GIS Providers Plot a New Course


GIS Providers Plot a New Course

Integrator involvement in the geographic information systems market has spurred growth and a need for uniformity

Tania Anderson

Geographic nformation systems companies are making room for systems integrators in the $1.2 billion worldwide GIS industry, as the presence of bigger players such as Lockheed Martin and SAIC expands the business during the next three to five years.

Indeed, analysts and the pioneers of GIS say the presence of large systems integrators in the market is expected to grow the pie to $2.4 billion globally by 2000. According to analysts, the industry is growing at a compounded annual rate of 19.5 percent.

"We entered this market about five years ago as the technology started to move forward," said Mark Albrecht, senior vice president of Science Applications International Corp., San Diego. "We are well aware of the potential of the market."

SAIC is now pulling in $200 million annually on GIS contracts. The technology is used to capture, process, manage, display, model and analyze geographically referenced spatial data.

A CSC technician holds a copy of a public land survey that dates back to the 1870s. On the screen is the same survey using GIS technology.

The data is used in a wide variety of ways. A GIS might be used to find wetlands that need protection from pollution. GIS might allow emergency planners to easily calculate emergency response times in the event of a natural disaster.

Five years ago, the GIS market started to open up for systems integrators when major federal agencies such as the National Imagery Mapping Agency, the Department of Agriculture, the Bureau of Land Management and the Geological Survey started to integrate digital geographic information into their existing databases.

"That's the major driving force for why integrators have such a large role today in formulating actual applications that would be driven off traditional database engines," said Louis Hecht, vice president, business development, Open GIS Consortium.

"It is a large role today and it will continue to grow in the future," he said.

The government is still the industry's largest customer. Overall, the federal government spent $254 million on GIS software, hardware and services in 1996, according to Daratech Inc., a research firm in Cambridge, Mass. State and local governments spent $264 million on GIS software, hardware and services in 1996.

One of the largest users of GIS is the Defense Department's National Imagery and Mapping Agency which is responsible for managing and providing imagery and geospatial information to national policy makers and military officials.

The market opened up for systems integrators and database management companies when vendors started building systems that were less proprietary and more standardized. Traditionally, systems integrators were reluctant to enter the market because there was no interoperability among the different GIS vendors. It was a challenge for the integrators to produce integrated systems for single clients.

Integrators such as Bethesda, Md.-based Lockheed Martin Corp. then started getting involved in establishing standards for the technology, industry officials said. Lockheed and other integrators are continuing to work with several different GIS consortiums to develop industry standards.

The pioneers of the GIS market, including companies such as Environmental Systems Research Institute Inc., Intergraph and MapInfo, dominated the industry by providing both the hardware and the software products to government and commercial entities.

George Korte, executive marketing manager for Intergraph's Federal Systems Division in Reston, Va., said the software vendor has been working with systems integrators as partners on contracts for 10 years.

"Their presence ties in with our strategy to develop products that are more standardized," said Korte. "When systems integrators tailor our product to the user, it makes the technology more useful and productive."

Dana Paxson, federal marketing coordinator for ESRI, a GIS software company in Redlands, Calif., said partnering with systems integrators has allowed the company to sell to the Department of Defense, which traditionally has not been a customer for ESRI.

Besides the Department of Defense and NASA, other large government GIS users include the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management.

One of the largest government GIS-related contracts is the Project 615 contract worth $276 million. The eight-year contract was awarded in June 1994 by the U.S. Forest Service to build a state-of-the-art GIS. The contract is designed to allow 35,000 employees in 900 offices to manipulate geographic data more effectively.

Stephen Van Scoyk, manager of advanced programs in mapping systems integration at Lockheed Martin, said the company became very involved last year in supporting geospatial standards and specifications for several different GIS industry groups.

The Management and Data Systems division within Lockheed Martin works in GIS supported geospatial standards and specifications development for the Open GIS Consortium, the International Standards Organization and the American National Standards Institute. A considerable amount of the company's R&D effort has been directed toward GIS development as well, Van Scoyk said.

The Open GIS Consortium, an organization of 85 GIS companies, systems integrators and federal agencies, is credited with moving the industry from a lone technology sitting on a proprietary system to a mainstream application on a more open system.

