How Big is the GIS Software Market and Where is it?

by Christine Easterfield

It is notoriously difficult to calculate the market size for Geographic Information Systems (GIS). It is a question of definition – what is a Geographic Information System?

Is Google Maps or Bing Maps a GIS?

Is the sat nav in your car a GIS?

Is there certain functionality that must be supported to make a GIS – like measuring distances, proximity searches or, my personal favourite, coordinate system transformations?

Must it include full platform technology or does any application involving geographic data qualify?

GIS definitions

Stefan Steiniger and Robert Weibel, of the Universities of Calgary and Zurich respectively, have provided a definition that says it is “software that is used to create, manage, analyze and visualize geographic data“ – and goes on to describe the tasks that GIS Software can accomplish, and provides information on the providers of such software.

The definition they provide is a good match for the Cambashi definition, and is borne out by the providers they cite as key players:

  • Autodesk
  • Bentley
  • ESRI Inc.
  • GE (Smallworld)
  • Pitney Bowes (MapInfo)
  • Intergraph

We would add Trimble to this list, all of which we track in our GIS segment.

GIS market size

So if that defines the GIS software segment – what is it worth?

Our research shows that the combined GIS software revenues of these providers in 2015 was just under USD 1.87 billion worldwide, with around another USD 325-odd million attributed to a long list of smaller providers.

Split across the three regions, these revenues show where to find the greatest use of GIS software:

Figure 1 – GIS software providers revenues 2015 by region

By simple inspection we see that APAC (the Asia Pacific region that includes Japan, China, India, New Zealand and Australia as well as a host of smaller, south east Asian nations) is considerably smaller than the other two – suggesting there is revenue still to be made in the growing economies of the east.

There is, of course, an amount of ‘cross border’ selling, for example where a user organisation in Asia may buy software direct from the US or Europe, but the Cambashi data focuses on revenue derived from transactions in country, so is a fair indicator of local activity.

If this view suggests there is untapped potential in the APAC market, can we qualify that in some way before investing?

An alternative perspective is always useful to validate assumptions and in this case a useful measure is a view of the user community.

Who are the users?

This too has challenges – who uses GIS?

Cartographers, surveyors, of course, but also engineering staff, involved in designing infrastructure projects, and facilities management professionals responsible for maintaining large sites and other property portfolios, such as industrial complexes and business parks.

Depending on the definition of ‘GIS’, the user community will grow to match – but, if we are defining GIS as a tool that supports capture, creation, visualisation, manipulation and analysis of spatial data, then a GIS user is someone doing those activities.

That is to say, the GIS application in the ambulance drivers’ cab, while more than a generic navigation tool, does not necessarily make the paramedic a ‘GIS user’ for the purposes of the exercise.

Figure 2 – GIS users by region

So my definition of GIS users includes:

  • cartographers
  • town and country planners
  • telecoms and power engineers
  • meteorologists, geologists
  • environmental engineers
  • draughts-people
  • supporting technicians

Our research into employment around the world shows almost half the potential GIS users in APAC – a stark contrast to the source of revenue for our software providers.


This isn’t the whole story of course, but it is an interesting starting point. For GIS vendors wanting to plan their sales and marketing strategy, there are two considerations:

  • If the size of the GIS market is a function of supplier revenues then clearly the Americas is the territory to focus on
  • But by also taking a view of the potential user communities that is turned around – and may lead to an alternative line of attack

Cambashi Observatories

Learn more about Cambashi’s market data, including numbers for the GIS market.

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