We received some excellent and insightful responses to our last blog post: Is GIS Pedal Power a Barrier to Brain Power? I thought them worth re-publishing in this blog post. My thanks to those who provided the feedback.
Is GIS Pedal Power a Barrier to Brain Power?
- Wade – Understanding business objectives and measuring ROI
Matt, I enjoyed your article as it asks an important question. Does doing the work of GIS get in the way of GIS professionals making the most beneficial impact for their organizations? Determining the most beneficial impact is of course, subjective and uniquely up to the organization to define. But how many GIS professionals have approached their organizational leaders with the request for them to define how can GIS make the biggest difference or what exactly is the mandate for GIS? At the same time, one must also understand that CEO types will struggle with these questions, therefore, it needs to be a dialog, not Q and A, that must be carefully scripted. It can only be scripted once a GIS professional understands the business’ objectives, mission, and definitions of success.
I have seen GIS professionals so busy with GIS work that they have no time to organize/balance their work to produce the most beneficial impact for their organization. In these cases, GIS is definitely in the way. GIS managers need to delegate low-value GIS tasks so they can focus on high impact, business-oriented impacts that GIS is uniquely positioned to provide. The brain part of this decree is the investment of time to understand how the business does its work and its measurements of success and the careful weaving of GIS into a solution that positively impacts both of these business fundamentals. And lastly, the GIS manager MUST document how GIS quantitatively and qualitatively impacted the business otherwise they will watch their GIS impact and value fade away in mediocrity.
2. Daniel – Changing the narrative
I completely agree! When I joined my current employment in public health programs and research as a GIS Analyst and Application Developer, I knew very little about the science or art of public health. But I knew that epidemiology is the science of determinants of diseases and how they spread in the population. In other words, I knew epidemiology is the science of “where”, “why”, and “how” of diseases in a population. So I mapped out my landscape very well and determined what my work plan will be like. In my subconscious mind, I categorized my approach to advancing of application of GIS at my work place into the two categories “pedal” and “brain”. These also formed the two phases of rolling out GIS. I first created the GIS platform – software, spatial datasets, procedures, and trainings. This was the “pedal” part as explained in the above article. After doing my first presentation about what GIS is, one of my colleagues asked me how I plan to meet the demand on myself that I had just created through that presentation, and my answer lay in the “pedal” I have just described. I gave myself three years to do that, after which I would be able to free myself to do the “brain” work – analyses and application of GIS into epidemiology. At the end of the three years, my plan was to enroll for Doctoral studies in public health. That is exactly what I did. Currently in my third year in my Doctor of Public Health studies, I have done a number of course units that have given me a firm foundation to understand how to apply GIS in public health sciences such as epidemiology. Although I continue to mentor my colleagues in the “pedal” aspects of GIS (they do the basic things like collecting and cleaning up their data and displaying them spatially in a GIS for creating maps and other visualizations), I am delving deeper into spatial epidemiology which is more exciting and more fulfilling to me – the “brain” part of GIS. In other words, I have evolved myself from the “maps guy” into a scientist that is applying geospatial science to another science/art of public health as a spatial epidemiology. But my excitement doesn’t end there! We all know that GIS is part of a wider information systems. So as a researcher interested in measuring the impacts of health information systems to public health, I have found myself engaging in another line of health informatics…but that’s a story for another day! It is upon us as the GIS professionals to change the narrative of how we should be defined by pushing the horizons of GIS in our respective fields of interest.
3. Paul – Changing perception by changing our language
Matt, I think a lot of this comes down to how we describe what it is we do in the geospatial industry. We are our own worst enemy in this regard, although I do believe we are getting better at this. That said, I might question this assertion, as we could argue, is it a case of us getting better at it or is it a case of others having more of an understanding about what we do, than we do ourselves?
We seem to continuously describe ourselves (in some form or other) as being in the software and services industry; we increasingly write blogs and articles that focus on GIS technology, systems & solutions; and we seem to be forever concerned about whether one GIS product is better than the other. This being the case, then for me, we are always going to be assessed and evaluated in the context of features, functions and widgetry (Pedal Power).
By way of example, when I am asked what it is I do (the question a GIS Professional most hates) then I nearly always answer; “I help public and private sector organisations to better understand the influence & impact of location, place and geography within their respective businesses”
Believe me, you would be very surprised where the conversation can go from this type of a statement. And more often than not you will find yourself in an ‘engaged’ conversation & discussion, that quickly gets into the ‘knowledge and knowhow’ (Brain Power) of what it is we do.
The only people who can change the perception of what we do and how we do it, is us, and ‘language’ is the best change agent we have in this regard. Change our language and we will change perception.
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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: