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Choosing Geospatial Software? Sometimes It’s Apples vs. Oranges

Joe Francica 

Senior Director of Geospatial Strategy

October 13, 2021

Choosing Geospatial Software? Sometimes It’s Apples vs. Oranges

Recently, a report surfaced on the web–generally a highly reliable source, right?–that listed the “Best Geographic Information Systems (GIS) Software.” The SoftwareReviews’ report listed 20 software solutions that were considered top choices and offered a buyer’s guide about each software product’s “customer experience,” “emotional footprint,” and customer’s “likeliness to recommend.”

For anyone that is unfamiliar with geospatial technology and looking for a resource to help them purchase a solution, our advice is to question whether the report is from an authoritative source. Reports that include lists of “the best” or “highest CX score” should be read with caution. Reviews like the one mentioned above have almost nothing to do with functionality or whether the software is adapted to your business objectives. One of the criteria used in the aforementioned report is “Product Feature & Satisfaction” and is measured “by combining users’ satisfaction with the top features with the likelihood of users to recommend the software.” Read this sentence carefully again. It says, “the top features.” What are the top features? Is it map visualization, querying, map layout and cartographic symbolization? It’s hard to tell and does not specifically identify them.

The Elephant in the Room

First, this report has some glaring inconsistencies with respect to how products are ranked. Historically, other market research reports, have consistently acknowledged the leader of GIS products as Esri and ArcGIS as the most utilized geospatial software solution. Regardless of what you think of ArcGIS, whether you are a user or a competitor, the rankings from this report alone would be enough to discount the entire survey. Esri’s ArcGIS is rated sixth overall; third worst in terms of product features and second worst in vendor experience. It also has a lower “emotional footprint” than GE SmallWorld. Under the category of “Vendor Experience and Capabilities,” attributes of trustworthy, respectful, and fair are considered. Esri was ranked fourth. In the category of “Product Feature Satisfaction” Esri ranked sixth.

Consider now the criteria of “emotional footprint.” If you have ever been to an Esri User Conference (UC), you know that it is a veritable GIS love fest, and all this emotion is directed at the company that has supported their application development for over 50 years. If rankings are based on feedback from users, the report authors did not survey ArcGIS users. No single GIS solution is perfect, certainly not ArcGIS, but it’s an extremely functional and performant suite of software solutions. It’s the leader in GIS; hands down, no questions.

Why This Report is Flawed

Reports like this are, at best, incredibly misleading, and at worst, disingenuous to those researching geospatial technology.

Let’s dive deeper into the report.

Missing Players

First, the report is incomplete as it fails to capture data on two of the most popular and most used desktop mapping solutions: MapInfo Pro and QGIS. MapInfo, first launched in 1986, has been consistently improved and its version updates have been maintained ever since. In fact, a new version of MapInfo Pro was released in October 2021. It’s ease of use has often been cited as one of its key qualities. With regard to QGIS, its emotional footprint should be off-the-charts. Its loyal users and developers have made it the leading open-source geospatial technology. QGIS’s breadth of functionality has made it a favorite of local governments that appreciate the low initial cost.

Second, the report excludes Google, whose map platform and APIs are the most used today and whose data are used by app developers globally. But, if Google had been included, then HERE Technologies should have been too. HERE’s mapping platform as well as its APIs are key products in logistics, transportation and now used as the base mapping data for advanced driver assistance systems.

In summary, as the report fails to list two of the most used software solutions such as MapInfo Pro and QGIS, and the top mapping platforms, Google and HERE, how can readers reliably consider this a basis for making an investment in a software solution or data portfolio?

Compare According to Your Business Objectives

Next, consider that this report fails to acknowledge that there is a huge chasm when trying to compare software solutions based on the problem or business goal each is best equipped to tackle. CARTO and Mapbox are great for users that want to customize their analysis and map output. AutoCAD Map 3D is, as the name implies, underpinned by AutoCAD’s computer-aided design (CAD) and engineering technology. It includes capabilities to render maps in 3D as well as supporting building information models (BIM). Bentley System’s geospatial solutions are also sought after for tackling large engineering projects where BIM models are required to be used and shared among architect, engineering, and construction (AEC) firms. GE’s SmallWorld GIS is a utility (gas, water, electric) management software solution used, as you would expect, by large energy and utility companies.

If you get the impression that the comparison of software solutions evaluated in this report are “apples and oranges,” you’d be correct. It indicates a level of ignorance about the differentiation of each solution. The problem with this specific survey is that it lumps all GIS solutions into a common bucket. Consequently, the survey is worth it only to the extent that it recognizes “some” of the products in the market but fails to differentiate each based on the design philosophy and business premise upon which each was developed.

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Five Companies Named Geospatial Intelligence Innovators

While definitely not in the same category as the Software Reviews’ report, IDC, a more reputable market research company, recently listed “Five Companies Offering Location and Geospatial Intelligence Solutions Named IDC Innovators.” The companies they cited are CARTO, Capella Space, Inpixon, IQGeo and xyzt.ai. Here, each company offers widely varying technology as well. CARTO is a mapping platform; Capella Space provides synthetic aperture radar imagery; Inpixon delivers a solution to integrate indoor mapping data; IQGeo is focused on delivering a solution for the utility and telecommunications industry; and finally, xyzt.ai offers a platform to analyze and scale large volumes of geospatial data.

Indeed, all could be considered innovators as they offer solutions from the wide spectrum of geospatial technology, but they should not be compared to each other. According to the IDC press release, “IDC Innovators’ reports present a set of vendors–under $100 million in revenue at time of selection–chosen by an IDC analyst within a specific market that offer an innovative new technology, a groundbreaking approach to an existing issue, and/or an interesting new business model. It is not an exhaustive evaluation of all companies in a segment or a comparative ranking of the companies.”

The IDC report provides information about the technology or data specialty that each company offers. IDC provides neither a comparison nor an opinion, but the objective is to point you toward a technology worth considering, if the user has a need for it. IDC will provide a report on all five for a fee.

Where To Turn for Geospatial Expertise

The purpose of highlighting each report here is to show a growing challenge that many companies are facing as they come to learn how to leverage location-based data and geospatial technology. As we know, every credit card transaction, every tag or check-in on a social media app, and every search for the most recent weather forecast captures location-based data. Geospatial data is extremely beneficial to many industries but which data, which software, and which solution to choose presents a challenge, especially when organizations lack the expertise to make sense out of it.

The solution is to engage with an independent consultant with an agnostic approach that helps companies make the most informed decision. In addition, you should choose a consultant with the experience to reduce the complexity of not just the geospatial software and data to use but the knowledge about integrating solutions within the organization’s primary IT infrastructure. With the volumes of location-based data being captured today, challenges exist to build a modern, cloud-native environment that supports geospatial data processing. This last challenge alone is missing entirely from SoftwareReviews’ report but is an extremely important element that is sometimes misunderstood by organizations making substantial investments in geospatial.

We encourage you to contact Korem. We are a provider of independent advice and expertise, and North America’s one-stop shop for geospatial technology.

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