Common problems facing the GIS industry (part1 – data focused)

During recent discussions with others in the spatial industry it has become apparent that there are a set of common problems that appear to be facing individuals and

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organisations within the spatial industry. This text tries to summarise the problems, but does not pertain to be an exhaustive account – there are no doubt others. I would appreciate your comments, even if you disagree, and your examples of these happening in the real world.

This is part 1 of the discussion and focuses on data issues.


It appears to be common that people take a copy of a dataset from a central server for their own use. They believe the local copy is then easier to get hold of and utilise down track. Ten’s if not hundred’s of the same dataset may then exist on many computers within an organisation. If nothing else this is not an efficient use of resources.

It is also the case when you consider the same dataset duplicated at multiple organisations. For example, a data custodian owns and maintains a dataset, but then distributes it to many clients. Each of which then hosts a copy, or perhaps many copies.


People and departments stockpile data for their own purposes. They may re-format or supplement it by merging or adding new data fields. It is perhaps done for a specific application requirement. It may not be intentionally kept for their own use, but others do not benefit from the data.


‘It’s my data. I’m keeping it. I’m not sharing it’. They may have modified or even enhanced the data, but the changed data “intentionally” does not find its way back to the central server for others to utilize and benefit from.


Down track duplicated data (as mentioned above), now residing on a local machine, is often re-used. This, now out-of-date data, is used for further analysis and decision making. Decisions therefore are now being made based on old or simply wrong data.

Data distributed by data custodians via CDs/DVDs is immediately out of date. Data CDs/DVDs are cut and then the dataset continues to be updated until the next round of CDs/DVDs are cut, perhaps 3 months or 6 months later. Therefore, in the intermittent period people are using old data for sometimes critical decision making.


I am told that many organisations maintain datasets that could be maintained by 3rd party companies. This would allow them to concentrate on their primary business rather than maintain data. A 3rd party could keep the data up to date at a more cost effective price, under an SLA (Service Level Agrement), and provide a ‘live’ data connection using a web service connection or by publishing changes to their client. I am advised this type of ‘specialisation’ or ‘division of labour’ as per the industrial revolution term is not very common in the spatial arena. In the IT industry in general, companies try to do everything themselves.


Some data is free but other data has costs associated. This is even the case within organisations, where departments may be cross-charged by an another for use of a particularly dataset. I suppose this limits the

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use of sometimes very valuable data. It may have been expensive to capture – so why not maximise the ROI (Return On Investment) by increasing the usage of a dataset.


Often data licensing restricts how the data can be utilised. For example, the user may be allowed to utilise the data on a standalone PC, but not on a website. Some may allow use on an internal website, but not on a public ‘outward facing’ website. Some data providers, for example government agencies, provide ‘downloadable’ data sets – some do not restrict use, but other downloadable datasets have restrictions including for private use only. Users are commonly confused as to how they are allowed to utilise data. This is potentially very dangerous and costly from a legal point of view.

Part 2 of the discussion will move on from data issues to cover process and system problems.


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