[OSGeo Africa] FOSS vs ESRI and other GIS issues

Suzi Crossley suzic at africoast.com
Wed Jun 5 01:21:28 PDT 2013

Well put Ray – I have had experience with that.  


From: africa-bounces at lists.osgeo.org [mailto:africa-bounces at lists.osgeo.org] On Behalf Of Ray Schaller
Sent: 05 June 2013 10:00 AM
To: Africa local chapter discussions
Subject: [OSGeo Africa] FOSS vs ESRI and other GIS issues


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 following:

·        Number of GIS individuals employed within each of the government institutions and there level of expertise.

·        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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