The constantly evolving technology toolset that underpins the work of the geospatial professional makes it exceedingly hard to define a standard skill set. While accreditation may serve a segment of geospatial professionals, it will never capture all those that apply the technology.
The GISP designation that has been set up by the GIS Certification Institute, is a valid approach to verify a skill set for predominantly municipal geospatial practitioners, but I don’t see it pervading the many emerging geospatial application areas.
Tool vs. Domain Expertise
The old debate over tool expertise vs. domain expertise is a continuing issue. There’s an increasing call for geospatial tool training in disciplines that will apply the tools to problem solving and decision making vs. specifically training in the foundational tools.
The trained geospatial expert has a role in larger organizations with geospatial-centric workflows and outputs, but the tools also have a place in smaller organizations where project-based work may require the application of geospatial tools on an intermittent basis. For the geospatial-centric professional, formal education and tool-specific certification are likely adequate to convince employers to hire you or advance your career.
The practice of augmenting domain-specific training of undergraduates with foundational training in geospatial tools and skills is growing. Job requirements are driving this trend and it’s likely to continue to gain momentum. With this foundational knowledge, the requirements of a job will dictate the subsequent polishing of these skill sets, and only those that discover a geospatial calling will pursue the advanced geospatial degree. And the degree itself should be sufficient in most circles as a badge of expert status.
Customization vs. Application
The Web as a software platform has aided the evolution of customized applications that meet specific needs vs. a generic platform that is driven by skilled users. It’s gotten to the point now where almost everyone has used geospatial tools to some degree, and organizations are increasingly extending their geospatial platform investment to create customized tools specific to job workflows.
The solution set is growing stronger in business and infrastructure domains. Fit-for-purpose solutions are combining design tools with database connectivity and inline analysis with domain-specific rules. Whether it’s location intelligence or infrastructure design tools that incorporate geospatial analysis, the underpinnings to the software solutions may be geospatial, but those that use these custom tools don’t identify themselves as geospatial professionals.
With easy access to data and a growing number of Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) and Software Development Kits (SDKs) at the disposal of developers, the people that make these solutions aren’t required to have a geospatial background. With this growing extension of geospatial capabilities, the expert geospatial professional is an increasingly smaller subset of those that utilize geospatial tools.
With this advent, the push toward certification feels like a circling of the wagons against the gathering hordes that use the tools and may say that they know GIS. Let’s examine the reasons for creating a certified elite carefully before pushing further in that direction.
Increasingly, the geospatial toolset is becoming mixed and matched with other tools as the barriers for data sharing dissolve. With increasingly available high-resolution data, and a large number of tools that can manipulate and add to base-map layers, there’s an ever-expanding user base that don’t identify themselves by any one tool or workflow.
It’s a very difficult prospect to certify professionals when their tools and approaches don’t conform to any baseline standard. Who’s to say that any one approach is best, when the outputs and outcomes of design and analysis work are virtually indistinguishable regardless of the approach or software that was applied?
As the model-based approach gains ground, the tools of GIS, CAD and BIM will simply become different interfaces into a common reality-based virtual world. While this evolution may take some time, the vision is increasingly shared among technology providers. With those that provide the tools sharing the common objective to create mirror worlds, it’s only a matter of time before this paradigm shift reaches an inflection point for practitioners. There are relatively few foundational skills and knowledge sets that won’t be rocked by the move toward models.
It’s a dangerous time to be defining the foundational skill sets when the future evolution of the technology can go in so many different directions. While a general certification provides a community-building hook that aligns like-minded professionals, I don’t think that the idea of certification is sustainable for the majority of the users of geospatial technology. There’s just too much promise and opportunity that would be stifled by set definitions.
Read what Jeff Thurston has to say on this topic here.
The GIS Certification Institute
The Certification Emperor Has No Clothes, by Peter Batty,
Geospatial Solutions, November 2003