Getting More from GIS: Rocketing Your Way to Higher Returns

Wade Kloos, GIS Director, Utah Department of Natural Resources
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Wade Kloos, GIS Director, Utah Department of Natural Resources

Wade Kloos, GIS Director, Utah Department of Natural Resources

What resource, if you had more of it, could significantly increase the value of your GIS? It can be difficult for the IT  leader to fully appreciate how their organization, and specifically their GIS effort, is positioned to deliver maximum GIS  returns or even know what the benefits are. In this article, I will focus on answering this question: What actions can the  leaders of your organization take to maximize GIS value? That one resource that could make all difference—I’ll reveal that as well. First, let’s take a 30,000 foot view of a typical GIS program and what it does. The GIS team is first and foremost interested in good data and countless hours are applied to its creation and maintenance. Data is organized, analyzed, stored  and offered up to the organization and of course maps of all kinds are produced. GIS staff who work hard to meet the needs of organizational customers, are typically humble people and gain satisfaction that they respond effectively to map or data  requests—then it’s back to the never-ending data maintenance responsibility.
 
"With GIS being several levels from top management, a gap exists between the people that truly understand the organization’s  information and the people that need that information to address the organization’s top priorities"
 
Organizationally, the GIS team might be under planning, engineering or other programs that in turn report up to another level of management. With GIS being several levels from top management, a gap exists between the people that truly understand the organization’s information and the people that need that information to address the organization’s top priorities.
 
So here’s the first part of the answer: Make sure your GIS leader is involved with leadership issues of your organization. When GIS people hear mission-critical challenges or strategic opportunities, they can creatively bring the organization’s relevant information (and information from others) to bear, thus ensuring that lack of information is not a limiting factor in your decision-making process. This solution costs nothing, removes organizational barriers and will inspire GIS staff to contribute to organization priorities in ways never before thought possible. You are on your way to boosting GIS, fueling the rocket of higher returns—ready for more?
 
Let’s take a closer view at GIS operations, about the 10,000 foot level. As stated earlier, there is no shortage of work managing your organization’s data and your GIS resources can spend their careers becoming data experts inside their cubicles. But how often do they get out and approach the managers of the organization’s numerous programs and ask probing questions  like; what is your information or work process challenges? What would these managers change if they could? This awareness and understanding of business reality is organizational “high octane fuel”— more power for your rocket! Here again, we are seeking to close the gap between high impact opportunities and information/application know-how. But this time, rather than a formal invitation to a leadership meeting, we are seeking to change behavior of GIS staff.
 
You might be familiar with 3M Corporation’s 15 percent rule where they encourage their employees to spend 15 percent of their time pursuing projects that they, themselves, believe will advance the company. Along theselines, here’s the second part of the answer: Encourage GIS staff to spend time discovering new opportunities for GIS problem solving, developing a business case for GIS solutions and implementing those solutions. You will see motivation and innovation increase in areas that are meaningful to your organization.
 
Management must be supportive of this freedom and know that failure is another way to gain business insight. Do not be overly critical of innovation ideas or suggestions to change the status quo. This behavioral change is a two way street. You don’t see 3M regretting the freedom to pursue such innovation or the revenue from 15 percent projects like Post-It Notes.
 
Now for one last and closer view of the typical GIS operation. GIS professionals are not MBAs so fiscal matters or business operations are not  their first concern. GIS staff often call the shots on spatial information projects and GIS solutions but rarely are they required to justify beforehand, or document afterwards, the project ROI or cost/benefit analysis (especially in government). Here too, is a potential behavior that, if promoted, could clarify for the CIO the actual impact GIS is delivering to the organization. Can you feel this rocket preparing for lift-off?
 
The best way to change behavior is to reduce the change and measure the desired actions. Here’s part three of the answer. To reduce the change, work with GIS staff to create a simple template to follow that documents what the cost of doing business  was before and after a GIS solution was put into effect. Also list direct and indirect benefits to the organization (and to  others), both qualitative and quantitative. Don’t forget to quantify the cost to create the GIS solution so an ROI value can  be derived, but don’t dwell only on the ROI percentage – look at the big picture. To measure this behavior, set expectations that require a business case,cost/ benefit assessment and documentation as part of how GIS people and programs are evaluated. Most GIS staff and programs will climb on board  to prove their value and impact- they just might need assistance with creating the reporting mechanisms that match your  business/financial models. The key is to make it simple and something that will personally benefit GIS staff, i.e., prove their value to your organization.
 
The trajectory of GIS returns are not defined by the latest software release or product but rather by your organization’s opening of the rocket silo (boardroom) doors for GIS input at the leadershiplevel, priming the engine for the freedom to discover and problem solve creatively and setting telemetry-like expectations for actual GIS results. So there you have it, three solutions that can amplify and clarify the impact of your GIS program. What is that one resource that if you had more of it could dramatically increase the value of your GIS program? It’s not more money, people or time. These three solutions all use this precious resource. It’s more management attention focused on GIS. Try it, it’s not rocket science.
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