Founded in June 1994, the consortium is now a nonprofit association that coordinates development of open GIS software technologies. Technology providers and users collaborate to specify common software interfaces and network services that will integrate geographic processing and geographic data to give users unimpeded network-based access to geographic information. Previously, complex and incompatible data formats and noninteroperable GIS systems limited the use of digital geographic information and the growth of the market.

"What integrators like to have is standards because they can mix and match all kinds of components," said Lance McKee, vice president of corporate communications for the Open GIS Consortium in Wayland, Mass.

GIS companies also expect the presence of systems integrators to open up more opportunities in the commercial sector. For example, El Segundo, Calif.-based Computer Sciences Corp. constructed a GIS-based commercial airline traffic flow system in November 1995 for the United Kingdom that updates the position and status of aircraft every three minutes.

SAIC's Albrecht said his company plans to focus beyond the federal government and start targeting state and local contracts as well as some commercial applications. One of the company's first bits of commercial business involves mapping work now under way to support community planning in Tucson, Ariz.

The company's strategy is to cover a broad range of GIS services and related spatial technologies rather than focus on a specific niche within the industry, Albrecht said. SAIC took this approach because of uncertainties over which way the market will turn. Its largest customer is the National Imagery Mapping Agency, which has been outsourcing some of its spatial information needs during the last five years.

"If you limit yourself to one niche, the market could take a big change that you might be unprepared for," said Albrecht. "We believe a very broad range of activity in GIS will put us in a good position to meet the evolving market needs for information and the government's desire to outsource [GIS technology]."

CSC has been embedding the technology into computer systems for the last six years. The company's largest GIS contract is the Automated Land and Mineral Record System, a 10-year, $400 million contract for the Bureau of Land Management. Awarded in April 1993, it calls for CSC to modernize and automate the bureau's administrative, land and mineral records and re-engineer its existing administrative system.

Marcia Kim, vice president of application programs for the systems sciences division of CSC, said the company started targeting the GIS market in the early 1990s with the advent of powerful workstations that were able to run GIS. The company was able to target more clients because the technology became more practical.

"The prices have dropped and GIS is becoming less specialized and more embedded in systems," said Kim.

Hecht said the emphasis of the market in the next two or three years will be on adapting geospatial data into the intranet environment. The move from proprietary systems to open systems will be modeled after the interoperability of Internet standards, said Hecht.

This will become more important as all three levels of the government work to increase communication and collaboration among agencies, according to Hecht.

"That will require these integrators to look more closely at the state and local markets as change begins to percolate in the next 12 months," said Hecht. "The integrators on the federal side are hungrily licking their chops looking at the state market."

However, he said the kind of federal GIS contracts that the integrators have typically been competing for will change in the next three years.

"Contracts like Project 615 and the Automated Land and Mineral Records System will not be coming out again," said Hecht. "Those are dinosaurs of an old technology that was stuck around proprietary technology and solutions."

For one thing, the contracts are not expected to be as lucrative as in the past, in part because of tight budgets. Agencies are likely to refresh their technology and make additions to the system as users' budgets permit.

"People are saying they don't want GIS applications in the corner of their office anymore," said Hecht.

But, he said, it's hard to say how big the piece of the pie will be for integrators. Their role is growing and will continue to grow as the need for integration services increases, he said.

Lockheed Martin plans to take a more focused look at the market in the coming year. "We will focus our systems integration expertise ... and assume an intra-corporate role acting to foster GIS coordination and cooperation between our sectors and companies," said Van Scoyk.

Albrecht said the hardest prediction to make in the market is how the user community will evolve.

"I am absolutely confident that five years from now the dominant consumer of this data would not even make our top 10 list of users today," said Albrecht.

Agency Program Contract Value RFP Date
Agriculture Remote Sensing and Image Processing $50 million on hold
Air Force National Polar-Orbiting Operational TBA March 1997
Environmental Satellite
Protection Agency
ADP Information Resources
Management Service Recompetition
$50 million May 1999
Interior Technical Support Services $30 million February 2000
for the Southern Science Center
Postal Service Wireless Mobile Data
Collection Devices
$500 million January 1997
Transportation Flight Service Automation System
Operational and Supportability
Implementation System
TBA May 1996 (companies have not started bidding)
Transportation Air Traffic Management System TBA March 1997
Development and Integration
Source: Input

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