I was thinking the past week about a project that we will start working on soon. Simply put, it is updating a MapObjects IMS application we deployed almost 10 years ago, that is still working. When I saw that it was not only still running, but it was still a critical part of their business workflow, it started me thinking about why such an application was so successful. It obviously wasn’t the technology. Sure the back end runs on Oracle, but even the most ardent MOIMS supporter can’t claim that the Visual Basic application was cutting edge even back then. So that must mean there was something else going on that kept it running when most MOIMS sites are long gone.

Won’t someone please think of the users?

Wont someone please think of the users?

History of GIS applications tells us one story that repeats itself again and again. There is a horrible habit of pushing over-engineered applications that are not used by the target audience because no one has time to figure out complicated tools. GIS vendors have not discouraged such habits and in some cases encourage them. The GIS world is really good at writing GIS applications for GIS professionals. I think this used to work before GIS and mapping became important in our everyday lives, but now that everyone everywhere is looking at deploying spatial applications focus needs to be put on what the end users are going to be doing with the application.

So back to that old MapObjects application, it did a really good job of doing what it was supposed to do. Display information in a context that the users were comfortable working (the interface was familiar to them) with and meet their requirements (which were obviously well developed), fit within their websites, scaled well (even Visual Basic does that apparently) and wasn’t an obstacle to their workflows. With MOIMS depreciated and the need to connect to more modern ESRI servers and Oracle databases the application needs to be updated, but not because it restricts their business practices and workflows.

Foisting this application on users of a bus system was poorly thought out, but the Google Transit version released a few weeks ago hits the target users right on. The heavy GIS website might meet needs of users in the organizations internally, but externally it really highlights missed opportunities and wasted resources. I’m personally really excited to see if we can replicate the success of the earlier MOIMS application with JavaScript APIs, KML downloads and other new technology and still keep is simple. The key is listen to what the client really wants and be agile enough to deliver simple, focused, and fast products.