SpatialTau v1.3 – Just Like Google

SpatialTau is my weekly newsletter that goes out every Wednesday. The archive shows up in my blog a month after the newsletter is published. If you’d like to subscribe, please do so here.


I ran into this RFP a couple weeks ago that was a small business set-aside so URS couldn’t go after it.  I like to read most RFPs that come on to me desk though because they help me understand what customers are looking for.  This was a traditional “enterprise GIS” RFP where the client wanted someone to come in and clean up their geodatabases, migrate from SDE to Oracle Spatial and then create a new web front end (the old one was a classic Esri big button nightmare) that they wanted to be “just like Google”.  At the time I just let that fall out of my thoughts, but it stuck into my consciousness.  I mean, what does that even mean?

Just like Google

Now we all have an idea what it means to be Google, especially with mapping and data.  I can think of a slippy map with some points on it, a search bar at the top that magically finds the results you want.  Some pretty neat JavaScripting on the front end and overall responsiveness that makes you not even think about some clunky GIS server on the back end.

Reality Bites

The problem with that description is that what I just described was mostly front end client design and not the real power of Google.  There are plenty of great looking, very functional websites out there that are performant but not at the scale or responsiveness that Google is.  When someone writes they are looking for something “just like Google” they are also asking for the infrastructure that goes with it.  And that infrastructure rarely is “enterprise GIS”.  I can use the same tools that Google does for their applications but clearly their army of engineers is better than me.  I can leverage many of their tools but they don’t interact with enterprise solutions as deep at many RFPs require.  There is a spirit of “Google-like” that many try to deliver, but to actually deliver something “just like Google” is virtually impossible.

Bad RFP or Bad Contractor

I’ll be clear, I respond to many RFPs with “Google-like” features but I try and set expectations and constraints on what it can do.  But the expectation of “just like Google” is whose fault?  One could say the RFP writer doesn’t understand what the statement means.  But at the same time, it is contractors who love to throw out buzzwords such as “big data”, “cloud ready” and “responsive design” that ultimately should be blamed.  Software vendors routinely oversell their software and leave their users unhappy.  Contractors do this as well and it hurts long term relationships with their clients.

Simple Always Wins

I keep telling myself for each proposal I submit, simple always wins.  Simple isn’t claiming that something is “Google-like”.  Simple is spelling out what it means to be such a thing.  When we rely on buzzwords to describe what we do, or what our product does, or even our job titles; it obscures why we do what we do.  A simple road map as to what your solutions requires for the RFP goes miles beyond a confusing, copy and paste RFP that contradicts itself on every page.  For contractors, delivering a simple road map as to what your solution does helps just as much.  We all see great presentations and proposals every day.  They all have one thing in common.  Clear, concise recognition of the problem and then a solution that is easily understood and actionable.  I can only hope that I accomplish that every time.