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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.

Are you a GIS Robinson Crusoe?

July 7th, 2016 by Matt Sheehan

Robinson Crusoe is actually one of my favourite books. The story of the sole survivor of a ship-wreck, washed up on a remote island. Alone he developed talents which helped him survive: farming, construction etc. Marooned but highly capable, Crusoe managed to survive for 15 years. When joined by Friday ‘his devoted slave’, together they built a boat and escaped the island, returning to civilization.

Let me expand on this question: are you a GIS Robinson Crusoe?

You might have guessed, isolation is this blog post’s theme: GIS isolation. Or, rather like Robinson Crusoe, living on a (GIS) island. We commonly encounter two categories:

GIS Newbies – Getting Help

As GIS becomes more popular, we are increasingly encountering organizations who wish to use the technology to solve problems. But often these organizations lack in house GIS expertise. Sometimes that means throwing a GIS newbie at the technology. That can be a very uncomfortable place to be. Sure GIS can be learned, but it takes time to understand how to solve complex business problems. Particularly when business questions need answers yesterday.

There are many resources online, from Esri articles and docs to mailing lists. Often we are asked to provide hand holding to organizations new to GIS. We like to break projects down as follows:

a) What is the problem which needs solving?
b) What might a solution look like?
c) What data is needed to solve this problem?
d) Which GIS platforms and solutions are the most appropriate to solve this problem?

As an example, we had an investment company approach us about ArcGIS. They needed to “share interactive web maps of alternate energy investment opportunities in Asia”. The first part of our work together was to focus on the problem. We stepped through our GIS Discovery Workshop. This helped all understand better both the problem and what a potential solution might look like. Next we jumped into the implementation. Again we work in a very systematic manner, and have put in place a framework or GIS Implementation Process. Here we considered data, set up ArcGIS Online, published maps and configured ArcGIS web applications. In this customer case we used web app builder and storymaps to provide a very successful first phase solution.

This type of hand holding can help accelerate understanding and provide answers to tough questions fast.

Mapping Departments – Demonstrating Wider Value

Adam Carnow of Esri and I have had a number of conversations about the mapping department conundrum. Adam has some excellent case studies from organizations who have widened the use of GIS: from only mapping to business problem solving. But GIS often sits on its own island in many organizations. In our view GIS should either be a part of the IT department, or better still be part of the business analysis or intelligence groups. Truly GIS is a business tool able to answer the many where (location) questions organizations need answered.

In Orange County, Florida, GIS experts work in the same department as other business intelligence (BI) professionals. Their mission is the success of the organization. GIS, or location intelligence, is seen as a part of BI. Theirs is a model many should follow. GIS working groups which include key stake holders: public works directors, CIO’s, even mayors, have proven very successful in helping to share the value of GIS, in a wider business context.

GIS has changed. Don’t be a GIS Robinson Crusoe. Reach out for help or change your place in your organization. GIS is an ever more important tool in your business solution mix.

Want to know more about how GIS can help your organization? Contact us on 801-733-0723.

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

One Response to “Are you a GIS Robinson Crusoe?”

  1. Jim Horstman says:

    Hi Matt, another of your posts which provoke me to comment. I like your a)-c) in the Getting Help section but as I’ve probably commented before d) should be ‘which platforms and solutions, of which GIS is one, are the most appropriate to solve this problem?’ I know I am preaching to the choir here but it is rare when a solution of any magnitude only requires GIS.

    In the utility world and other related enterprises the Mapping Department has typically come a long way form ink on vellum, to CAD based, unintelligent maps, to GIS enabled maps. I suspect most of them still view themselves as the Mapping Department and not a GIS group even though the technology underlies there work. That brings up the issue of perceiving themselves as a ‘production department’ where first in, first out is the rule to an information department where rapid turnaround of critical data is important. This means a change in mind set and probably reward systems with an emphasis on both data quality and creative new processes for turning around that data sooner. Ensuring that new and revised circuit configurations is available to an Outage Management of Distribution Management system at the time the circuit is energized may require ‘mapping’ to occur prior to the completion of the work and only critical revisions completed prior to providing the information to OMS/DMS.

    On the location of the GIS group the answer is YES. It should be in IT from an applications standpoint but also in the BI space as one of the important tools. This division is getting a little blurrier as analytics are now being embedded in applications.

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