Blog – Brainware for Geospatial Success

Josef Strobl, EUROGI Executive Committee member 


Adequate software, performant hardware and extensive collections of geospatial data always have been considered keys to success with ambitious geospatial initiatives. This still is the case, although all these components by now have migrated towards an integrated cloud environment, “shielding” users from many of the required skills needed to manage the infrastructure required for data management, analysis and visualisation.

What has not changed, though, is the need for highly qualified individuals as the key success factors for designing, implementing and operating geospatial solutions. An industry-wide shortage of competent staff is widely acknowledged, with no trend towards improvement in sight. A majority of related academic programmes report low enrolment numbers despite excellent career prospects. Several geospatial programmes even have been shut down in the past years, affecting disciplines like surveying, cartography, GIS (under different names) and remote sensing.

How can this apparent disconnect between demand from industry and attraction to learning pathways be explained, and how can the geospatial community counteract? Clearly, the fuzzy definition of our discipline is one issue. Computer science, statistics, geography and visual communication all play an essential role without taking ownership and fully embracing GIS, regardless of how we interpret the “S” in GIS. Clearly, we need more academic flagship programmes taking the lead in defining the competence profiles of geospatial professionals.

There are well established foundations, starting from various “core curricula”, including UCGIS‘ “Body of Knowledge” [] and supported by EU projects like GIN2K []. Still, we see too few translations of these concepts and frameworks into attractive programmes of study. Such programmes will only succeed with higher numbers of graduates with support from the geospatial industry joining in to make this a visible, attractive and forward-looking qualification! We need to acknowledge the diversity of competences under the ‚geospatial‘ umbrella, making it close to impossible to combine all within any one graduate’s profile. Software development, design of services infrastructures and apps, geovisualisation, advanced spatial analysis and the understanding of many domain specific contexts and languages will not fit all into one profile.

Broad based Geoinformatics competences should not be confused with basic GIS qualifications complementing spatial disciplines like resource management, infrastructure engineering, public health or geomarketing. These disciplines are well served with ‚minors‘ providing skills in geospatial methodologies to answer questions within the main field of study. Only few attempts have been made to clearly define the learning outcomes of minor programmes across disciplines, even though a wider adoption of such ‚applied‘ qualifications would support the expansion of geospatial concepts and methods into a broader range of domains, not the least into the Digital Humanities.

Due to the rapid expansion of the geospatial industries into additional and newly emerging domains, neither generic Geoinformatics nor dedicated minor programmes will come even close to satisfying the demand. This is where ‚lifelong learning‘ and continuing education programmes like the qualifications offered by the UNIGIS network of universities [] spring into action. Today’s industry and business environments demand flexibility and offer opportunities which can be best addresses by obtaining up-to-date qualifications through in-service part time distance learning.

The European Erasmus+ Programme [] provides a diverse and flexible framework for establishing common denominators across educational institutions and programmes, and helps with not only defining emerging disciplines, but also with marketing these qualification profiles to prospective students and future professionals. These opportunities would deserve more motivation for uptake bei universities and industry alike!

Let me close with a call to action: universities need to strengthen enrolment in current and future geospatial ICT programmes and make these more attractive to tomorrow’s geospatial professionals. Industry needs to contribute through internships, thesis projects and by communicating the high potential of working in an exciting environment of rapid technological progress and expanding applications. Only by concerted action of academia and industry the brainware needs and professional opportunities of a “Digital Earth” [] will be fulfilled.