Friday, July 20, 2007

Where did Geography go?

One thing I regret about my undergraduate studies is that I took no geography courses. I only discovered GIS after I graduated. I enjoy the technical nature of GIS very much but have always been intrigued by the geographic questions that the GIS technologies strive to address.

So you might ask: "if you are intrigued by Geography and GIS why are you working with Smallworld?". Good question... GE seems to have made a decision not to market the Smallworld Core Technology as a GIS but rather to present it as a network management suite of tools. I know that Smallworld can be used for GIS analysis but the product development has not emphasized that at all. (I would be interested to read how you are using the Smallworld tools to understand non-utility geographic issues.)

So because I am still interested in GIS and Geography, Jerome E. Dobson's article "Bring Back Geography!" resonated with me. If you are at all interested in Geography (or wonder what it is) this article is definitely worth reading. (Yes, it is an ESRI site. But if you are interested in Geography and GIS in general, you go to where the information is)

Dobson writes of the role of Geography largely in the United States of America. He writes about how during the 1st and 2nd World Wars, geographers were an important part of preparing for peace after the war. And then he points out that Geography was purged from the major USA Universities after World War II. His call is for geographers to reassert themselves into the public consciousness so that they can make important contributions for the common good.

Because of my daily work with GIS technologies, I always fancied myself a bit of a geographer. Dobson writing about GIS says...

In contrast, advances in GIS alone are likely to cast us as clerks handling data for the ecologists, political scientists, economists, and other current leaders in these topics

I do actually seem myself as a bit of a clerk (or consultant to clerks) that manages data for others. Not that being a clerk is a bad thing... it puts food on my family's table and is something that is also technically challenging and rewarding. But this article has got me thinking about how I can take the next step beyond technology and start learning more about Geography to understand my world better and then also contribute to its common good.


Anonymous said...

I agree with your assertions that GE Energy is doing the Smallworld product a disservice by concentrating on its capabilites with network models and basically ignoring its fundamental abilities as a GIS. I haven't worked with it for very long, but it seems that it is very flexible and highly customizable.

BTW, as something of a Smallworld insider, do you have any insight into the rumor that GE laid off the whole PowerOn development team in Denver and moved development to India?

I also heard that most of the developers ended up at Intergraph working on their I/Service OMS product!

Alfred Sawatzky said...

I, too, have heard rumors of members of the PowerOn development team in Denver being laid off. I would prefer not to deal in rumors, so I did a bit of research on-line. I was not able to find a press release from GE mentioning any PowerOn layoffs. But using my connections on LinkedIn I was able to find the names of many of the PowerOn development team members that I knew in Denver. Based on their updated profiles, it seems that of the 10 names I recognized: 3 stated their current position to be at Integraph, 4 stated they were at GE and 4 stated that they were with other companies.

I have no idea if development was actually moved to India but I suspect that GE may follow outsourcing models that many profit-driven organizations follow. And that may include outsourcing product development to countries where they don't have to pay people as much money.

If there is another PowerOn Users Exchange this year at the Smallworld Americas Users Conference, it will be interesting to see who the members of the technical team will be that are present to listen to customer feedback.

Alfred Sawatzky said...

A person involved with the layoffs indicated that development went to India and Livingston, Scotland. Supposedly all PowerOn customers were already to have been informed of the change in development venues.