Managing GIS is about Managing Change

Change is inevitable.  So embrace it, plan for it, and make the most of it.
[Note:  This is the fourth post in our new series about Managing GIS.]

“Nothing endures but change.”
That quote is credited to Heraclitus of Ephesus, an ancient Greek philosopher.  In the fifth century BC, the importance of change was evident.  And so it also is today.
For a more contemporary view of the importance of change, let’s turn to Jack Welch, Chairman and CEO of GE from 1981-2001.  During that time, the company’s market capitalization had a 30-fold increase of more than $400 billion.  He was named the “Manager of the Century” by Forbes magazine in 1999.  Here are two of my favorite quotes from Jack Welch on the importance of change:
“When the rate of change outside exceeds the rate of change inside, the end is in sight.”
“Willingness to change is a strength, even if it means plunging part of the company into total confusion for a while.”
Ignoring change is one of the worst mistakes you can make in a technology-centric industry like GIS.  You have to embrace it, plan for it, and take advantage of it.  Change management is an important part of maintaining a successful GIS.  But change management is difficult because technology is changing faster all the time, which makes that moving target harder to hit with every passing day.

The Technology Treadmill

We’re all familiar with the brief lifecycle related to technology such as smart phones, tablets, computers, and televisions.  It seems once you buy one, the next week a new version is released.  And data backs this up.

From page 18 of Media Metrics: The True State of the Modern Media Marketplace by Adam Thierer and Grant Eskelsen, The Progress & Freedom Foundation, 2008,

Leading Change

As Jack Welch stated, “willingness to change is a strength,” and it is a required trait of a successful GIS leader.  By definition a manager is risk averse; their job is to keep everything and everyone working efficiently.  So change management is the last thing on the mind of a manager.  It takes a leader to recognize that change is necessary and to make it a priority.  So be sure to realize when it is time to take off your ‘manager hat’ and put on your ‘leader hat.’
If you are going to make change a priority, that means you have to make time for it, not just once a year, quarter or month, but every single day.  Research and development and evaluation of the latest technologies needs to be part of your daily routine.  If you don’t make it a priority, it won’t happen.  If you’re “too busy to improve,” you’ll quickly be left behind.
Or in the words of Former Secretary of Veterans Affairs and U.S. Army General Eric Shinseki, “If you don’t like change, you’re going to like irrelevance even less.”

5 Keys to GIS Change Management

So what can a GIS Manager do to keep up with the technology treadmill and stay relevant?

  1. Create a Change Management Plan as part of your living GIS Strategic Plan.
  2. Your Change Management Plan should include regular participation in the Esri Beta Community.
  3. Be aware of and track Esri’s Product Life Cycles and plan for the effect of those lifecycles.
  4. Constantly evaluate the coming versions of Esri products so that you know what new things they can do for your organization and how to leverage them.  This would include educating your customers on any new products and features so you can plan how to best implement them.
  5. Strive to understand how the changes are going to affect your current organization, systems, and workflows, and if there will need to be any changes made in response to these new features and products.

Plan for Change

GIS is getting better every day. Change is a good thing; it is part of progress.
One of the most important jobs of a GIS manager is to manage change.  One thing is incredibly obvious: you cannot—and should not—ignore change and its effect on your GIS.  So plan for change and make it work for you—just like the City of Minneapolis did, which is highlighted in this video from the 2014 Esri User Conference.

The City of Minneapolis has been using GIS for decades. But despite quality databases, best-of-breed tools, and well-trained users, they were struggling to realize their vision because they were working in silos.  Their approach needed a change—to focus more on core business needs of their customers. A staff reduction of more than 50% forced a new approach, which included increasing the number of users across city departments, convincing management that GIS would improve their business, and convincing executives of the value of GIS.
Minneapolis’ new approach focused on three key missions:

The new approach at the City of Minneapolis meant putting more trust in the hands of users and letting go of tight centralized control.  Growing beyond traditional thinking and embracing change put the city in a position of constantly looking for new ways to use GIS and expand into new departments and niches.

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