EEO-AGI Scotland Seminar Review: Designing a more human centric approach for GI

The Edinburgh Earth Observatory (EEO)-AGI and Hutton Club Seminar welcomed Dr Thierry Gregorius, a GI/Geomatic specialist with over 20 years of experience in the industry, currently working as a management consultant for Getech

He came to share his thoughts on the evolution of GIS and how we, geospatial specialists at the heart of GI, have an important role to play in its future.

First, Dr Gregorius reflected on how far GIS has come. Previously, the deployment of enterprise GIS relied on stand-alone disks and the specific organisation of all users involved. Now, in this age of digital transformation, GIS has gone mainstream. It is easier than ever before for smaller organisations to access GI capabilities. Through the migration of information and tools to the cloud, geospatial intelligence can be accessed on any device, anywhere. Dr Gregorius commented that most people in the world use geospatial intelligence every day without even realising it. Most notably, the ubiquity of smartphones has led to GI being integral to all of our lives.

Current frontiers in the geospatial sector include the use of 3D digital twins and geodesy. These newfound capabilities, along with the accessible nature of GI, means that end users often don’t see the need for expertise. This is why geospatial specialists are more important than ever, warned Dr Gregorius. Our unique ability to see the bigger GI picture means we are required to hold everything together in the industry. Where end users may get swept away by exciting technologies, it is our job to look beyond the tools and instead focus on problem definition, use-cases and technology-human interactions.

Dr Gregorius reiterated that the tools we use to solve problems are ultimately a small part of GIS in business. When working with GI data, it’s important to start with the problem and not with the tools; most certainly to pay no heed to the propriety vs open source debate. We must ask ourselves – what is really needed? Moreover, does it even need to be displayed on a map? Too often geospatial specialists get caught up in the visualisation, said Dr Gregorius, when instead we need to simply answer the user’s question. This may be as simple as a “yes” or a “no”.

He reminded us that spatial data has always been in our nature. Even from childhood, the use of our hands to engage with information unlocks capability in our brains and to this day, many meteorologists claim they still find it more intuitive to display weather data by hand. This is why features such as ArcGIS Pro 3D’s ‘sketchy edges’ styling exists – to better engage onlookers with a human-centric display of data. GIS is becoming a professional craft for which humans are at the centre. Moving forwards in my own geospatial career, I endeavour to take these advisements to not put technology and tools at the centre of my work, but rather the people and problems.

“Geospatial is central to understanding 21st Century challenges and therefore so are [geospatial specialists]” – Dr Thierry Gregorius

Author: Jess Roberts, MSc Geographical Information Science (GIS)