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Lockdown has brought problems for GIS, and opportunities

Daniel Campanile reports.

For most of us, 2020 was dominated by the pandemic and everything that came with it. This created a series of business challenges for those involved with geographic information systems. Rather than focus on the already well written negative issues, I find what’s more interesting is the way that 2020 has by necessity forced us into new ways of working and thinking that can be viewed as positive. 

The single biggest change for GIS has been remote working – ensuring staff can still function productively whilst no longer having the ease of data access, resources and other staff that were taken for granted in the traditional office environment.

Remote working has emphasised the need for robust data management. Numbers and distributions of staff have fluctuated over the course of the year, staff on furlough, returning, moving into other roles in different parts of the business, and new graduates. All this has resulted in the need for staff with GIS skills to be able to locate and do work they never started, to hit the ground running and avoid wasting time. Many staff who do GIS work have adjusted to this, highlighting their resilience and initiative.

It is now normal for our staff to use a VPN connection and a remote desktop environment for running GIS software and getting to their mapping data regardless of where they are. Video and screen sharing are now also the norm for support, troubleshooting and training where in the past, sessions needed booked in advance and costly travel to offices undertaken. For those who are adapting, these technologies have been a glimpse of what is now possible and only realised because we have to.      

Finally, the pandemic has brought GIS into sharper focus. From the distributions of cases to understanding the geographic restrictions as they changed from month to month, much of the reporting could not have been visualised so clearly without GIS and the use of good maps. Focusing on us as a business, with this reminder of the power and usefulness of GIS comes an opportunity to consider work a little further from our traditional sphere of influence, that might otherwise have been overlooked.