Preliminary Research Findings
In 2020, an increasing amount of location data is being collected and leveraged for business insights. Geospatial technology holds powerful capabilities to make that data meaningful and actionable.
With the growing demand for and interest in geospatial technology, we embarked on a market research effort on the geospatial technology market. We want to understand how organizations are using this technology to solve their data challenges.
We went into this research effort with the assumption that a number of organizations were using free and open source software for geospatial (also known as FOSS4G) to process, store, and deliver business-critical location data. Through interviews and surveys, we’ve been trying to better understand how organizations use this software, how they’re using proprietary tools, and areas where they may be facing challenges.
Based on our first round of interviews and survey responses, here are some of our initial findings on the geospatial technology market.
Our Preliminary Findings
Few organizations use FOSS4G exclusively. Most use a hybrid of FOSS4G and paid proprietary geospatial software.
We assumed we would find many organizations using FOSS4G tools exclusively for end-to-end business critical operations and insights. We didn’t. Rather, over half the people we surveyed thus far reported using a hybrid approach of open source and proprietary tools for geospatial data at their organization. Just over one quarter of respondents reported the use of proprietary tools only (such as ESRI), and strikingly, only one respondent reported using open source tools alone.
What FOSS4G offers in terms of powerful geospatial data processing at scale, it lacks in user experience.
Interviewees helped us understand the power behind the capabilities of open source software for geospatial. They also discussed experiential challenges for employees to learn, maintain, and support the code. Developers must manage dependencies between the open source tools inside of a system, application, or framework. When implementation questions arise, the path to locating an answer can translate to hours of research and reading on community forums.
Support in the open source world is lacking, opportunity for trainings and easy way to contact support... There isn’t a QGIS.com to call and get that from. - FOSS4G developer, 5/26/20
When highly trained individuals spend time looking for information instead of the work for which they’re most skilled, operational costs increase. We learned that organizations using FOSS4G successfully had a process for getting support when problems surfaced but that costs associated with education, training, and support could be underestimated.
The market has a spatial computing skills gap; finding expertise is a challenge.
Another theme was the challenge of finding spatial computing expertise. 47% of respondents thus far reported that finding adequate expertise was “very challenging.” Software engineers lacked adequate spatial domain knowledge. But spatial analysts and scientists lacked adequate software engineering skills to use FOSS4G technology. Enterprise decision makers shared the challenge of finding this unique blend of skills and experience to adequately solve technical problems with spatial data.
[It’s] hard to find people that have solid geospatial software engineering experience... I’m interested in someone who can hit the ground running; they have built large scale systems to handle geospatial data in a company setting. - Enterprise decision maker, 6/4/2020
Improving data quality is a significant challenge for organizations with geospatial data.
Survey responses to date indicate improving data quality is a pressing concern for organizations. For organizations using FOSS4G, the integration of separate tools and plugins may require extra steps to maintain data quality.
While fewer organizations are using FOSS4G than we initially expected, many use a mix of open source and proprietary tools for their geospatial data. For organizations seeking to leverage open source technology, our results point to process opportunities that can minimize operational costs. Finally, regardless of the tools a company is using, data quality, and finding the right expertise are top challenges.
Do these preliminary findings resonate with you and your organization? We are still conducting interviews and our survey is still open. We’d love to include your input in our research.
Reach out to us with any questions or discussion. We’d love to hear from you.
At 1904labs, our mission is to partner with our clients to solve software and data challenges. Our solutions typically leverage open source software to help our clients. Some examples include helping large enterprises process and store data at scale, provide a framework for visualizing data on a map, and report spatial data trends.