Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Competitive advantage with free GIS tools

For years I have been advocating the advantage of matching the tools to the job, that is selecting those that are “fit for the purpose”. Nothing more and nothing less, because it is either a waste of money or you end up with inadequate solution which will not deliver expected results. Logical, but not very common approach in corporate life…

Why would you spend thousands on something that you can use for free to get the job done? Many apply this principle in their private lives but do not extend it to their business activities. There is always more than one way to skin the cat, and very often applying your “old toolbox” to new problems will simply not work (eg. big data in GIS!). In a competitive world, or where resources to accomplish the task are scarce, only the smart ones, who are able to think outside the square, will get the job done and will advance… 

In particular, very often organisations buy packaged solutions, which come bundled with extensive range of functional tools, but which are rarely used, if at all. Microsoft’s Word or Excel are classic examples (not picking on Microsoft specifically but they are a good point in case that everybody can relate to). It could be argued that 80% of users utilise less than 20% of built-in functionality. But organisations are paying the full price for all of them. As an old saying goes, “No one got sacked for buying Microsoft”… because it is presumably the least risk option. The same can be extended to many GIS solutions…

It could also be argued that the larger the organisation, the less likely it is to look for cheaper alternatives. Why? It is “easy” for the IT department to deal with limited number of software, easy for buyers because they are buying “the brand”, easy for users because their skills are transferable to the next job… But spare a though for what it does to the bottom line of an organisation. Don’t get me wrong, there are many, many cases where buying the whole package makes perfect sense, even financial, but it can also be argued that in many more cases this is simply overkill. The issue is particularly relevant for smaller organisations.

What if you could get 80% of functionality of “branded solutions” (functionality you really need) for 20% of the price? The answer: you could actually end up with 4 times the functional capability of your competitors who are paying the full price for one solution!

Modern GIS, BI, reporting dashboards and similar solutions do not have to be expensive. If you are a small business, or organisation that is conscious about the costs, you can deploy solutions at a fraction of the cost of branded software used by the big business.

Take for example this single page, satellite imagery catalogue created with free Google Map and Google Fusion Tables. It includes attribute and time range filters as well as location search. It is capable of handling of up to 100,000 items:



Software cost: $0
Infrastructure cost: $0
Maintenance cost: $0* (until Google deprecates the service)
Development cost: “a few” hours

Simple, yet delivering in full the core search functionality of bigger systems that would cost tens of thousands to deploy and maintain. It allows users to quickly determine what imagery is available for a given location and within a given time frame and under what licence. Individual scenes can be inspected to determine precise coverage extents (ie. scene footprint) as well as cloud density (ie. preview quicklook) before following up with an email enquiry about the access to the information. 

The main game is not about “cutting the corners” or blunt “cost cutting”. It is all about being smart and applying “fitness for purpose” principle… You can gain a lot by talking to people who provide solutions and not only those who sell branded software.

1 comment:

LSU Justin Farrow said...

You are right on target with this post! have you heard of the Survey Earth in a Day 2.0 event? many of these free resources will be used to unite land surveyors around the world for a single day surveyearth.com (didn't want to spam your blog) Great post as always!