[OSGeo Africa] FOSS vs ESRI and other GIS issues

Ray Schaller rschaller at nwpg.gov.za
Wed Jun 5 01:00:27 PDT 2013

Hi All
I have been following the debate around Tshwane illegally requesting
tender for ESRI software. Questions that are linked to the above are?
·        Do we have enough Professional GIS Practioners in the public
sector. Often when government departments advertise for a GIS post, the
only applicants applying are those who have just left universities, with
the majority of them, only having undertaken a semester course in GIS.
These individuals end up getting employed, and are often tasked to
manage the GIS. Very few government departments employ a critical mass
of GIS staff with the result that the GIS is often run by one individual
and never properly implemented. No long term benefits are seen arising
as a result of implementing a GIS, which results in decision-makers
wanting to budget less on GIS.
·        These same individuals continually request GIS training. If
budgets allow they go on training. They learn what the software does but
many of them still have no idea on how to apply the software in there
everyday jobs. 
·        They are not programmers and have no idea on how to adapt the
open source software to their needs. They are totally reliant on service
providers to assist them. These service providers fees are often 
similar to what a company like ESRI charges. 
·        Because of the lack of skills and capacity on behalf of the
Govt. Departments, Service Providers are called to assist in all
technical matters. These same departments face budget constraints. 
·        I have witnessed cases where there is little scalability built
into the solutions provided. When changes need to be made you need to
either contract in the same service providers because they have not
prepared to release the source code, or you have to start from scratch.

·        There is merit in contracting in the services of a sizeable
IT/GIS company to provide a solution. Costs can be brought down as large
companies generally have the expertise in building a complete system. 
·        Recently the Free State Administration has been in the
limelight with regards the amount that has been paid for providing what
is basically an open source web solution. 
A question that I would like answered is why do we need to pay for the
development of a information system/ enterprise GIS more than once. For
example, every provincial environmental department needs a permitting
system. We are seeing service providers developing a system for one
province and then taking the same source code and developing a system
for another province. Why can't national departments undertake a user
requirements of what is required at all levels of government. They
should be developing an information system with each provincial and
local department being provided with a component that has been
specifically being designed for their needs. As taxpayers we are paying
for the development of a specific system many times over.
This also applies to data. Government bodies or should I say  Tax
payers are paying service providers to source datasets that should be
residing in an SDI or with a known data custodian. 
For GIS community to really take off in the country, we need to look at
the human component first. What skills are needed and where does
capacity need to be built. We need GIS and IT/IS professionals to be
mentors. We need professionals  to adjudicate our government tenders
with regards IT/IS/GIS developments. To be recognized by PLATO as a GIS
Professional or GIS Technologist one needs to be mentored as a GIS
Professional. How many GIS professionals are there and where are they
being employed. Very few GIS professionals exist, I stand to be
corrected but up to a year ago only 1 professional was registered in the
North West. 
To end off Adi mentions that he is undertaking an audit of what has
been spent on GIS software. This audit needs to be expanded to cover the
·        Number of GIS individuals employed within each of the
government institutions and there level of exp·        What is spent on GIS budgets every year.
·        The level of implementation with regards GIS in the different
government departments, i.e. What do they do with GIS.
·        The level of IT support in these departments. GIS is not going
to succeed without proper departmental IT support.
·        The level of implementation of a FOSS solution versus a over
the counter solution, i.e. ESRI or Integraph. 

Ray Schaller
Conservation Planner
 Department:Economic Development, 
Environment, Conservation and Tourism
North West Provincial Government 
Republic of South Africa
Tel:      +27-18-389-5324
Fax:     +27-18-389-5646
Cell:     +27-82-375-9934
Email:  rschaller at nwpg.gov.za


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