Approaching GIS Differently

May 21st, 2014 by George Demmy

Note the most polished commentary, but some things to think about!  MK

People who work with GIS or with a variety of related technologies for photogrammetry and remote sensing applications often are focused on the underlying technology and what’s best of breed. Rightly so! Keeping up with the latest methods, technologies, and techniques is essential to efficiently run geospatially-oriented aspects of a business or enterprise. However, undue focus on technology without a larger purpose-driven context can lead to dualistic thinking which can lead to strategies that move organizations away from maximizing return on their investments in time, training, and software for their GIS. An interactive map tied into the authoritative geospatial and other data sources as well as enterprise access and authentication back-ends rolled up in the cloud is certainly desirable, advanced, capable, versatile, and many other adjectives and superlatives as well. Is that better than a paper map? Is that better than a flat map shoved into a PowerPoint? Maybe. It depends on the application.

One of the most important characteristics of a map is it’s ability to start or enhance a conversation. GIS helps us distill our understanding and perspectives and decisions into something that can be shared with people who need access to that. While there are plenty of “data management” applications associated with GIS, its true value is helping people move from data to information to insight and understanding for themselves and the people and enterprises they serve. It is insight and understanding and conversations around that in which I’m most interested. And many times, the key stakeholders in those conversations don’t have access behind firewalls or to the GIS, etc. In that case, a picture might be worth a thousand tables in the authoritative data store. It depends on the conversation.

When you change the context and think not about the GIS and the supporting technology and start thinking about who you’d like to reach and engage with what you’re producing from the investments in GIS you’ve made, you often reach new conclusions. Pushing “data” out of a GIS group, while necessary, is increasingly a commodity activity, which will be of decreasing relative value compared to the activities of the knowledge workers and decision makers who consume that data. If, on the other hand, the GIS group is pushing out insight, that is a higher value activity. Furthermore, this value is multiplied by the size of the audience the group can reach. We take it as dogma that GIS is essential, but that, like many other aspects of running an enterprise, bears introspection. So, what is it, ultimately, do you want to use your considerable investment in GIS for, and who do you want to reach? Are there means by which you can reach people you are not reaching with insights and applications? What is the low hanging fruit to be harvested with minimal effort or investment? Sometimes getting a return on investment has less to do with adopting new technology, than looking at the problem differently.

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