Are you thinking of starting a GIS consulting company? Or you already have your GIS consulting company and you are thinking if QGIS is powerful and versatile enough to run your small GIS consulting company?
Before I answer your question, let me remind you of this rule of thumb: A software is only a tool. Your prowess in Geographic Information Systems (GIS) – or any other field- depends on how much you understand the principles. The power of a software is only secondary. Your understanding of how GIS works is what makes you a professional. Therefore, you should devote a sizable amount of your time to the learning of GIS101.
Therefore, do not base your career on the strength of software, rather base your career on your knowledge. If you know how to use QGIS or ArcGis but don’t know the principles of GIS, you will only be a GIS technician. However, if you learn the principles of GIS (and understand it deeply) then you learn a software and become proficient in it you will be a formidable force.
Is QGIS Enough to Run a Small GIS Consultation Business?
The simple answer is, YES.
Here is the detailed answer…
QGIS is versatile and powerful enough to run a small GIS consulting company. QGIS is powerful enough to carry out all the basic and many advanced algorithms you need for your spatial consultation; from hydrology to urban spatial analyses.
QGIS is a complete GIS software. So, it can, and it does, perform sophisticated spatial analysis and graphical visualization. In the following sections you’ll be seeing some of the cool features that QGIS has to offer.
P.S: that these functions are not arranged in (ascending or descending) order of their importance. Rather, it is a nominal list.
QGIS is free. I mean it is absolutely free. You must have heard that a thousand times before reading this post. If you don’t know what free means then try to pay a dollar for every search you do on Google.
Jokes apart, ‘the competitor’ makes us realise the importance of a free open-source software. You have to churn out thousands of dollars to get even the lowest level of access to their software. This, undoubtedly, is a hindrance to research and progress in the life of humanity.
Easy to Install.
QGIS is as easy to install as the simplest software you can think of. Simply download the setup, double click it, follow the prompts and wait a few minutes for your installation to complete. It’s as easy as you could imagine.
Super-Power Processing Toolbox
QGIS comes with a super-power toolbox called the processing toolbox. This toolbox gives you access to all the GRASS and SAGA algorithms. These algorithms are not only powerful but they are also diverse.
To access them simply got to menu» plugins» manage and install plugins, then choose processing. The description should say:
This is a core plugin, so you can't uninstall it
To access the processing toolbox go to menu»processing. You should see the processing toolbox open in a panel by your right.
The toolbox shows your most recently used algorithms, so it’s easy for you to easily access them for use later. That way you don’t have to always go through the list of algorithms every time you want to access your favourite algorithm.
You can simply search for the algorithm in the search box at the top of the processing toolbox panel. And more…and more…try it out yourself.
You can’t exhaust these algorithms.
Abundant basemaps for your work.
The openlayers plugin is your portal to more-than-enough basemaps for your GIS projects. From Google maps to Openstreet maps (and all that is between) you always get a nice basemap that fits your project like a second skin.
Like the processing toolbox (mentioned above) you need to activate this plugin under the plugins and menu. However, there is a small twist to this. This plugin is still an experimental… (lol, experimental indeed)… so you need to go to the settings tab in the plugins box and select “show experimental plugins”.
Plugins, Plugins and plugins
The role of plugins in free and open-source software (FOSS) cannot be overemphasized. Inkscape, GIMP, OBX studio… and, of course, QGIS all have a library of plugins to boost the power of the mother software.
What is a plugin?
A plugin is simply an enhancement to a software. Some software, such as Inkscape, refer to plugins as extensions. Plugins help you use a software for some functions that were not originally built with them.
When you buy a PC, it comes with Microsoft windows installed. If you are a cartographer you need to install some software on your PC before you can make your maps on your computer, right? Yes. This means that you need software to perform specialized functions on your computer.
Now, some of these software also need to perform more specialised functions which are not in the mother software. Instead of developers to re-write the software to include these more specialised functions all they need to do is write a plugin.
If you’ve ever used WordPress then you probably know the importance of plugins. Members of the QGIS community are regularly writing plugins to enhance the functionality of the software.
So we won’t be surprised if, like WordPress, QGIS becomes the industry standard. It’s not an easy task but Rome was not built in a day.
