I was reading an article on gislounge.com, “GIS Industry Trends and Outlook” and I was pleasantly surprised at how much GIS has grown despite the economic downturn of the past few years. Mainstream media sources keep highlighting unemployment rates, outsourcing and economic turmoil; however, what they eschew from their broadcasts are the job sectors and industries that have been successful and continue to thrive through this economy. According to sources cited in the article GIS as an industry has grown 10.3% in 2010 and another 8.3% in 2011, resulting in net worth of just about 5 billion (US dollars). This is great news for anyone studying Geography or GIS in school or recently graduated from such a program. What is even better news is that the GIS Industry is predicted to keep growing. According to report on GIS in a global perspective, published by Global Analysts Incorporated (GAI) in 2012, worldwide growth of the GIS industry is predicted to be 10.6 billion by 2015. This is only three years from now!
This is an excellent time for Geospatial Science, GIS and Geographers. We now live in a time where geography is being re-valued, very highly. In addition, innovation and applicability of geographic technology is becoming crucial to our big technology companies; GIS is not just GPS or a Homeland Security tool anymore. In fact GIS can be linked to bigger success, which has seen the light of mainstream media.
Take for example some of the most successful technology companies today like Apple and Google. While Apple may be worth 400 billion and Google around 180 billion, these billions in worth cannot exclude GIS technology and GIS applications as major contributors to their growth. Google Maps for example has been expanding for years and constantly adding GIS features along the way. From the basic route calculations for directions, to interactive map overlays, ESRI ArcMap plug-ins, online map developer tools, satellite imagery integration, 360 street views, and much more, Google Maps has become a playground for online GIS application and innovations.
Apple on the other hand has put these technologies and applications in your palm. GPS apps and geo-location features in the iPhone 4 and 4S have had a huge impact on smartphone sales, utility and popularity. Just ask a friend with a smartphone about geo-location features, if you do not have a smartphone, and they will most likely be capable of displaying a satellite image of your home in the palm of their hand. This is possible through the Google Earth app and other geo-apps available on the iPhone or other smartphones. This has made smartphones very popular and also quite useful taking precedent over a GPS in some cases.
The amount of people in the US who own an iPhone today can be estimated around 100 million give or take, and according to wired.com, over 33% of Americans own a smartphone. This means that the geo-location features and GPS apps of the iPhone and other smartphones are rampant in the US. It also serves as an example of applied GIS technology spreading like a plague.
Taken from market research done by Nokia, the amount of people in the US that have smartphones and have also most likely used a “use my current location” feature or a GPS app is equivalent to almost a third of the countries population. This means about a third of the US population has been using GIS enabled technology in the palm of their hand.
The “geo-tag” feature, also a GIS enabled feature, available on many smartphone’s has practically revolutionized photo and social media apps. Thus the value and desirability of an iPhone, arguably Apple’s most profitable and popular products today, can be linked, in part, to the success of geo-features and GPS apps that would not be possible without GIS.
In summary the GIS industry is growing and its applications to innovative technology and internet companies such as Google and Apple is also growing as those companies continue to prosper.
Thanks to Homeland Security, the government has contributed to the growth of GIS in this economy. According to the GIA report cited on gislounge.com, “…the North American GIS market remained comparatively (to European markets) strong, largely due to the efforts of governments to improve homeland security.” In addition to homeland, natural disaster relief has become another application of GIS that is here to stay. According to Caitlin Dempsey, writer for, gislounge.com, natural disaster relief has been one of the key applications that has helped GIS proliferate as a visual tool for media and relief experts.
Geography and GIS are here to stay and the job market is growing year after year. In fact, president of ESRI, Jack Dangermond cites from a US Department of Labor study that the GIS market is “growing at an annual rate of almost 35 percent, with the commercial subsection of the market expanding at the rate of 100 percent each year.”
Things looking up for GIS and Geography majors, with an annual growth rate of 35% in a slow economy, applications in smartphones, applications to Google Maps, homeland security research, disaster relief response, emergency response applications, and even applications in the business world. The future is bright indeed for those who heed skills in digital cartography and other geospatial applications. However, with great growth widespread like this there will always be competition. Yes there will be geographic competition in geographic technology based disciplines.
My advice: learn more about your geographically diverse competitors, because North Americans are not the only ones who know how to handle ArcMap and Python!