A Geographic Information System (GIS) is an incredibly powerful function within an organisation, providing the spatial systems of record (data management), engagement (visualisation) and insight (analysis).
Any organisation that has implemented an enterprise GIS will know how the day-to-day IT support can demand a great amount of time from the GIS specialist charged with its management.
As a result, a typical GIS specialist role description can include the following list of skillsets:
- server and database administration,
- web development,
- desktop editing,
- spatial analysis,
- managing data coordinate systems/projections, and
- spatial analysis –
plus, an ability to understand and communicate business needs.
Executives and managers often discuss with me the challenges in replacing this role, and the business risks around having a single point of failure for this knowledge in their organisations.
However, their biggest lament is that GIS specialists spend much of their time dealing with the IT aspects of their GIS, rather than using their analytical skills to solve actual business problems.
But as organisations transition to modern web GIS, times are changing…
Web GIS gives organisations access to configurable, fit-for-purpose, easy-to-use apps with the ability to produce maps, edit data, work in the field, search datasets and perform analysis.
A central portal that simplifies user access controls such as assigning user names, defining roles and group access, means that these functions can shift from the specialist to a simple Help Desk task.
This simpler approach to creating, using and securing GIS content, allows anyone in the organisation with minimal or no training to perform tasks previously only possible by a specialist.
As organisations adopt web GIS, I am seeing the following three key trends emerging for how they fulfil the resource requirements for a GIS capability without a GIS System Admin role.
- GIS without GIS recruitment – SaaS
Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) GIS removes the system administration requirement. The simplicity of this option means organisations that would never previously have considered a GIS, because of the overhead of hiring a GIS system administrator, can now adopt web GIS without having to hire a GIS specialist.
- Managed GIS administrator services
With organisations moving away from the highly customised monolithic web app in favour of the portal world – a single access point into many configurable, task-driven apps – the time overhead of managing GIS applications is vastly reduced.
For organisations managing an enterprise GIS on their own infrastructure, the day-to-day, front-end portal management is now much simpler. For example, IT Support can deploy named users, while designated creators in the business can deploy their own apps.
The effort of administering the system’s components becomes a much smaller, but highly specialised function. For this reason, more organisations are now looking to outsource this requirement through a managed services arrangement, where an external team of specialists can “keep the lights on” so internal staff can focus on solving business problems.
- Rise of the GIS Analyst!
By enabling organisations to self-serve with configurable, easy-to-use apps and by using SaaS or managed GIS administrator services to cover GIS administration, organisations are now looking to hire GIS staff for their spatial analytics and problem-solving skills, rather than their back-end IT skills. In other words, provide their organisation with the key expertise that they were trained to deliver.
Whether organisations hire a GIS System Administrator and/or a GIS Analyst, outsource or use SaaS, the options available mean that the unique problem-solving capability of GIS is now available to more organisations than ever before!
About the author
Business Development Manager