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Brian Monheiser: “If a geohipster is someone who believes we should all be working more openly and collaboratively, then count me in”

Brian Monheiser
Brian Monheiser

Brian Monheiser (Twitter, LinkedIn) is the Director of Defense and Intelligence Programs for Boundless Inc. Brian works with US Government agencies and contractors to provide freedom from the rigid architectures and unsustainable pricing models of proprietary geospatial software with packaging, expertise, maintenance, professional services, training, and more. Prior to Boundless, Brian honorably served in the United States Marine Corps as Geospatial Intelligence Analyst, and as a contractor responsible for advising and consulting the Department of Defense (DoD) and Intelligence Community (IC) on the use of geospatial technologies, supporting a number of large projects, programs, and applications using geospatial technology.

Brian was interviewed for GeoHipster by Todd Barr.

Q:  You’ve been involved in GIS, specifically military GIS and GeoINT, since 1998. What do you think has been the biggest advancement of GIS during your tenure in the field, both within DoD, as well as the field as a whole?

A: I have to tell you, the technology advances from what I used to have to work with to what’s available today have been amazing to say the least. When I got  started in the Marines as a veritable kid, they had me using command line desktop GIS. Think about that experience for the moment. I was asked to build and deliver standard and mission-specific hardcopy products using 32-bit clients and the command line. Now analysts are in a world where mission planning, situational awareness, visualization, analytics, and key intelligence questions are answered by mobile and web applications that are driven by tradecraft, algorithms, and workflows developed to interrogate a wide variety of spatial and temporal datasets for almost any purpose. I’m the old GIS analyst yelling at kids these days about how we had to walk uphill both ways to school. Now, kidding aside, it was possible to foresee the technology advances thanks to watching advancements in other areas — but what I’m most impressed with is the advancement, understanding, adoption, and growth in the GIS (at Boundless we like to call it Spatial IT) user community. There was a time not so long ago when GIS was a tradecraft for only those who had been formally trained. That’s no longer the case.

Q:  You’ve been with Boundless now for over a year. Have you seen a perception change within your client base on the adoption of FOSS4G Technologies?  As a follow up, are their any metrics on how hybrid systems function?

A:  Oh, you mean beyond understanding hybrid systems can lower clients’ costs and avoid vendor lock-in while still accomplishing, if not exceeding, all the same objectives? Then yes, I’ve seen a very drastic and positive change. When I got started everybody — including myself — used a solution from a single proprietary vendor, which forced us all to take the formal training I previously mentioned. I at least was in an environment where someone paid for my training and said this was the work I needed to focus on. Now FOSS4G technologies have matured and can reduce the risks of a single-vendor solution, extending the value of existing investments in proprietary mapping software, while reducing costs and increasing potential for interoperability and innovation. Open source geospatial software complements and interoperates with existing proprietary geospatial tools, meaning you don’t lose sunk costs. I’d say there are few homogeneous FOSS4G implementations, because that’s exactly the point of them — you can transition to new implementations at an appropriate pace for your organization.

Q:  What do you see as the largest hurdle for FOSS4G technologies and their wide-spread adoption?

A:  This is a layup. It’s all awareness and education. The reality is the large vendor in this space — and we all know who I’m talking about — has done a great job of indoctrinating users in said vendor’s software, to the detriment of awareness of what other options are out there. More people need to not only be aware of the existence of FOSS4G, but also of its comparable if not superior functionality. Once upon a time I was as guilty of this as anybody — so I’d like to think I’ve had my mind expanded as I gained knowledge of FOSS4G. In addition, when I’m out there talking about FOSS4G to people who have heard of the software, I’m finding people are not truly understanding the total value and cost of ownership in using open source. We’re guilty of drinking a certain flavor of Kool-Aid for so long, we don’t realize fruit punch is crap, what you really want is blue raspberry.

Q:  The Magical Money Fairy flies down and grants you 5 million dollars a year to pursue any geospatial project you want. What would you do?

A: I would map my permanent move to the Caribbean. Seriously. I’d go so far off the grid you’d need geospatial analysis to find me. But if you want me to not be completely self-serving and think for a moment about the good of the community, then I’d work to fix content (data) management. For all the advancements in geospatial technology, the way we manage our data, and the knowledge we can extract from our data is embarrassing. Versioning is poor, our ability to move it is inefficient, and if you look at the technologies other industries are using to manage data sets, then we’re behind the curve. It’s solvable and we’re focusing on it, but the Magical Money Fairy is certainly invited to come party with us.

Q: The standard #GeoHipster interview question: What does the phrase mean to you, and are you a #geohipster?  Note: the more profanity used here, the better.

[Laughs] Well, I’d like to consider myself a #geohipster, as long as I don’t have to conform to some Brooklyn definition of a hipster. I mean, have you seen me? I’m built like a rugby player, cue-ball bald, bushy goatee, and the temperament of a Marine. Now if a #geohipster is someone who advocates for kick-ass FOSS4G technologies, who walks the walk in understanding the benefit of geospatial analysis, who believes we should all be working more openly and collaboratively, then count me in.