GIS: Not a Back-end Bolt On But the Next Cool Tool

Micah Callough, VP and Director of Digital Solutions for Clients, Arcadis
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We all see the world through the window we developed over a lifetime of work. Sometimes our passion for our work and wisdom acquired through our experiences leads us to believe that our views and methods are the only paths to success. From that point, our views shape our ability to learn new and better ways to manage a highly technical and complex profession. From there, it’s a small step to defend our methods against all comers. The world of Geographic Information Systems is no stranger to this “us against them” approach.  Unfortunately, this approach limits GIS’ collaborative potential. 

So the challenge is how to start looking at GIS in a different light. Technically speaking, GIS now should be considered a Digital Solution, with unique qualities, housed in a suite of IT-based solutions to solve the world’s larger spatial problems. This approach is one way to move our industry in the right direction. Fortunately for us, the IT world and the inherent spatial nature of GIS lends itself to make this possible.

Integration vs a Bolt-on Approach

From an IT or applications development perspective, there is an opportunity to use GIS as a tool that can enhance an existing offering when integrated usefully. Integration is the key word. GIS solutions need to be collaborative and not something you bolt onto an existing approach. All too often we see enterprise solutions built to meet a need like managing assets, where GIS is accessed but not truly integrated; therefore, we miss opportunities to tie system data to location and location to system data.

  All too often we see enterprise solutions built to meet a need like managing assets, where GIS is accessed but not truly integrated 

Now is the time to push harder to open up to a new world of geographic enabled data and solutions.  With the advent of cloud and web-based technology this idea of Digital Solutions coming together can be more effectively reached at a much lower cost. Even better, it’s easier to expose platforms and tools to GIS professionals, and by doing so, you begin to gain an opportunity to grow in ways that can produce true value.

Overcoming Integration Challenges

Arcadis has learned these lessons over the past few years as we’ve overcome several challenges in integrating Digital Solutions with GIS. For instance, we identified an issue with an industrial company challenged with property-related issues, ranging from excess property to lease management issues. The problem with property management issues for industry with numerous properties spread over large geographic areas is that it’s hard to find those hidden opportunities to begin turningthe properties into opportunities.

Arcadis approached this challenge with a search for opportunities to bring together traditional process and workflow management tools with the power of location using integrated GIS tools. This approach allowed our team to connect known client data related to their properties with outside data. Linking these two sources enabled the team to determine and rank potential properties, creating profiles to show which posed risks and which were apt to be redeveloped for resell or simply better if converted to more productive uses.

The outcome for our clients was a risk-based set of priorities to turn properties into opportunities not previously imagined. Utilizing smart tools in an integrated, transparent, and accessible way, we can expose and manage the process to move property from the identification stage to the action stage faster than ever before.

Integrating GIS for Mobile Asset Management

In another example, integrating GIS helped optimize a mobile device management service for a major metropolitan city.

Mobile Device Management, or MDM, is the ability to secure, monitor, manage, and support mobile devices from a single point of access. This included allowing devices to be incorporated within the organization’s IT infrastructure while monitoring their locations and being able to lock or completely wipe the devices remotely.

Integrating GIS with an asset management approach made it possible to maintain and manage nearly 500 mobile devices used by city crews to enter data digitally into web forms and to capture digital images of issues they encounter in the field. Crews also have access to over 24,000 documents as well as the department’s expansive GIS to identify assets in the field and troubleshoot issues. Supervisors have the ability to take documents with them to meetings through the “mobile office” capabilities of the mobile devices. The MDM system allows all of these documents and data to be stored safely and securely within the department’s own servers. The ability to locate, turn off, and wipe the devices completely adds additional needed security for this sensitive data. Workflows have been put into place to allow rapid deployment of mobile devices, including setup, configuration, asset tagging, and training for the user. Reports on usage, system compliancy, and almost every other aspect of the mobile devices can quickly be generated through the MDM Software.

The Only Barrier is Ourselves

The potential for GIS to broaden the ability for IT to manage in space as well as time will bring benefits well beyond those illustrated here. The barrier is not the technology but our own attitudes toward where and how GIS fits in. It’s time to view GIS not as a back-end bolt-on, but rather the next cool tool that will bring new levels of performance to our professions and our work.

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