[OSGeo Africa] Another illegal GIS RfQ - Open source or commercial GIS software or both?

CJ Sikasula cj.sikasula at cjandsconsultants.com
Fri Oct 18 03:58:10 PDT 2019

Thanks Prof



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From: Africa [mailto:africa-bounces at lists.osgeo.org] On Behalf Of G Tadonki
Sent: 18 October 2019 12:30 AM
To: Africa local chapter discussions
Subject: Re: [OSGeo Africa] Another illegal GIS RfQ - Open source or commercial GIS software or both?



I felt it may help to share a few bits from my experience with large-scale GIS operations and procurement in the United Nations, either in direct implementation or providing support to national public entities. There is no clear cut solution in GIS that fit all.

1.       If you are in an organization with a strong policy environment covering IT and procurement, things are tight. You must comply, your margin for innovation is limited and the fight is often not worth it or too risky. Furthermore, things are complicated with money, influence and monopolies. Therefore, the choice for GIS and other software, it is not black and white. Safely follow your organization’s rules.


2.       Generally, my advice is to go for the GIS infrastructure and software that you can AFFORD and you can really USE, and follow GEOSPATIAL standards. This statement comes with many implications. But let’s keep it simple: what GIS can you afford and will contribute to the overall productivity of your organization?  At the end of the day, what matters is productivity and results using GIS. Wishful thinking is a costly mistake. I know many organizations with sophisticated hardware and the latest version of costly GIS software but with little usage/productivity. This situation is to be avoided.


3.       In some cases, if you can afford it, go commercial or open source with good support services (not always easy).


4.       If you cannot afford it, don’t get stuck in the prehistory of GIS software. Go open source and be ready to get your hands dirty to get results. Today on the desktop side (including as a client to a server), there are great software for free and the support cost is low, as many helping hands are around. Just be prepared to invest time to learn, educate and share. There are tons of free manuals, tutorials, videos, user and expert forums, etc. Yes, there is a learning curve, but it can be fun. Guess what, all software have a learning curve, even commercial software.


5.       Look at OSes, Linux Ubuntu or Mint are great distros. If you are stuck with Windows 7, please move to Linux Ubuntu, you will see your productivity jump. Ubuntu is beautiful and very likely to have all the drivers for all the equipment in your office. It is more secure than Windows 7 and it will take your staff into the twenty-first century of desktop computing. Literally, everything new and up to date will be available to you and your colleagues (I have been using Linux since the first version and I have tried tons of distros, I still do it lately, I am very happy with Ubuntu and Mint). It is a good idea to invest a little in training for your IT support staff, a bit of training for staff and be creative in motivating users to work with Ubuntu. Look at OpenOffice, LibreOffice, Thunderbird for email, QGIS, GRASS, SAGA, and tons of software you can safely install on Linux workstations with just an Internet connection and a safe click from a valid repository, without paying a dime. Think about that and try it. Many assumptions on how hard opensource software are outdated.


6.       On the server-side, Linux is the way to go in Africa, particularly for geospatial infrastructure. Keep standards in mind.


7.       Let’s not go too far. In the early days of desktop GIS, ArcView was great but costly, although easy to crack… I saw many organizations in 3rd world countries do great things with ArcView, using scripts, etc. (cracked, no dongle…). Came MapInfo, a lot easier, full of data capturing and editing functions (also easy to crack…). ArcInfo was a lot more costly and difficult to implement and … to crack (but many cracked versions were available too…).


8.       ArcGIS environment is beautiful, tested and highly supported. QGIS has matured fast, as a free solution. QGIS 3.18 (3.14 long term stable version) is amazing as a desktop GIS solution and as a client to any industry geospatial data server. I believe that any GIS practitioner in Africa should seriously look at it and invest a bit in learning it. It shows how far we are coming from and what we have achieved in the community. For the user, you have an amazing tool, with a lot of vector and raster geoprocessing tools. It offers endless possibilities through scripting with Python and more. Just look at the ready to use plugins available, it is a gold mine for data management and spatial analysis.  Data editing capabilities are amazing. You can connect to hundreds of servers in the world to download data. You can contribute too. You may use GRASS and SAGA in the same environment.


