Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Boots on the Ground in GIS Analysis and Development

While I do a lot of GIS development these days, I am pleased to do some solid analysis work as well. I was recently given the task to delineate land use/land cover using standard remote sensing image interpretation methods. I'd like to think I've pretty well trained in this kind of work, and my experience has confirmed one particular part of that training that was universally emphasized - boots on the ground. You can create a cunning story about exactly what is happening in a given air photo and can be completely, utterly wrong in all regards. This can happen whether you are a fully certified photogrammetrist or just a novice staring at something weird in Google Earth. Seeing what you are studying up close and first hand, assuming you can, is essential to avoiding these kinds of mistakes. In the case of my current project, I would say it was essential I went out and actually traipsed through the study area. The air photos and other sources did not prepare me to interpret the vegetation I can now pick out extremely well. Many professions call attention to this. Military commanders who ignore the front can find tactical situations dictating strategy in ways they neither expect nor desire. I don't see it nearly as stressed in developer circles - books, online sources, or in my own experience (though AGILE practices come pretty close in terms of constant and face to face communication with clients). You shouldn't be learning what your users want exclusively from their management or your marketing/sales department, and in many cases I have seen, selling an idea to management only seems to be half the job. A really enlightening experience was going out into the field, sitting in the trucks with a user, and just watching them use the technology and see the actual business process in action. It is amazing how much it can differ from abstract flowcharts and user stories cooked up by others or even straight from their mouths. They'll lie to you, and I don't mean intentionally. They'll omit something because they do it every day and imagine it is second nature to their audience, or they forget, or they won't think something is relevant. It is your job to ferret out the real requirements or the real trees you are looking for. Worst case scenario: you get out of your office and see the sun for the first time in a year outside the weekends. Anyone have any stories about similar situations? Images from Googleblog, this talented Flickr user.

1 comment:

SBL-Geomatics said...

Interesting topic. Thanks for sharing.
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