Overcome the Challenges of Your Role by Learning New Skills and Applying New Strategies
[Note: This is the first post in our new series about Managing GIS.]
Defining the role of a successful GIS manager today is vastly different from how we would have defined a successful GIS manager even five years ago. If you are using the playbook from five years ago, the odds are stacked against you. This conclusion comes not only from my personal experience as a GIS manager, but from my professional experience at Esri working closely with Local Government GIS managers.
Most GIS managers have worked their way up to manager positions from GIS technician/analyst positions, and many have GIS/geography or similar academic/professional experience. While this background is great for being a successful GIS user, it does not necessarily provide you with the skills necessary to be a successful GIS manager–and this is exactly what I have experienced in my career.
In my twenty-plus years in the GIS industry (spanning the public sector, private sector, and academia), and twelve years as a GIS manager, I have come to some conclusions about the challenges that face GIS managers.
An enterprise GIS is a mission-critical IT system. Because most GIS managers began their careers as GIS technicians or analysts, they do not have a professional IT background. Being a successful manager also means you need a general business background, yet most GIS managers I know have no business background. So we have GIS managers, an entire class of critical employees who lack many of the skills necessary to successfully execute their mission.
To be successful, GIS managers in this situation need to proactively work toward filling in the IT and business skills gaps. From my experience, here are some of the strategies and skills I see as most relevant to overcoming these gaps and being a successful GIS manager:
IT strategies and skills:
- Identify and follow best practices (IT, GIS, and vendor-specific).
- Develop and maintain a living strategic plan.
- Design and maintain a mission-critical system architecture to power your enterprise GIS.
- Integrate GIS with other enterprise business systems.
- Implement GIS as a location platform that supports your business.
- Provide an ecosystem for third-party developers.
- Embrace change and plan for it.
- Deploy mobile-capable, focused apps ASAP using a rapid application development methodology.
- Be sustainable: Prioritize the use of commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) over custom solutions.
- Be innovative: Participate in Esri’s beta community and make innovation a priority and part of your daily workload.
- Be proactive: Schedule an annual GIS health check.
Business strategies and skills:
- Increase your customer base: Bring GIS to everyone, not everyone to GIS.
- Exceed your customer’s expectations: Make sure you understand the need behind the need.
- Maximize return on investment (ROI):
- Provide business solutions across all five business patterns (data management, planning and analysis, field mobility, operational awareness, and customer engagement).
- Focus on spatial analysis; it is the reason that GIS exists and it provides the maximum ROI.
- Get, maintain, and expand executive sponsorship for GIS: Learn how to engage with executives and provide them with business solutions that matter to them.
- Don’t just be a manager, be a leader: There is a big difference between managing and leading.
- Market the value of spatial insight: Transform your image from mapmaker to solution provider.
- Define and measure success: How else will you truly know you are successful?
In future blog posts, I will dive deeper into many of these and other topics to help GIS managers beat the odds.