9.       Today, if your budget is limited now and, in the future, open source and a budget for local support is highly recommended. Go: Linux Ubuntu, QGIS, etc. Your organization will remain on top of the technology. Don’t take the risk of staying behind and poor GIS productivity.


10.   However, commercial solutions are robust and support readily available (with accountability if something goes wrong. Companies like ESRI and Microsoft care about the reputation of their business). There are still many bugs in QGIS for example and between updates, some functionalities may be moved around in a way that disorients the no-expert user. While it is easy for the Geek to find that hidden function, the basic user doesn’t have that time to waste. A simple picture, if you used ArcView and ArcInfo, or MS Office 2000, products from ESRI and Microsoft are familiar to you. It is easier to be productive with the latest version. With opensource, it can be frustrating without support. So, if the organization can afford it in the short and long term, it makes sense to go commercial.


11.   Finally, my advice is to keep a mix of commercial and open source solutions. In the early days, I use to procure Arc products and MapInfo in the same office or project, along with ERDAS, ENVI, etc. There as times when one software does something much better and faster than the other. You will understand what I mean. In the same way, I introduced my projects to Manifold, a wonderful GIS software in Windows environment (quite cheap also). I recommend introducing QGIS in the same way in offices. It is a great Swiss knife for GIS. It can handle and incredible number of data types and database connections. It can help.

12. For African students, using open source software is great way to learn, stay abreast with the latest technologies, earning invaluable skills for professional future.


Best to all,



Prof Georges Tadonki



Former UN Senior Regional Data and Information Adviser

Former elected Board member, EIS-Africa and AfricaGIS

Former professor Asian Institute of Technolology, Bangkok

Former Honorary Professor, Unisa, Johannesburg

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On Thu, Oct 17, 2019, 16:01 Justin Saunders <justin at gis.africa> wrote:



People need educating as to what they actually need as they don’t often have the knowledge and those offering the solutions need to deliver the best ones and “hold the hand” of the client. At the end of the day the quality of a product like QGIS and the affordability of only having to bring in trainers and customisation experts will win over the current inertia of ESRI GIS. 


A clear example which happens often in Africa is the procurement of Laptop’s and Workstations that  have 32bit windows software installed on 64bit architecture!  It works out of the box but is the wrong solution. (Check yours now as it may be the case 😳)!! Procurement officers don’t always have the IT skills to know otherwise.


There are many skilled people in the open source community who offer support and maintenance for fees (just like proprietary companies) so the argument for not having support on offer isn’t a very strong one. Plenty of free support is available but if you need professional support then hire it.




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On 17 Oct 2019, at 14:14, Leon Vosloo <leon.v at govanmbeki.gov.za> wrote:



I followed some of the discussions on this topic, and it is not as easy as you would like it to sound. I want to raise a few issues which I hope may give an better understanding and personally think need to be addressed to ease the mind of people afraid of using it.


Before I continue, I need to say that I personally are a supporter for open source packages.


However issues that is surely uncertain in the open community is the following: (taking into account that it is not everyone that know about these packages or have the know how where to get it or what its reliability is, and what is the best package for me or is it user friendly. We are in general people from different profession backgrounds. So in short people use what they know what works for them.) 


·         Some years back I wanted to install Linux to my personal computer – the hardware supplier did not even want to go that route giving reasons like – there are too many basic operating software packages that they are afraid of installing the OS, as they will have to install too many other add–on’s  to let all the hardware and software work. Till today I rather stay away as I am no expert in this field.

·         I am using open office at home- the problem is if I give this information (e.g. Spreadsheet file) to someone else, some functionalities is claimed not to work properly and there is always a message that information can be lost. We live in an environment where people cannot afford to lose any data. So security and integrity of data is key, even sharing between paid and non-paid software. 

·         There is no e-mail package that integrates with an open office package that I know off, or work as easy as outlook. Not even the one I am using (forgot its name).

