Why we built our own GIS Software

19 January 2023

GIS (geographic information systems) software is essential for many industries, including public sector organisations, transport operators and energy companies. But finding the right GIS software can be a challenge. In this post, we'll explain why we decided to build our own GIS software and the benefits it offers our clients.

The challenges we faced

First, let's take a look at some of the challenges we faced before we built our own GIS software. Finding the right data can be difficult and time-consuming, especially if you're working with large data sets. We also ran into issues with systems crashing due to file sizes, as well as difficulties getting all of our data in the right format with different projections and formats. This ended up being a repetitive, time-consuming task, something we had to repeat at the beginning of every project, with many projects routinely using common or similar datasets.

But perhaps the biggest challenge we faced was the complexity of more advanced tasks, such as travel time analysis or publishing outputs online. These tasks can be difficult to perform even with the right GIS software, but without the right tools, they can be nearly impossible. We initially addressed these analyses with complex workarounds, but they required constant maintenance and up-skilling of new team members, and despite these efforts were prone to error or breaking.

So why did we decide to build our own GIS software?

The answer is simple: we needed it for our business.

As an organisation doing a lot of work in the public sector, we regularly use geospatial data for projects such as Local Cycling and Walking Infrastructure Plans (LCWIPs), Infrastructure Strategies, and Bus Service Improvement Plans (BSIPs). We found that the similarities between these projects extended to other sectors too, such as energy. Given the importance of the data, processes and outputs for all of this work, we knew that we needed to move beyond the standalone scripts and processes to something much more robust, efficient and dynamic.

Our software was therefore developed over time as we worked on these various projects. At first, it was simply a way to improve our internal efficiency, but now it has become a fully-fledged GIS platform, but one that is far more tailored than a standard platform to the needs of our client base and the essential planning and modelling projects we deliver

What are the benefits of using our GIS software?

First and foremost, it has made our work more efficient. We no longer need to scramble to find data or resources, and our system no longer crashes due to large file sizes. We can also perform more complex tasks with ease, thanks to our user-friendly interface. Tasks we’re able to automate include journey-time isochrones, presentation of Origin-Destination matrices and analysis tailored to 15-minute neighbourhoods. We can also support the direct upload of data from local authority sources such as transport models in SATURN.

Furthermore, our software is cloud-native, which means publishing and sharing maps online is far easier than it was before. And because it requires no coding, complexity is greatly reduced. Plus, our software produces beautiful, high-quality visualisations with ease.

But our clients are benefiting from our GIS software as well. For example, our system enables us to share data digitally with clients and stakeholders across a wide-range of projects including Local Cycling and Walking Infrastructure Plans (e.g. for St. Helens) supporting the evidence base for the Plymouth and South West Devon Joint Local Plan, supporting Transport Modelling in Thurrock and for national projects such as our National Freight Model. We're also using it for Local Area Energy Plans, EV strategies and renewable energy assessments among many others.

Did we make the right call?

Building our own GIS software was the right decision for our business. It has allowed us to keep up with the latest developments and provide our clients with the best possible experience.

With our software, finding and using geospatial data is easier than ever before, publishing and sharing maps online is a breeze, and complex tasks are a snap. And because it's built by experts in the field, our clients can trust that they're getting the best possible GIS solution.

What happens next?

It has been a lot of hard work, but we believe we have developed a platform that has unique benefits and offers a superior user experience. We are now planning to make it available to others so they can improve their workflow and outputs.

To learn more, email us at info@cityscience.com and follow the City Science LinkedIn page for updates