GIS, IT, and the Interests Served by a Dysfunctional Status Quo

by Brian Timoney

Last week I had the pleasure of speaking at the FOSS4G Conference here in Denver, Colorado.  As has been noted elsewhere, it was a high-energy event loaded with quality technical content. With a time slot at the end of the day, I sought to change gears and speak about the role the cultural values of open source might play in an industry whose best work is too often stifled by bureaucratic intransigence and the narrow interests of entrenched vendors. While I’m proud that the vast majority in my industry are committed professionals who want to do right by their users, I am both puzzled and angered that so many projects we put in front of the public, after millions of dollars spent, fall far short of expectations.


A pleasant surprise in the aftermath of the talk was being approached by folks from the very agencies I had “called out” and being thanked for shining a modest light on the dysfunction they have been wrestling with for years. Just to be clear, the projects I highlighted weren’t chosen for being particularly egregious, but rather for being all-too-typical.

As the open source model gains traction in the geospatial industry, much ink is being spilled discussing key issues such as total-cost-of-ownership, support, security, etc.  Such scrutiny is all to the good, especially if accompanied by an equally open conversation of the benefits and costs of the status quo that all too often fails to serve users and practitioners alike.


—Brian Timoney