·         GIS – this is in a different league as it entails a lot more than the above.

o   When it comes to desktop applications I think there are good open source products that can be used and it is surely debatable which is superior or more suitable software for an company or institution as needs differ. My little knowledge about it is that specific GIS packages have been developed for specific needs – meaning that they are strong in certain functionalities e.g. 3D. Government need a good all-rounder, capable of dealing with many and large datasets.

o   A lot of institutions and government bodies works with limited personnel. So good support structures are needed and also needs to be available to visit offices to assist with sorting out issues that may arise. I have not seen or heard about any such business supporting open source GIS or any other open source software.

o   Software Training is needed from time to time, especially when it is used for the first time or when upgrades was installed. 

o   GIS is normally also kept on a server. Again there are limited information available on what combinations of open source software is available and works perfectly together. This now ranges from OS, SQL, GIS server software, Backup solution, office package, security solutions, even desktop GIS compatibility, etc. things that may be common knowledge to you may be a mountain for someone else.

o   It is one thing to know what works well together but is it a good all-rounder package to the needs of the institution, and who can set it up. Remember I made the comment that most institutions work with limited staff and GIS have various Fields of expertise.

o   I think one can add a lot more issues to this list but will stop here.

·         Government tenders: I have seen a few comments that is a concern to the open source community and I am not trying to defend anyone, I am talking from my perspective.

o   Tenders should be open and fair and that is correct. Government Tenders should comply with National treasury regulations. The employer is therefore limited in using brand names. For example, if I need spares for a Toyota, you should indicate the brand and model, etc. of the vehicle, otherwise the tenderer will not know what to tender for. Surely a Mahindra petrol pump may not work on it (maybe it will I don’t know) yet there are universal spares available. The employer now have a problem as he needs a specific quality. You also do not want a situation the potential supplier tender for genuine parts, but delivers sub-standard products. So you ask that it at least be measured against a standard, or minimum SABS, or whatever the case may be and that the tenderer provided on the tender document the brand name tendered for.

o   With Software this is not as easy and compatibility and costs starts to be an issue.

o   The issue of licences needed does not necessarily refer to a specific GIS brand (as there is again a few paid GIS software options available). It is a way to indicate how many people will need to use the software either desktop users, internal web based viewers from the server, direct users to the server, etc.  So I do not see this as ring-fencing but rather information, on how big the setup is. I believe certain GIS server software is more suitable for small user groups while others can deal with huge groups. It is up to the tenderer to decide on the licence price. I can see that there are frustrations and maybe legal issues in this. After all - Open source is supposed to be free:-

o   I think if someone (company / supplier / individual) do his homework very well come up with a very good proposal and can guarantee long term support, installation, setup, and training service (for a price)  a tender might just be won (and of course I cannot guarantee that). It is an open market and everyone (open source and paid programs) should be able to have an equal opportunity to tender. 


Are there anyone in the open source community who can deliver support services on a full time basis? 


Please people, I am not criticising, I just wanted to highlight some issues and that you also understand that there is a lot of uncertainties about a lot of issues.  I think there is still a lot of research to be done and knowledge be shared through good marketing.



Kind regards,



From: Africa [mailto:africa-bounces at lists.osgeo.org] On Behalf Of Immo Blecher
Sent: 16 October 2019 09:56 PM
To: Africa local chapter discussions <africa at lists.osgeo.org>
Subject: Re: [OSGeo Africa] Another illegal GIS RfQ


Hi All, 

I think this is ignorance. The people involved in sourcing the software, whatever it is (even Office packages) have got no clue, because they don't care. So they go the easy route... Just quote for whatever we have. And as long as there is nobody looking into "hey dude... are you actually doing your job? Have you investigated other options? " nothing will change. And even marketing the alternatives won't help...this will take time!!!

My 2 cents. 


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On 16 Oct 2019, at 21:37, Gavin Fleming <gavinjfleming at gmail.com> wrote:

this time, Umungundlovu DM not even trying to hide names.

Government entities are not allowed to simply renew contracts like these ELAs. They have to go out to *open* tender to test the market for alternative solutions and lower prices. 


Now how many firms can compete for this one?


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