6 Ways to Squeeze More GIS Juice From Your Budget

We all love working for an organization with deep GIS pockets. When there is a fat budget you can afford to buy more toys, upgrade the toys you already have and generally keep up with technology.

Our current economy, however, has impacted even the biggest budgets like that of the Federal government and most state and local ones too. Private companies have not been immune either.

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There are ways to grow your geospatial program though. You just have to become a little more creative in how you approach your acquisitions. Following are six ways an underfunded GIS team can thrive in a down economy.
  1. Ask your software vendor for an upgrade. Most software companies work to constantly improve their products. When they compile enough changes they will release a new version. Find out if your current maintenance schedule already includes new versions. Even if your maintenance agreement has expired or you never had one, you might be entitled to an upgrade to the next version after the one you bought.
  2. Learn scripting to automate your processes. They say time is money. If this is true then learning a relevant scripting language can be worth its weight in gold. One useful and popular language in the GIS world is Python. Python can be used not only for scripting but for full blown product development. It is easy to learn and there are plenty of resources out there to help you utilize it. ArcGIS 10 is probably the most widely used GIS platform supporting Python but the free and open source Quantum GIS does as well.
  3. Speaking of free and open source…. If your organization is open to open source software and free products on their network, you should definitely look into it. If you can only afford to maintain a few paid seats of ArcGIS you could augment your holdings with the previously mentioned free and open source Quantum GIS (QGIS). QGIS can read and write Shapefiles and PostGIS data, both of which can be utilized in ArcGIS. Products such as Google Earth, MapQuest, and Open Street Map can also be powerful geospatial tools and can either augment your current software or in some cases replace it. Some of these software products even provide development APIs to create your own custom tools. It all depends on what your mission is.
  4. Ask your local college for help. Do you need to be freed up to pursue important projects that have been languishing? Utilize your local GIS students for digitizing, GPS location and more. Talk to the head of your local college GIS program about hiring students as interns. You can typically pay them a lot less than a regular hire but still get great results. They get the benefit of experience; you get the benefit of accomplishing more in budget.
  5. Mine the internet for free data. There is always the fear that data from the internet is inaccurate or outdated. That is certainly true in some cases but there is plenty of quality low cost or free data to be had. A few examples of quality (usually) data providers include federal, state, county and city governments, special districts such as utilities and university data repositories. Check to see if the data has associated metadata available. This will tell you if you are working with quality or if you should be looking elsewhere for your needs.
  6. Buy used equipment. If you are in need of new data collection equipment (GPS receivers or survey equipment), data manipulation equipment (computers), or data output equipment (plotters and printers) eBaycould be your answer. The online auction site is still going strong and offers just about anything imaginable. Try creating a custom search for the items you are looking for and keeping watch for great deals. You can determine the price you are able to spend and then start bidding. This might take a little longer than traditional purchasing methods but the cost savings can be worth it.
Even if your GIS team is on a shoestring budget there are many ways to maximize output and proficiency while staying on top of current GIS trends. As shown above, open source and free products are widespread and in many cases perform just as well if not better than their proprietary and fee based brethren. There are also plenty of ways to find help and equipment at prices lower than you might normally pay. Do you have suggestions of other ways to save money while growing your GIS presence? Leave a comment and let me know.

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