I had the pleasure of being part of the team representing Esri at the American Planning Association (APA) National Planning Conference in Phoenix, AZ (see a picture of the Phoenix Convention Center below). I really feel at home among planners, as I have a Masters degree in Urban & Regional Planning, attained the American Institute of Certified Planners (AICP) certification, spent part of my career as a Planner, as well as worked with planners as a GIS practitioner.
Esri has been supporting this conference for a long time, which is great because planning is a spatial industry and naturally lends itself to the application of GIS. Our participation includes conducting a series of hands-on workshops, presentations, sponsorship and exhibiting. There were over 4,000 planners there from around the U.S. and abroad. If you want more info on the conference, check out the Twitter hashtag #APA16.
We were very busy and showcased solutions like ArcGIS Online, Story Maps, free and configurable Commercial-Off-The-Shelf (COTS) apps from our ArcGIS for Local Government solutions gallery, Business Analyst Online (BAO), GeoPlanner, and other planning solutions, like Geodesign and 3D. The bottom line was that quite often planners realized that their view of GIS was inaccurate – there are a lot of web-based tools that they can use themselves to be more productive, efficient and effective. Most of them are used to having to learn ArcGIS for Desktop, or to have a full-time GIS specialist perform the GIS-related tasks for them.
Usually the discussion with these planners would turn to the obvious question of how much does this cost, in reference to one of the products or solutions we were demonstrating. For many of the solutions, the cost is very reasonable (a 5 user license for BAO is $500 per year and GeoPlanner is $500 per year per user). For much of the rest of the solutions (ArcGIS Online, Story Maps, ArcGIS for Local Government), there is no additional cost because they are part of the ArcGIS platform that their organization (most often a city, county, regional or state agency) already owns.
Once they realized that their organization already owned the ArcGIS platform, and that it included a bunch of solutions that they could use every day in their jobs, they were very surprised. Most often their next comment was, “Why hasn’t my GIS Manager shown these to me?” I had no answer for that.
Therein lies a lesson for all of us in the GIS industry: we have all got to do more outreach to show our colleagues what the current GIS-powered location platform can do for them. More people using GIS (yes, web GIS is real GIS) is a great thing – as GIS practitioners we all know that using the power of geography really can make the world a better place.
Planners especially know this, as they are on the front lines of trying to improve our communities. So reach out to planners, and other non-GIS colleagues, and show them what the current technology can do for them. Make this a priority and part of your daily work. Increasing your user base (dare I say “customers”), should be one of your primary missions as a GIS practitioner.