A Winning GIS Formula

This column discusses the author´s experience with clients new to GIS.

The five Key Ingredients

Over the many years working with GIS I have found there are certain key ingredients which will make or break a GIS implementation. Its only though successes and failures that we have narrowed down common elements which need to addressed carefully, to get maximum ROI from GIS.

1. Understand
I don’t mean get a rough idea, I mean REALLY UNDERSTAND. Make your client (and by client I mean the stakeholder, visionary, boss), explain and explain again if you do not understand. Sometimes they themselves don’t fully understand. Persevere together. Pull others from outside and inside into the mix. Thrash it out, until all are on the same page.

We worked with a commercial client in 2014. This client found it very difficult to articulate their ‘pot of gold’ vision. We had meeting after meeting, never really arriving at the same place of joint understanding. This ArcGIS implementation was particularly challenging, since it lacked a shared, understood vision. No clear path forward could be charted. We meandered. That proved costly in time, money and frustration. What we learned; spend as much time in the understanding phase as possible. If the vision is proving hard to define, find creative ways or proven systems to tease things out.

2. Carefully and thoroughly put in place a plan
This is your blueprint. Let me ask you this: would you build a house with a half complete plan?

I presume (hope) your answer would be NO! Think of your GIS implementation as like building your dream house. The more upfront planning you do, the more wonderful the end result. Half do the planning, and you will not end up with what you had hoped. Planning is only effective with understanding. When you sit down with an architect he will ask in detail about your vision for your dream home, and translate what is in your head to a physical plan. Can it be revised? Of course, and likely will be as the house construction evolves. But without a well thought out and designed plan, there is no road-map.

3. Data, data, data

Without good clean, complete, accurate data you have very little. Far too often the importance of data is ignored or underestimated. I was in a conversation recently with one of our mining clients. They mentioned it had taken them close to a year to prepare their data. One year!

Data preparation takes many forms. One absolutely crucial focus area need be building an authoritative organizational data-set. That is one centralized source of data which is the go-to, reliable, authoritative source. This is what feeds your GIS. The notion of authoritative data moves an organization away from the old world of data silos; “we have (and guard) our own departmental data”. Breaking the silo model, may itself prove to be one the biggest challenges larger organizations will face.

4. Put in place a feedback loop

From our experience a feedback loop needs to be put in place. Given a shared, understood vision, a plan or blueprint, and carefully prepared authoritative data, as outlined above, next comes full GIS implementation. That means testing and revision. This should be ongoing through the life of the implementation.

5. Maps and Apps – Configure first, customize second
With ArcGIS in place and set up its time to turn to maps and apps. Thanks to your plan, you have a good idea of your organizations need. But where do you start when it comes to lighting up your organization with maps and apps? Look first to commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) solutions.

Save time and money by looking to COTS first. Esri have released an amazing number of COTS solutions across many verticals. Esri partners have done the same. If you are a local government entity, oil and gas company, real estate, or water utility there are COTS solutions available. Get to know better the COTS maps and apps solutions that are now available. You will be quite amazed.

We recently worked with a company focused on land sales. They wanted to “Let the agents be salesmen not secretaries”. That meant improving how they collected data about new land for sale, and providing new tools to sell this land. We worked with them and implemented ArcGIS. Though a small company, they had agents of many technical abilities; some tech savvy others tech averse. We turned to COTS solutions and found the perfect mix of apps for the team. This included ArcGIS Pro/ArcMap, Collector for ArcGIS, GeoForms, ArcGIS Online viewer. The implementation was a resounding success, in part due to the time we spent focused on this best mix of COTS solutions based on the client’s needs.

There you have it. Our winning formula for success with GIS. Let us know your thoughts. What have you found worked best, or created challenges, as you moved forward with this exciting new platform.

Matt Sheehan is Principal and Senior Developer at WebmapSolutions. The company build location focused mobile applications for GIS, mapping and location based services (LBS). Matt can be reached at matt@webmapsolutions.com.

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