The future of GIS

The future of GIS

By Imogen Brown and Tim Letendrie

GIS Day is about raising awareness of how powerful GIS is in solving complex problems across multiple disciplines. PBA, now part of Stantec's GIS Graduate Consultants, Tim Letendrie and Imogen Brown, share their views on how they started out in the field of GIS and where they think it is heading.

Why did we get into GIS?

Tim Letendrie: Having undertaken a BSc Geography course I was exposed to GIS pretty early on with a few core and optional modules being available to me, having opted to choose to take all the GIS modules that I could at undergraduate. I guess what drew me to it was the fact that GIS was so broad and encompassed so many different disciplines, with uses in population mapping, transport, flood risk, site suitability and disaster management. I was also drawn to GIS as it’s a practical subject, and as someone who’s primarily a visual and hands-on learner, it appealed to me in the sense that I was able to think of creative ways to display spatial data and produce maps that not only looked nice, but served as powerful tools to aid decision making. GIS also presented me with the option to go into the field and collect data using drones, GPS’ and laser scanners, from which I was able to monitor coastal cliff retreat and sediment deposition in a glacial river system which was cool as it let me delve into the more experimental side of GIS.

After finishing my undergraduate degree and getting my first taste of GIS I decided to specialise in it and undertake an MSc in Applied GIS and Remote Sensing which allowed me to further explore GIS, opting to do an experimental masters’ thesis which aimed to track cattle movements in relation to objects in the landscape to understand the transmission of Cryptosporidium in Kenya. It was during my masters’ course, having been exposed to the range of applications of GIS both in academia and in the real world, that I decided that GIS was something that I wanted to make a career out of, which brings me to where I am now - a Graduate GIS Consultant at PBA, now part of Stantec.

Imogen Brown: I was first inspired by GIS during my second year studying BSc Geography at the University of Southampton. I developed an appreciation of the changing world through the use of Remote Sensing and Geographical Information Systems (GIS). I found it fascinating how different types of spatial data could be analysed and displayed visually, expressing so much more than large tables and graphs. My favourite aspect of GIS so far is land suitability mapping and accessibility studies. As well as the software side of GIS, I also thoroughly enjoyed the opportunities to utilise GIS in the field. For example, using innovative technologies such as UAVs, Terrestrial Laser Scanners and Differential GPS to monitor cliff retreat on the south coast. My dissertation involved a spatio-temporal analysis of land use evolution on water quality. GIS played a fundamental role in selecting fieldwork sites, calculating land cover change as well as analysing large datasets from 4 months of field data collection and secondary data. Having undertaken modules in River Basin Management, Climatology, Environmental Monitoring and Geomorphology as well as fieldwork modules in Tenerife and Arolla, I became aware of the importance of GIS across multiple disciplines. This led me to choose a career in GIS, whereby I would have the opportunity to work on a variety of exciting projects. I’m looking forward to continuing my learning and development and keeping up to date with the latest software, analytical tools and techniques to deliver innovative solutions.

Where is GIS going?

The future of GIS is exciting. It is an area in science that is continually evolving. The future is likely to see:

• More open source data and software’s evolving

• More efficient, user friendly software interfaces will enable an enhanced number of users to solve complex problems

A greater emphasis will be placed on sharing and collaboration where data is stored in a safe and accessible cloud. Additionally, coding is likely to become an even more valuable skill to develop in order to improve efficiency across multiple disciplines. More applications incorporating GIS into their platforms will enable increased portability and easier data collection, storage, processing and analysis for its users. This is already evident through the implementation of the Collector App for ArcGIS and Survey123. A greater awareness of GIS will be raised through educational schemes within both business practices and education.

What we hope to be working on in 5 years time?

Given that GIS is rapidly developing and changing, it would be expected that the kinds of jobs we’ll be working on might change quite a bit in 5 years time. Due to the increasing accessibility to coding within GIS (such as the Python tools in ArcGIS Pro), we would hope to be able to use this to be able to do more complex things in the realms of decision making, as well as to develop new tools to enable us and others to work effectively and efficiently.

We would also hope to be working on GIS training within the company. As GIS is developing, and becoming increasingly easier and more intuitive to use, it would be great to share our knowledge and expertise of GIS to facilitate others to use it in their jobs, allowing the company to expand its GIS capability.

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