QGIS is not a stagnant software, no and not in any way. There is constant release of new versions of the software to the community. Each release comes with a number of bug fixes and added features. For example recent versions of QGIS have seen great improvements in the placement of map labels.
And… you get to use each feature for free.
However, there’s a point you should note and that will come later in this article.
Flexibilty and Easy Integration
QGIS is a cross-platform software. Whether you use Apple, Pineapple, Microsoft or Microhard J or Linux you always have QGIS. In fact, QGIS has an android app. How cool is that??
QGIS also has an inbuilt console for you to create your python code for geo-processing and script writing. Your work becomes faster and neater when you write your own code. So it’s a good idea for you to consider learning some python code.
And more, QGIS can easily be integrated with R for statistical analysis and machine learning. What more?
Lastly, you can export your work as SVG to Inkscape (a free and open-source vector graphic design software) or the other graphic design software (including the so-called industry standard) for further design. Alternatively, you can export your map as PDF if your software doesn’t work smoothly with SVG.
What you should be cautious of about QGIS
To enjoy the power of QGIS there are some points that I would like you to note. These words of caution are from my personal experience and what I’ve learnt from my colleagues in the GIS profession.
1. Stick to a release
Because QGIS is an open-source software, every release usually comes up with its unique surprise. For example, it took months after the release of the QGIS 3.0 for most plugin developers to release a compatible version of their plugin.
I understand that we are always excited to use the latest. Also there is the fear of being left behind or not being updated on the latest trends in your profession.
Luckily for us, QGIS allows us to install more than one version of the software. For example, until a few months ago, I had the stable version of QGIS 2 and the latest release of QGIS 3 on my computer. This enabled me to gradually familiarize myself with the similarities and differences between the two versions.
2. Money saves time
In QGIS, you might need three steps to carry out a process, whereas a single button might do the same in ARCGIS.
For example, in QGIS, there are different buttons designated for adding a layer to your canvas. There’s a special button for adding vector layer, another for raster layer and another for adding a table. For some reason you might click the “add raster layer” button when you actually intended to add a vector layer. This undoubtedly slows your work speed (even if it is by some seconds). Add the frustration it could cause.
On the other hand, ARCGIS has a single button dedicated to adding layers. As long as the software supports the file format, it will be added to your canvas once you use that button. This is not only convenient but it is also very cool.
Now, that is just a basic example and there are more.
Perhaps this is the greatest difference between QGIS (which is an absolutely free software) and ARCGIS (which costs thousands of dollars).
For a small business, you have less tasks to do and so you will worry less about this. However, large companies have large and numerous tasks to do daily. So their time is worth more than the investment they put into purchasing a license with thousands of dollars.
3. Coping with poor documentation
In QGIS, there is problem of poor documentation. For example, QGIS plugins do not really have extensive tutorials on how to use them. The authors just describe them and tell you the category to find them and that’s all.
This is a bit of challenge for analysts.
A practical solution to this problem is the GIS page on stackexchange. This page is a community of experienced and active volunteers who answer questions on different aspects of QGIS. Good thing is, you don’t even need an account to have access to their answers.
However, as time goes on you’ll realise that creating a stackexchange account doesn’t is a great idea. And you don’t need to be a coding nerd before you can contribute on the platform.
4. Most governments still use ARCGIS
Till the time of writing this article, most governments of the world (such as US and Nigeria) use ARCGIS. So, if you plan to work for the government then it is a good idea to get yourself familiar with the ARCGIS interface.
This also applies to large organisations that use prefer the so-called industry standard software. However, if you are planning to have your own small GIS consultancy business then QGIS is what you need, nothing else.
5. Watch out for third parties
Some third-party add-ons in the QGIS environment are not free and not open source. Rather, they belong to commercial companies. An example is Google maps in the basemaps of the openlayers plugin.
So, there it is. I hope this article helped you see that QGIS is powerful and versatile enough to run your small GIS consulting company.
I believe that if the GIS (and other professional) world is resourceful and foresighted enough we would all invest little amounts of cash into open source software. That way no one will have to pay for any subscription. Also everyone (including students) can gain access to professional grade software for free and forever! That way we would all focus on improving our skills not bothering about prohibitive licenses and annual renewals.
Over to you. Did, I miss anything? I’ll be honoured to have your comment in the box.
Thanks for reading.