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Where is the GIS Field Headed? Highlights from an Expert Interview

The geographic information science field is concerned with the ways datasets change over time. So it follows that GIS professionals take a special interest in how their industry changes.

In a recent interview, University of Southern California Professor of the Practice COL [R] Steven D. Fleming discussed the history of GIS and what the future may hold for professionals. His conversation with writer Matt Zbrog of Online Engineering Programs touched on three major changes that are transforming GIS work.

The importance of time: In the science of where, the “when” has become a key component. “If you go back in time 25 years, only about 15% of the world’s data was collected with location and time attached. Today, it’s upwards of 95%,” Fleming says in the interview. Data analysis in real time is also becoming easier thanks to artificial intelligence, machine learning and increased access to an array of connected devices.

Better visualization capabilities: Adding time data means that researchers can review spatial relationships in 4D, taking the field even further from its days of spreadsheets and limited maps. “Today, the ways of visualizing geospatial data are very different than the way they were 20 years ago,” Fleming says. “Where we’re going very rapidly is into the modeling and simulation world, where we interact more with the data instead of just visualizing the data through traditional viewers.”

Experts are needed—now: In 2019, the GIS market surpassed $7.5 billion and that market is expected to grow more than 12% in the next decade. Fleming pointed out that while the industry is currently challenged by a dearth of qualified data scientists, schools like USC are stepping up to meet this demand. He also noted that technical abilities are not the defining characteristics of a successful spatial scientist, but that an aptitude for math and spatial thinking were more important.

Zbrog explained further: “While today’s most in-demand job might be that of a data scientist, that’s rapidly shifting towards a demand for spatial data scientists who are adept at thinking in this three- and four-dimensional way.”

You can read the full “Tech 2020: Geographic Information Systems (GIS)” article, including how the gaming and film industries are playing a role, over on Online Engineering Programs.

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