Advancing to GIS for a better outcomes

Geospatial Solutions

By Adam Carnow

Most non-GIS users hear the term “G-I-S” and think “M-A-P;” that is, they think of GIS, and GIS practitioners, as mapmakers. Most GIS practitioners have unknowingly perpetuated this image. Ask any GIS practitioner what they do for a living and most will say, “I make maps;” however, the reality is that what they do for a living is help people make better decisions through the power of location. This is what I call location intelligence.

This hotspot map is an example of how useful GIS can be across the organization. (Image: Hexagon)

There is a tremendous growth opportunity for GIS in government across the enterprise. GIS was created to perform spatial analysis. GIS can often be underutilized because non-GIS users sometimes don’t understand the reach of spatial analysis and how it can help them. GIS practitioners need to market and evangelize the power of spatial analysis to help change that image.

You can break down location intelligence into six categories. As you move down this list, the value of the location intelligence increases:

  1. Understanding Where. A map (could be paper or PDF, but should be an interactive web map) showing where the fire stations are located across a city.
  2. Measuring Size, Shape and Distribution. A map showing the size, shape and distribution of wetlands across an area would help with wetland protection and preservation.
  3. Determining How Places Are Related. Showing how certain soil types correspond to flood zones.
  4. Finding the Best Locations and Paths
    • To find the best location for a new fire station, run a drive-time polygon process to show the coverage area for each fire station. The areas that are uncovered are where a new fire station is needed.
    • To find the best path for field inspectors: We have 50 inspections to do today and three inspectors. Divide the inspection locations among each inspector and create the most efficient route to get their work done.
  5. Detecting and Quantifying Patterns. Crime analysts look at crime data to try to predict where the next one may occur and to help identify known perpetrators. (See also An inside look at fighting crime with GIS.)
  6. Making Predictions. Modeling a watershed can allow for flood predictions based on anticipated rainfall.

Another way to help break the mapmaker image is to rebrand. Most staff in any organization use spreadsheets daily for a multitude of things that bring value to the organization – some say it’s the number one business intelligence (BI) tool.

There are GIS software tools that are as easy to use as a spreadsheet; in fact, you can use GIS inside of spreadsheets.

Even though spreadsheets are such a useful tool, you don’t see a Spreadsheet Department.

Wetlands map, Oregon’s Klamath Lake. (Map: USGS)

Spreadsheet is just the name of the tool, so you don’t have, or name, a department for it. A department should be named based on the function, or value, it serves.

GIS should be thought of as BI with location data and spatial analysis, or location intelligence. A great way to get people to understand the real value and power of GIS is to rebrand your GIS department to something like Enterprise Location Intelligence.

One such example of this is Walgreens. As the drugstore chain’s GIS department became more strategic and tied to the analytics of the organization, the company rebranded it as Enterprise Location Intelligence.

If your organization has a BI group, they should consider reorganizing to put GIS with that BI group. I’m seeing real-world examples of this rebrand:

  • GIS job title changes to things like:
    • Data Analytics Manager
    • Content Delivery Manager
    • Business and Location Intelligence Manager
  • Reorganization putting GIS with BI: A major city has a Smart City initiative, and in response the city has reorganized its IT group — they now have a Data Analytics Group that consists of a BI team and their GIS team.

This rebrand, and expansion of the understanding of the true purpose and value of GIS, will not just help the organization realize more return on investment (ROI) for their GIS investment, it will help the GIS practitioners elevate their value to the organization and hence their careers.

What can you do? If you’re a GIS practitioner:

  1. Explore rebranding your title and your GIS group as a start to changing your image from mapmaker to solution provider.
  2. Evangelize the power of location intelligence. This is actually pretty easy to do. When someone asks for a map, ask them why they need it, probe to find out more about their project; you will probably uncover a need for spatial analysis.
  3. Start to enable others in your organization to become GIS users via easy-to-use web maps and apps. As they use GIS, they will realize its full potential and seek to utilize it more often.

If you’re not a GIS practitioner, seek out your GIS team to learn more about their capabilities and how they can help you. And, become a GIS user, there are plenty of GIS tools available that are easy to learn and use.

NOTE: If your department has an interest in developing a GIS , call Nelia and we can discuss the simple steps in setting up a GIS.

If you are looking at GIS for the first time, take time to look at QGIS an Open Source software project with as much power as the propriety software at NO COST…..everyone is using it!