Can Bill Gates Pull a Steve Jobs ... in GIS
In his editorial today in the Wall Street Journal, columnist Holman Jenkins, Jr. suggested that "Only Bill Gates Can Change Microsoft." He contends that so long as Mr. Gates is trolling around Redmond that only he can "inflict on Microsoft the change it needs."
For a number of reasons it makes sense to let Gates reshape the company he founded now that he's had a few years away from the helm. Steve Jobs, after being pushed aside by the Apple board for John Sculley in the mid 80's and then returning to Cupertino in 1996 when Apple bought Jobs' NeXT company proceeded to resurrect Apple making it the behemoth it now is, reshaping not only the computer industry but the music and cell phone business as well.
While Jenkins' column related to challenges related to Windows and a culture to which the company seemed constrained, I think Gates might take a different approach with location technology as well with the hope that he can change some of the problems I articulated in a recent editorial. I believe this because he's seen GIS in action, if not because of the obvious changes in the marketplace today but because of the work by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. In 2002, I interviewed the GIS manager at the Gate's Foundation which at the time was using GIS to help give money away by locating grantees and for other planning purposes.
Today, Gate's recognizes the potential of geospatial technology in a more direct way. In 2012, Gates made reference to GIS in a speech to the United Nations regarding polio eradication in which his said:
Polio programs are harnessing the power of innovation to improve practices in the field. In Nigeria, they’re now using Geographic Information Systems to create highly accurate maps that identify entire villages full of children who were missed by the old hand-drawn maps. This technology will help vaccinators reach tens of thousands of additional children.
In yet a different speech given this past January 29, Gates referenced the use of satellite imagery for further identifying villages overlooked by previous investigations:
The polio program uses what they call microplans to assign routes to vaccinators, with the goal of covering literally every speck of the country. The use of the prefix “micro” indicates that the objective is extreme precision, but the maps on which the microplans were based looked like this. These maps weren’t accurate or detailed enough to drive universal coverage. Thousands of settlements were simply overlooked. Distances could be off by many miles, meaning that what the microplan said was a 20 mile trip and a day’s worth of work might end up being a 40 mile trip and two days-worth. The result was a program that didn’t plan to vaccinate every child—and didn’t vaccinate every child in its plan. So now, they’re starting to use up-to-date, high-resolution satellite imagery to create brand new maps that look like this. This process has identified thousands of settlements that had been missing from the microplans.
So, the "champion" to which I referred in my editorial, is Gates himself. He not only has the vision, he's seen the potential and used the tools. That's not the hard part; we've all seen GIS in action. The hard part is organizational change. And that, I would agree with Mr. Jenkins, is only possible with the man who started it all. He might even take a leaf from Jobs' book and reshape GIS.