I had a call the other day from a potential client. I actually hate that term – “potential client”. That’s an apt description for everyone these days. I went in and spoke with them and they were suffering from a GIS problem I’m seeing everywhere. They had a need and spoke to a sales person on fixing it. The remedy was actually a pile of software and hardware and I’m pretty sure the salesperson walked off with a nice bonus. I’m not sure of the final cost to potential client. They weren’t happy. I’m guessing they were invested to the tune of 50k or better. Software and some hardware and that didn’t count training and the consultant. In fact they are now so strapped budget wise they will remain a potential client.
Because of the client space I inhabit I struggle a bit daily with the idea of a GIS. A lot of times people mistaken me for the open source zealot. I’ve got a copy of ArcINFO (it’s that name till I die) and I regularly use all the other FOSS4G tools like gdal, qgis, postgis, and geoserver. I use fulcrum. I use a lot of software. What I’ve been telling people that it’s not the name brand of the software you are using. It’s more process than the software. There are a lot of great tools out there that are free or low cost.They aren’t as pretty as the commercial variety – but they work just as well. As I tell people – a clip is a clip and a buffer is a buffer. All GIS software has the same goal – some of the software speaks with an accent.
If you are debating starting a GIS – Find someone who isn’t a salesperson and sit down and ask them what they would do. If they only mention designer brand E please remember it’s 2014. Educate yourself. You might need to talk to several people. Ask a lot of questions. Offend. Ask why every chance you get. Ask who your consultant is affiliated with – are they a “business partner” and what does that get you.
In many of my talks lately I’ve been asking people how their budgets are holding up. That’s an important topic for me since I’m a consultant. Many times I’m hearing pretty much the same thing:
- Don’t sell me more software
- I bought some software and it’s not helping
- Maintenance is killing us
If you’re starting a GIS (and yes there are several of you out there) – explore your options. If you run to ESRI or any large commercial firm expect a sales job. I can almost quote verbatim what you are going to here if you are a manager speaking to sales people. Just remember sales – this is going to make buying a used car seem pleasurable depending on who you are talking too. Please remember at the end of the day the only thing that matters is your data.
If you start exploring the Open Source GIS space you are going to get a lot of kick back. To quote two great examples of what you are going to hear:
- People who use free software should work for free.
- You will never get support from “those people”. They think everything is free and they are here like we are…so if you use the free stuff it’s going to break and you are going to look like an idiot.
I’ve actually heard the above – it’s quite wonderful and extremely humorous considering the source of both of those quotes.
If you are starting a GIS please consider the following:
- Decide what data you need. Does it exist already? Do you need to go out and collect it? Can you collect it or do you need to hire someone to do it.
- Look at your software needs. How much do you want to spend. Look at open source. Look at the commercial stuff. Can you mix and stretch those dollars just a bit more than you think? BTW – you can mix and match. All you need is a process.
- Budget – Budget for a year. Budget for two. Then Budget for five. Budget like this might be successful. Look at your software also. Are you going to spend enough on software you could hire someone else? It happens. That’s a huge argument (for me) for mixing in open source. Jobs. Hiring someone does more for your community than paying more money for software.
It’s 2014. Software doesn’t have to be from one vendor. Your entire GIS setup doesn’t have to be a mono-culture. Servers (think cloud (another word I hate)) are cheaper than they ever have been. Pick the right software and you don’t have to spend a fortune on a workstation. Worry about your data. If you spend more time worry about your software than letting your data work for you you are doing it wrong.