Leadership's Misperception of Today’s GIS
Updated: May 11
There was a time when the use of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) were limited to specific organizations such as national governments, land management agencies, utilities, and planning commissions. These organizations used GIS primarily for analysis, planning, modeling, map production and other specific projects. During this time, GIS was considered “on demand” where GIS teams were asked to provide specific support for:
· Producing printed maps
· Performing modeling/analysis for specific planning initiatives or projects
· Static digital maps for presentations or websites
Over the last several years, the rise of service-based GIS has dramatically changed how and where GIS technology is used. GIS has evolved from a project oriented analytic and modeling technology used by highly trained technicians to a platform technology providing critical real-time information to hundreds or potentially thousands of users and consumers simultaneously. The advent of web services, improvements in computer performance, the rise in cloud capacity and the availability of massive IOT data have all attributed to this evolution. The availability of streaming data continues to grow, doubling between 2018 and 2021. Real time data (weather, video, sensors, drones, traffic, social media, emergency incidents, etc.), cloud computing, and online data storage has become widespread, enabling GIS platforms to become even more powerful by using this data in combination to better inform decision-making. Today’s GIS enables users to integrate and visualize real time, data streams, and view it in context with their own authoritative jurisdictional data. They can also perform spatial analysis on the web, accessing distributed servers where different layers of data exist enabling users to bring this data together, fuse it, and analyze it across multiple networks. When required, these analyses can drive automatic notifications to designated personnel when events meet defined criteria enabling organizations to have a comprehensive understanding of the location, timing, and context of events as they occur and evolve. This provides decision makers with the information they need, when it is needed, on virtually any device.
Unfortunately, these robust capabilities are not well understood by many executives, managers, or operations personnel. GIS’s legacy reputation for being exceedingly complicated and requiring specially trained personnel is still how many think of it. In addition, many folks do not realize that GIS can integrate and work with other non-GIS supporting technologies. GIS personnel who are often busy supporting their traditional roles are challenged in keeping up with the rapid evolution of modern GIS platforms. Adding to this knowledge gap, graduating college students often start their careers behind as many university GIS curriculums have difficulty keeping up with the rapid changes of Geospatial Technology and its transformation into a mainstream technology platform.
Finally, many organizations already own software and licenses to use and display GIS products and tools, and are unaware of their full potential. They “don’t know what they don’t know”. When shown some of the real-time situational awareness capabilities available in today’s GIS, managers and operations personnel are often amazed; “I had no Idea these capabilities were possible” is a phrase often repeated, to which the response is usually “and you already own that”! The truth is that many organizations have made substantial investments in GIS technology, infrastructure, and personnel and are utilizing a mere fraction of that investment.
It is only through the combination of an organizational commitment to utilizing GIS programmatically and investment in ongoing operational and technical training for both non-technical and technical staff, the potential of modern GIS can be realized. Leadership MUST champion this process. Without consistent executive engagement directing and monitoring the adoption of these powerful tools, it is unlikely they will be used effectively.
As organizations discover and begin to understand and deploy the underutilized capabilities GIS makes possible, new challenges emerge. These challenges require managers and leaders to examine how work has traditionally been executed and what changes are necessary to improve performance and productivity supported by modern GIS technology. These challenges will be reviewed in a future blog.