Choosing a GIS that is right for you
Earlier today I ran across a very interesting article entitled "Take control of your maps" . The author really caught my attention as I have a keen interest in Open Source web mapping or "slippy mapping" applications like Google Maps and Open Layers (which is a free piece of software that allows you to create your own Web Map). In the past year or so, I have been paying close attention to what is going on in the GIS Open Source community. There are so many ways to integrate the fundamental principals of what a GIS is (or does) in to your existing system that its gotten terribly difficult to decide what is best for you. What is the best practice for finding a GIS that fits you and the needs of your organization?
Each user must first decide what they really need and ask question after question until they have nailed down a few solutions that work best for them. I encourage everyone to ask themselves the following:
- Do you require a web application like the author in the aforementioned article talks about or will a desktop application work?
- Will a centralized database technology be required because you own large amounts of data that many users access at a single time? Most users, even advanced users, use a file-based data like the shapefile to get their job done. Those of us who deal with raster data don't really need their data stored in a database either...
- Do you prefer to have a COTS solution or will an Open Source solution work best for you? The difference between the two can be tremendous! The COTS products usually have corporate backing which allows the end user (you) to get support on demand and a variety of other options that the Open Source projects simply cannot do. I say that so easily, "Open Source projects simply cannot do" but the truth of the matter is that most or all Open Source projects have a great way of providing free support and update services. They often provide a list serve or forum group that other contributors to the project monitor. This is a great and relatively easy way to get information BUT...9 times out of 10 you have to be a pretty savvy developer to decipher what the hell everyone is talking about.
- Do you even need a full-blown mapping system or do you really only care about your spatial data represented in an end product like a GeoPDF? If this is the case, by all means hire someone to act as a consultant and save yourself time and money.
I must admit that I am no savvy GIS programmer but I can make it work when I have to. That being said, there is no substitute for being able to call someone on the phone to chat about why you are having problems. I have not seen this level of support within the Open Source community but obviously I have not looked that hard. At TerraGo, we offer support services for all of our products so there is always going to be an answer to your question. For the Open Source stuff you would have to go to a company that offers consulting when you get really stuck on a problem. Digital Edge, LLC is a good example of one such service company.
All in all...there is no substitute for a free application but with that comes a huge gap in what you would expect in your application, piece of mind!!!