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What Makes an Enterprise GIS Successful?

As the 2016 Esri User Conference approaches, I have been thinking about the essence of what makes an enterprise GIS successful and offer these thoughts…
A successful GIS implementation requires more than just technology. Whether or not a GIS is successful, largely depends upon motivated people that are committed to managing change, and effectively applying the technology in a sustainable manner, while following best practices. An assistant City Manager once told me, “…whether or not our GIS implementation is successful is not a technology problem, it’s a people problem…”
Two of the key elements of a successful GIS are vision and leadership – if you are a GIS Manager, you need to be more than just a manager, you need to be a leader in your organization. You need to awaken your organization, and the public, to the capabilities and benefits of the use of GIS. This means you need to market the benefits of GIS to colleagues and the public. Let them know that GIS can do more than make maps, that it can be used easily by anyone, and that spatial analysis can provide insight that is not accessible with any other technology. This critical insight can help anyone make better decisions, be more efficient, and therefore, save money and time.

In order to realize this vision of a location platform successfully supporting your organization’s business, you need to understand how GIS can contribute to your organization’s success. Talk to leaders in your organization, understand what their vision is, and what their problems are. Then deploy sustainable GIS solutions that directly align with their vision, and help solve their problems. Provide these leaders with solutions they can use themselves to run their business – solutions like web-enabled, operational dashboards. By making executives GIS users, they will directly understand the value of GIS, and it will elevate your standing in the organization, as well as your GIS, to a mission-critical, enterprise business system.
A successful GIS also needs a living strategic plan. No enterprise IT system can be successful without an effective strategic plan. This plan need not be a voluminous document that takes a huge effort to create, and then sits on a shelf. It can be as simple as a matrix showing which GIS capabilities have been deployed to which departments. This would then identify what areas are targets for GIS expansion. Then simply prioritize those, and through phases implement the appropriate solutions to meet their needs. The key is that the plan is constantly being updated, so it stays relevant and effective. This plan should align with the IT strategic plan, as well as the overall organizational strategic plan.
Effective governance is another key to a successful GIS. This means that you must have an organizational structure that allows GIS to be as effective as possible. You do not want process to get in the way of progress. There are options for how to effectively implement and govern a GIS, that can be successful, depending on the organization. One key is that there must be executive sponsorship for GIS. There should also be a GIS Steering Committee, made up of executives that can make business decisions related to GIS. This would include decisions on whether or not a GIS solution should be developed using Commercial-Off-The-Shelf (COTS) technology, or a custom solution developed by authoring code. This Steering Committee should also prioritize the GIS projects based on their value to the organization. This frees up the GIS professionals to do their work in a manner that is sustainable and best aligned with the organization’s mission.

As ArcGIS has evolved, so too does your approach to how the technology is implemented.  Technology is changing faster and faster, therefore to keep up with that change, you must take advantage of it by implementing evolutionary approaches, or change management. Embrace the change, make it part of your daily work – if you do not consciously commit time to change management, you will not affect any change. You need to do this by participating in ArcGIS beta programs. Use an annual subscription to the Esri Developer Network to allow you to constantly try out all of our products to see how they are applicable to your work. Investigate the new capabilities of the latest versions of ArcGIS, and make, and execute, plans to utilize them. Change is tough, but it cannot be ignored and the effective and constant management of change, is a foundational piece of any successful organization.
If your ArcGIS implementation is to be successful, the apps that people use must be engaging. With the widespread acceptance in our personal lives of smart mobile devices, like phones and tablets, and their app ecosystems, the expectations of end users have permanently changed. No longer are people willing to read a manual or take a class to learn how to use an app. No longer can GIS apps look like desktop, with layers to turn on and off, and toolbars full of many tools to choose from. Apps need to be focused, intuitive, and work on any device, anywhere at any time. With the spread of smart mobile devices, work takes place wherever and whenever the worker decides, so your GIS apps need to be there with them, ready to work for them. They need to be as easy-to-use as any other app on their devices. The goal is to give everyone alternatives, but keep them in a known, controlled and secure environment, while using the latest and most authoritative data and processes. ArcGIS includes a suite of apps that can easily be deployed without writing code. Become familiar with them and see which ones apply to your organization’s workflows.
The last key facet of a successful GIS implementation is good people. With GIS being a technological field that is rapidly changing, it is critical the GIS professionals get annual training to keep up with the changes. Maintain a living workforce development plan that creates an educational pathway for the GIS users in your organization that is based on their responsibilities. Additionally, a GIS Manager, needs more than technological skills – they need business management skills, as well as IT skills. As a GIS Manager, you need to market and sell your team’s capabilities to the leaders of your organization. You also need to develop and maintain a business plan and change management plan as part of the GIS Strategic Plan. These are skills that need to be acquired to be successful. You also need to learn how to run an enterprise IT system including the implementation of service level agreements, system architecture design, enterprise system integration, security, project management, etc. It is important to realize that no GIS is successful through solely internal resources. Implementing and maintaining an effective enterprise GIS requires outside assistance, so plan for getting assistance from Esri and/or our partners. Assistance from external, experienced professionals will increase the likelihood of success, minimize risk, as well as reduce the project timeline.

Esri offers many resources to our customers to help make them successful – please take advantage of them. Here are some that come to mind:

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