The Young Generation Driving GIS Innovation


Within both public sector and commercial organisations across the UK, young professionals are combining their passion for GIS with astute problem-solving skills and creativity to invent game-changing GIS apps.

Innovation – in any context – demands not only creative thinking, but also a certain tenacity of spirit to identify an opportunity, invent an original solution and pursue it through to realisation. Certainly, this is the case in the field of GIS, where young professionals are coming up with inspired new apps and then resolutely propelling them forwards within their own organisations. This innovation is taking place in some of the most unlikely industries, prompted by real-life challenges and with the most ambitious of aims.

Insurance is perhaps one of the UK’s most well-established and therefore most traditional industry sectors, yet the global insurer XL Catlin is among those enterprises that are now actively encouraging innovation. The company launched an internal competition to find the most innovative new business idea, and the award was won by a man who had joined the company as an intern little more than a year before. Giacomo Favaron created a web GIS app to streamline workflows for property risk analysis. He went on to win the Insurance Day Rising Star of the Year Award 2016 and, when launched, his award-winning idea will deliver commercial and competitive advantages for the business.

In all kinds of industries, there are traditional processes that can be transformed. GIS provides so many opportunities for businesses to work in a faster, more precise and informed way.
— Giacomo Favaron: GIS Data Officer, XL Catlin

Inspiration for innovative new GIS apps can strike at any time, as it did for Transport for London’s Adem Besim. Sitting in a traffic jam, caused by road closures during the Prudential Ride London, he decided that there had to be a way for TfL to share event data with satnav providers, so that members of the public could be diverted away from likely areas of congestion. At the time he was a senior projects and events officer for TfL, with self-taught skills in GIS. Using the London Marathon, Adem created a proof of concept for a Geospatial Event Tool and soon afterwards gained funding to deliver the project. This creative GIS app will eventually save hours of frustration for London’s motorists during over 700 planned events in the capital every year.

If you have an idea, and you fundamentally believe in it, you should never be scared to pursue it. GIS is an incredibly flexible tool that gives you the freedom to create almost anything.
— Adem Besim: Senior Mapping and Gazetteer Officer, Transport for London

Looking to the future, it is encouraging to know that visionary geography teachers are helping today’s school children to develop the skills to follow in the footsteps of innovators like Giacomo Favaron and Adem Besim. At Dover Grammar School for Boys, geography teacher Thierry Torres is not just teaching GIS as part of the curriculum, but using it as a vehicle for delivering entire courses. He is inspiring young people to collect data in the field using their smartphones, create professional-looking maps and answer complex geographic questions by performing geospatial analyses. Since the school started using GIS to deliver more absorbing lessons, based on real-world geography issues, the number of pupils taking geography degrees has increased from 9% in 2012/13 to 70% in 2015/16.

These are not isolated examples of innovation. Indeed, throughout the UK, there are growing numbers of young professionals who are harnessing the flexibility of ArcGIS to create inventive GIS apps in a matter of hours. Challenging established ways of working, solving real-world issues and inspiring others to do the same, these GIS innovators of today are the GIS gurus of the future.

GIS really captures the interest of young people. Our pupils are now more engaged in lessons, more inspired to pursue geography careers and more likely to become GIS innovators in the future.
— Thierry Torres: Geography Subject Leader, Dover Grammar School for Boys