I enjoyed Paul Synott’s recent article: Is GIS now firmly rooted in the Knowledge Economy?
In the article Paul uses the terms pedal power and brain power. I thought these were worth exploring in a little more depth.
Is GIS Pedal Power a Barrier to Brain Power?
I agree with Paul’s article assertions, but I’ll argue here that GIS professionals real value has yet to be fully realised within organizations. That we are still stuck pushing the pedals and not (enough) the brain.
Let’s step back. GIS serves as:
- A central repository of geo-data
- Source of map generation
- Provides tools to help staff improve how they work eg. replacing pen and paper for field data collection with mobile GIS apps
- Analytics or business problem solving
GIS professionals have a multi-faceted role. Let’s list and categorize the many tasks we tackle:
- GIS install, setup, configure and deploy(pedal)
- Map making (pedal)
- Data preparation (pedal and brain)
- Data enrichment and calculation (brain)
- Providing new applications/tools for staff (pedal and brain)
- Building or coordinating with external developers new applications and tools (brain)
- Planning, designing, understanding organizational challenges and how to best apply GIS to solve (brain)
- Data analysis and business problem solving (brain)
This list actually gets at some of the challenges of today’s GIS professional. I might suggest too many hats are currently being worn. There is nothing inherently wrong with pedal power, this builds the foundations. But in my mind we need GIS folks in IT focused on building and maintaining this foundation. With others in business units applying the technology to solve problems (brain power).
In this blog I often state that GIS is complex. That is first technologically; pedal power (as we have defined it) still requires specialized skills, and second the complexity of being able to think spatially and thus solve ‘where’ problems. In many traditional GIS sectors such as local, state, federal government, GIS folks still wear many hats. In non-traditional such as commercial sectors (banking, insurance, real estate, retail) GIS folks either do not exist or are very narrowly focused eg. site selection in retail.
As a company we have split our work, and the services we provide, into pedal and brain. Our consultants provide a mix of pedal (install, deploy, prepare) and brain power (planning, design). While our developers and analysts are solution providers. We work in many parts of client organizations. Our mandate (pedal v brain) clearly defined. That separation is key.
Have a pedal or brain power GIS problem? Contact us on 801-733-0723.
Read our free white paper ‘ArcGIS Deployment Guide’, which provides a road map for getting started and moving forward with ArcGIS Online.
Author: Matt Sheehan
Matt Sheehan is a Principal at WebMapSolutions. Matt evangelizes GIS and location intelligence around the world through keynotes, articles, tweets and his books. Follow him on Twitter: