GIS is Changing!

I want to propose a change in the acronym “GIS.” I’m advocating for the “I” to change from Information to Intelligence; so GIS would now be Geographic Intelligence System, not Geographic Information System. Now, this might look like splitting hairs, so let me explain.

First, let me say that I am a bit jealous of the buzz around Business Intelligence—I think for good reason too. You see, this industry has captured the imagination of businesses in the past 10 years (and especially the last 4 or 5 years). It has created such a ruckus in the market that schools (both accredited and not) are rearranging their curriculum to figure out how to launch students into this lucrative market. I believe that much of this “buzz” has been developed because the technology’s name is so digestible. Almost anyone can figure out, or at least guess at, the importance and propriety of Business Intelligence—it just makes sense.

On the other hand, there is GIS or Geographic Information System. Anyone want to guess what that means? Only we, as “insiders,” really can explain this technology with a semblance of correctness, but I wonder how many of us still fail at trying to impart the power of GIS and its appropriateness in almost all business endeavors for solving critical problems and helping to make decisions. You see, to me, “Information” falls short of explaining this technology.

Information is indicative of what a system is, not what a system can do. Information sounds like I will hand you just another bit of something that adds to your already burgeoning collection of stuff. More information might just add to your problem, not solve it. And that is the rub. I have always thought of GIS as a decision support tool that can help to coalesce and answer some of the toughest business and government questions out there. It truly is an Intelligence system that can help transition from mere theory to actionable decisions. In this light it fits into the pantheon of Business Intelligence most snugly—in fact, I would say that GIS was the precursor to Business Intelligence before anyone even had a word for it.

Let’s not kid ourselves. Business Intelligence is a force that will only get stronger as more CEOs and upper executives begin to understand the power of these decision support tools. GIS is NOT about maps alone. It is about giving CEOs and other executives tools that will help them make the critical decisions they make every day (or try to make with less than adequate resources). GIS is, in fact, a critical piece in Business Intelligence. It is only appropriate that instead of fighting this trend, we join it. Let’s change from Geographic Information System to Geographic Intelligence System—because that is truly what it is anyway.

Michael Bishopp-GIS Analyst at Microsoft