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Choosing the Right GIS Platform For Your Organization

Wade Anderson, Former SVP of SMB - Sep 17, 2019 11:00:00 AM

Choosing the Right GIS Platform For Your Organization (featured image)

There are many different types of GIS platforms. 

Choosing the right one for your organization depends on a variety of factors -- your specific needs, platform usability, costs, etc.

Fortunately, there are many high-caliber options available today. Technology has increased GIS access dramatically, which is excellent news for smaller enterprises and businesses.

In this article, we provide an overview of the three main categories of GIS products:

  • Web-based
  • Desktop-based
  • Server-based

Using one or a combination of these applications, you can provide differentiated services for your end users over the long term. As a fiber network operator, finding the best GIS for your needs is an absolute necessity in today’s increasingly connected world. 

The User-Friendly Choice: Web-Based Applications

In the past, enterprises had dedicated GIS teams. Only expert users knew how to create high-quality visualizations or perform the right manipulations on geographic data. 

Web-based platforms were also much more expensive than they are today. The barriers to entry were high, making it hard for businesses with less capital to tap into the value that GIS applications bring to the table. 

Now, GIS applications are much more cost-effective, intuitive, and easy-to-use, especially when it comes to web-based applications. 

Web-based GIS platforms are perfect for organizations that need a powerful mapping software without all of the fancy bells and whistles. Analysts can use web-based applications to create interactive maps using drag-and-drop interfaces. In minutes, web-based GIS programs can produce beautiful visualizations that tell clear stories about underlying data. 

Another advantage of web-based GIS platforms is that they allow users to work with their datasets from anywhere, at any time. Access to GIS tools is virtually unlimited, thanks to the internet and advancements in cloud computing.

One leading web-based GIS program is Google Earth Pro, which is now available for free. Google Earth Pro (previously $399) allows users to map multiple data points simultaneously and add different types of data layers, such as demographic and traffic layers. The program is a great option for those who are just beginning to explore GIS.

The Heavy-User Choice: Desktop

Desktop GIS solutions are extremely powerful. 

They come with sophisticated mapping and analytical capabilities. Organizations use desktop GIS to create stunning visualizations and perform complex queries on large data sets. 

Desktop applications tend to come with more tools than web-based systems. Whereas web-based programs include most core capabilities, desktop programs come with a broader set of functions that can help answer more nuanced research questions.

However, this means that there is also a steeper learning curve when it comes to mastering all that desktop programs have to offer. While it is easier today than ever before to learn the basics, mastering desktop GIS applications can take a long time.

Another disadvantage of desktop solutions is that all geographic data is stored locally. Remotely located teammates cannot work on the visualizations or queries at the same time. Desktop applications also tend to be more expensive than web-based solutions. 

Many GIS developers today offer both desktop and web-based products. For example, ESRI sells both an ArcGIS Pro product and access to ArcGIS Online. The company also offers GIS apps and allows developers to design their own. For large enterprises that may need both a web-based and desktop GIS solution, ESRI is a perfect place to start.  

The Niche-Expert Choice: Server-based

Even more powerful than desktop GIS solutions are server-based programs. 

These GIS applications are often used for highly complex mapping projects and visualizations in niche markets. Organizations go this route because they want a system that can support multiple users simultaneously who are all working with overwhelming amounts of data. On top of that, these users must be able to perform incredibly specialized queries and analyses that might only be relevant for a narrow set of applications.

Server-based GIS programs are the hardest to use of the products described here and require the most skill. Like desktop applications, they are also far more costly than web-based solutions. 

iSMART is a leading enterprise solution that begins at $1,200 per year for a single user license. However, clients can use iSMART to tackle challenging problems that web-based and desktop GIS applications would not be able to handle. 

Making The Right GIS Choice

As a fiber network operator, what is most important on this particular journey is making sure you understand what you need in a GIS application. 

You must be able to visualize your entire network, identify all critical components, and perform analyses in real-time. You also need to be able to troubleshoot your network quickly and easily share query results with the right people. It is important that you take the time to explore various GIS applications and use free trials to see what works well for your business. 

GIS platforms are no longer just for large enterprises with deep pockets. You and your team can master a GIS solution and enhance your fiber network operations in many ways.