Last week, I had the honor to be hosted at HARTerra Spatial Solutions by Mr. Jason Hart, the GIS specialist who owns the company, which has more than 20 years of experience delivering enterprise GIS solutions for the Natural Resources, Hydropower and Utility sectors as well as for the municipal and provincial government of British Columbia. We had a nice talk about HARTerra, his career and about challenges and opportunities in the GIS public and private demands, as well as in the GIS job market.
The majority of the company’s projects focuses on the utilities sector and on implementations of GIS in municipal infrastructure – electric distribution, pipes, water, transportation networks, road maintenance and more. Like GIS itself, HARTerra has roots and projects in the environment sector, but is much more focused on enterprise GIS solutions – like managing and analyzing data with GIS, building web applications, integrating different systems together to gain leverage for organizations. Projects that go way further than just printing beautiful maps.
The HART in front of HARTerra
Mr. Jason started doing GIS solutions back in the mid 90’s for the Ministry of Environment, Lands and Parks of the Province of British Columnbia, already in enterprise level, especially regarding geodatabases. With experience both in the public and private sectors, he had consulted some forestry companies and also implemented the esri-based GIS system of Fortis BC, for example, in all aspects of enterprise GIS – spatial data management, mobile GIS data collection, spatial analysis and quality control of their electrical utilities.
Founded in the spring of 2015 by he and his wife, part of what makes HARTerra unique is its people, who really enjoy living in the Kootenays. Beyond GIS itself, HARTerra is looking to grow its staff with more professionals specialized in areas like public administration, engineering, information technology and utilities, as a natural response to the GIS market’s demand.
BC GIS Market
Also like GIS, the GIS market in British Columbia has its roots in the natural resources. In his opinion, recently there is a real growth in the municipal market, especially regarding asset management, narrowed and focused on municipal planning, zoning, infrastructure managing – mainly because there is a lot of investment being made on Canada’s infrastructure, as it’s getting old. One-third of the Canadian core infrastructure is in fair, poor or very poor condition. There’s a lot of asset management related GIS software now, but there wasn’t that much in the start of his GIS career.
GIS for Public Management
Personally, with more than 20 years of experience, Jason thinks there are a lot of reasons for municipalities to have GIS. A prime one is to manage information about infrastructure – like electrical utilities, water systems, sewer, storm, roads, zoning, parks, benches, pick-nick tables and much more! The majority of the Canadian core public infrastructure is owned and maintained by municipal governments. It’s a crazy number of different layers of information!
Penticton, for example, was a successful case of migrating older data to GIS, then achieving leverage from it. HARTerra is quite involved in the municipality’s electrical system, water, sanitary, storm, roads, website development and more.
Current Usage of GIS for Public Management and Opportunities
There are some big municipalities around that have been using “true GIS”, as he calls, for more years, as well as municipalities and different groups which have been doing GIS in a more simple way, like web mapping applications, or CAD drawing data, but not the in a real intelligent way to integrate data. Not the true enterprise GIS, so there’s still much opportunity to evolve, especially when its young workforce, renewed in the last years, gain more experience in enterprise and chain management approaches.
GIS – The new pillar for Business
In his point of view, ERP has been a technology pillar for organizations’ finances and human resources, for example, and GIS now is another pillar for a lot of them. Consumer-driven businesses in general that do some sort of crew dispatching, for example, are more and more into GIS now to dispatch their teams efficiently.
He sees that big companies absolutely are investing more and more time doing population geodemographic studies to expand, because they can afford the investment, but GIS is still an expensive tool for small businesses to use, and the open-source is not that intuitive for a lay person. What they can do is try to benefit from one or other web applications when the government is capable to build simple enough tools – but that’s the government in fact who is doing GIS.
Transportation and Logistics
The world’s big trucking companies are big into GIS and invest in it for a long time, but he’s starting to see more small transportation and logistics companies using GIS for monitoring carbon credits or doing AVL (Automatic Vehicle Location) on the fleet, to know where their trucks are and to monitor the driving for example. Regarding AVL, in the public sector, there are some municipalities doing AVL in their vehicles – and they know where their vehicle are – but, in his opinion, not always in an integrated way with their GIS, for managing teams or optimizing travel routes for example.
GIS Job Market and the IT focus
The requirements for professionals to get GIS jobs are higher. There’s a transition happening where GIS analytics tools are much more friendly to non-GIS users, that GIS professionals should be more focused in IT, in supporting to build these tools.
Back in the time, there wasn’t lot of GIS educational programs, but Mr. Jason feels like people don’t have as much as detailed technical knowledge as before. As he heard once in a conference many years ago – when you revolve through GIS, when it first started off, from the 60’s to the 80’s, the amount of knowledge that GIS professionals had was certainly very focused, narrowed and deep. In the 90’s, there was a revolution in GIS, where it became more mainstream and got more people involved, thousands instead of only hundreds. It’s true that, in each sort of revolution like that, people’s knowledge about it got more breadth, but less depth.
Pretty much, now every person around understands what Google Earth or Google Maps is. It’s integrated with many people’s lives in a lot of different ways and much more widely accepted. People don’t have to understand necessarily the technical details of what GIS does.
Additional Leadership Skills
Mr. Jason has been across a lot of different industries on his career, and HARTerra also offers assistance in hiring GIS staff with the right skills for each organization. Finally, he thinks that leadership and management are key roles in GIS that are getting more and more demanded and that those skills are very difficult to find in a technical person.