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Matt Sheehan
Matt Sheehan
Matt holds an MSc in Geography and GIS. He has been working with clients solving problems with GIS for over 17 years. Matt founded WebMapSolutions whose mission is to put innovative, intuitive GIS driven applications into the hands of new and existing users.

Our GIS Emphasis Should be Business Outcomes not Maps

November 9th, 2015 by Matt Sheehan

Its time again to revisit maps. In the surprisingly popular blog post “Please stop calling me the mapping guy” I took exception at being pigeon-holed. I (we) are far more valuable to organizations than simply being seen as producers of maps. We are solution providers. Maps are simply a key output from our work: intuitive and easy to understand. In this post I will broaden the conversation.

Our GIS Emphasis Should be Business Outcomes not Maps

What are business outcomes? There are 5 key components:

1. Profitable growth
2. Customer engagement
3. Business sustainability
4. Productivity
5. Business agility

Five words: growth, engagement, sustainability, productivity, agility. Technology is a key driver behind business outcomes. Innovative organizations are looking for competitive advantages; how to do things better, more efficiently, faster. Business outcomes are not applicable just to private companies, all organizations are focused on improvement.

GIS should be one of the core technology drivers behind business outcomes. It should be a mission-critical business system. And yet adoption remains slow. Why?

GIS: Still a Misunderstood Technology

Fundamentally, GIS remains misunderstood. And in large part it is our fault.

Think about how successful any business analytic’s organization or individual might be if conversations were led with: “I (we) provide charts and spreadsheets to improve your business”. Charts and spreadsheets!

No business professional leads conversations like this. It makes no sense. But that is just what we do with GIS. We lead our conversations emphasizing maps.

The terms map and location mean little to business leaders looking to solve problems. Maps remain linked with discovery and routing: how to get from A to B. Similarly terms like location intelligence, and location analytic’s are poorly understood. In so many words at WebMapSolutions we often hear: what do maps or location have to do with our business outcomes?

Start with the Problem

The bottom line is that we need to start with the problem. We need to be focused on business outcomes, or linking a problem with an outcome solved by GIS technology. Let me say that again loudly


Let’s provide an example here. In commercial real estate we had a client whose process for collecting new properties for sale and listing these properties on their web site took days. Time is money as they say, and our client wanted to automate this process. Using Collector for ArcGIS, Geoforms and some clever scripting, this process now takes hours. Rich, accurate property data is now collected by agents fast. Sure maps are part of the listing output, but our client conversations were centred on their vision: allowing agents to spend more time selling!

GIS is changing, yet the language we use to describe the power of GIS remains the same. We have to get away from using terms like map and location. Sure they are at the core of the technology, but they are poorly understood and carry past associations. We need to be looking for problems which are inherently location-based. And be focused in our conversations on the higher level solution using GIS, thinking carefully about how we express that solution. What is an organizations pain points and vision? That will demand new thinking and a new approach on our part.

To be able to demonstrate how important GIS can be to any organization, we need to be able to show value. That means moving conversations away from the technology and towards solving real problems.

Contact us for more information on 801-733-0723.

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Categories: ArcGIS Online, cloud GIS, Mobile ArcGIS, Mobile GIS, Web and mobile GIS

One Response to “Our GIS Emphasis Should be Business Outcomes not Maps”

  1. Jim Horstman says:

    Good article and totally agree. I always found it interesting that a major player in the GIS field would highlight ‘the best maps’ at their annual conference rather than ‘the best solution in which GIS played a part’. Minor disagreement with productivity being a business outcome. I can improve productivity but not really improve operations. So maybe operational improvements instead or some other term meaning we actually made things work better not just faster.

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