As 2016 unfolds we are finding ever more interest in GIS from those new to the technology. We’ve mentioned before in this blog that GIS has historically been the bastion of those trained in the technology. Organizations with GIS departments – commonly in the public sector and large corporations – have been the main users of the technology. Today that is changing. This is in part due to technology advances (GIS is now easier to access/use and is more affordable), and a wider need for answers to WHERE questions:

Where should we locate our new store? Where are our greatest insurance risks? Where are properties for sale which fit our requirements and criteria?

Solving problems with GIS: 3 key things to know

Though GIS has become more accessible, getting answers to your WHERE questions still requires work. Those looking for simple click click answers will be frustrated. Return on your GIS investment (ROI) remains front and centre. In this post I’ll share with you what we see as 3 crucial elements to success with GIS.

What is the Problem?

Too often technology is the initial focus of all engagements with GIS. I’d like this app. Could you build out this storymap. We want to show our clients heat maps. Start at the beginning .. first define the problem. Let me give you an example. We work increasingly with commercial real estate (CRE) companies. Often we are approached with the following “Could you tell us how much it would cost for you to build a map for us which shows our listings?”. This is actually not a bad start. There is a problem defined. But is this the real problem?

We dig deeper into this problem.

Q -“Tell us how you work today”
A – We often generate a custom built flyer of an individual property and share that with our clients.

Q – “We know data is important in CRE tell me about your data?”
A – “That’s a big challenge. As a broker, I usually have spreadsheets, images, documents etc stored on my computer. I also use a number of public maps showing parcels etc. Privacy is a big concern to me”

Q – “So for each client you pull data from different sources, collate and generate printed material or pdf’s for your clients”
A – “Yes, it works but can be a time consuming painstaking process. Having my data stored in one place would be huge”

I think you get the idea. We have moved from the simple (perceived) problem, that of mapping listings, to the much wider conversation. Note the discussion of centralised data, privacy etc. This is all problem definition. By moving through this process all parties build a clear understanding of the problem needing a solution.

Evolving the Story

With the problem defined, we are good to go? Wrong. Next comes the story. This can be part of the problem definition conversation but, for us at least, it’s the next step of our initial engagement. At the core here is “show me how you do things today, and how we might do it better tomorrow”. This can often start with data:

Q – “So showing clients listings is important. What other data might be useful?”
A – “Many clients ask us for retail information, how close is this listing to other similar retailers. If we had this information on a map, and could maybe filter it by type of retailer, that would be very useful”

Q – “What other questions do your clients ask you when weighing up property options?”
A – “Drive times, traffic data, and demographics can be important. We recently had a coffee shop approach us about opening a new shop. A key criteria for them was they needed to be on a major road on the morning commute side of the road.”

Again here we are digging deeper into needs. We are having the client tell us the story. In this CRE example we are walking through real scenarios. Having the client tell us stories about what their client engagements look like. Its only by evolving stories we can truly understand what that final solution should look like.

Avoiding Technology Overload

We push the technology down our priority list with new customers. Why? Because the means to the end, it should never be the focus. Think about buying a car. The challenge a car solves is getting from a to b. Now when we dig a little deeper our movement from a to b can differ. Imagine a mum, her vehicle needs differ markedly from a young twenty something male. Her story might be:

“I have 3 children. I often take my kids and friends to the park etc so space is important. So is ease of access, I don’t want kids climbing over seats to get in and out. I also need storage space, I have plenty I need to pack for trips”.

Having this information gives us a great launching point to start looking at vehicles. Which best fit this mothers needs. And there are an overwhelming number of choices. GIS is no different. Take the ArcGIS platform for example. We often have clients tell us “We just don’t know where to begin”. Our approach is to provide GIS guidance, and direct help where needed.

Defining the problem, evolving the story, then choosing the appropriate GIS solution set are crucial to successfully solving problems with GIS.

Contact us on 801-733-0723.


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