture to allow businesses to quickly put an ESRI Silverlight Map into a Microsoft RIA Services Business App.

Many businesses are looking into Microsoft's WCF RIA Services. If you install that, you can quickly create a Business Application using the visual studio template.

They are also looking at ESRI's Silverlight SDK which provides a nice template the ESRI Standard Mapping application.

What would be helpful is a template that integrates these using MVVM.

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