Perhaps there are 3 broad views of GIS:
- Desktop application
- Standalone system
- Enterprise capability
I think those original standalone GIS systems can be thought of as the first beasties that crawled out of the sea and into a new world of land and air. They took the first step from paper to the digital world - but that was just the beginning. The data has evolved to take advantage of its new surroundings; we realised that we have many other datasets that could be indexed geographically, and many other areas of the business that could benefit from the power of spatial technologies to integrate, analyse and visualise data. GIS was no longer just the digital drawing office, it provided capabilities that were sought after across the whole organisation.
This evolution has been driven by a desire to speed up business workflows, enhance services, reduce costs and improve decision making. These drivers have required that location should be captured and used during every task in a workflow where it helps - and that turns out to be pretty much everywhere.With this realisation it is clear that GIS is no longer a standalone system - it is a set of enterprise-wide capabilities that need to be accessible to all business systems.
I was rather puzzled recently when a UK Police force went to the market for a 'GIS System'. In talking with the procurement officer, he appeared to regard this as any other commodity purchase; something that could be acquired and plugged in within 30 days to replace their existing GIS - software vendors only need apply. Well good luck to them. You can easily imagine how central to police operations geography is (CBS's TV show 'The District' featured GIS scenarios prominently). Buying a standalone GIS is not going to provide them with the benefits that they will want and expect, but until organisations evolve their definition of GIS then I guess some procurement folks are going to struggle to buy what is really needed.