When it comes to rolling out a new Geographic Information System (GIS), there are a handful of pitfalls that can derail even the best-laid plans. As Chief Information Officer at Esri Australia, these are my top tips on how to successfully implement a GIS.
In any given month my team and I would have more than 20 different GIS implementation projects on the go. After six years of seeing first-hand what works, and what doesn’t work, I thought I’d share a few hard-earned lessons...
Don’t overcomplicate things. Sometimes you’ll find the simplest application can deliver significant results.
Consider establishing an initial operating capability (IOC) – that is something you can build on as you become more familiar with the outputs of your new system.
Be careful not to be ‘wowed’ by add-ons you might not need initially.
Start from a solid foundation, optimise your workflows and analyse the results — you’ll be in a far better position down the track, when your team is ready to deliver more advanced GIS capabilities.
Forget the past. When it comes to GIS swap-outs or major system upgrades, one of the costliest errors that can occur is when a new system is configured to mimic the functionality of a legacy system.
Invariably the limitations of the old system are replicated in the new.
When it comes to scoping your new configuration, it’s best to start with where you want to go, rather than what you are most familiar with. This way you’ll avoid seeding your new system with the very functionality that brought you to the decision to upgrade.
It’s also a fail-safe way of ensuring your future needs will be catered for.
Prioritise training. You wouldn’t put a high-performance vehicle in the hands of a learner driver, and the same principle should apply to your new GIS.
Forget about a basic knowledge handover at the end of a project; insist on your solution provider priming your team with ongoing learning and skill development.
Ideally, you should look for professionally-delivered one-on-one training or facilitated group courses. Though, once your new system is established, it would also be worth tapping into low-cost training alternatives like webinars, user groups and technical blogs.
Establish a data-sharing plan. Remarkably, one of the biggest oversights I’ve seen when it comes to GIS rollouts is the absence of a wholistic data-sharing plan.
Considerations such as secure environments usually (and understandably) take precedence in planning, but often at the expense of other – more practical – requirements.
For example, ensuring data custodians’ and consumers’ needs are aligned; or, seasonal or fluctuating demand may require a solution that is quickly scalable.
To safeguard from deploying a GIS with limited information transfer capabilities ensure your plan covers the who, when, how and where of data-sharing.
Keep IT in the loop. There is nothing more disappointing than going the hard yards to get approval for a system upgrade only to have your project obstructed by your IT department.
As a CIO, I can assure you that despite popular belief, IT people have feelings too.
My best advice is to get your IT team involved early and ensure they’re aware of your organisation’s GIS objectives. You may just find a willing GIS champion within their ranks.
If your IT team has concerns about resourcing, or your systems are under-cooked, your technology provider should be able to present a solution that boosts both expertise and capacity.
Don’t rush to replace. When it comes to big GIS implementations, one of the things I’m seeing less and less is a rush to kill-off out-dated systems.
Before you undertake a wholesale swap-out of your existing GIS, I’d recommend you take a quick look at how complex organisations – like utilities – are deploying the latest GIS technologies to bolster their legacy systems.
It’s inventive spatial thinking at its best.
Well, those are my top tips for managing a GIS implementation. Best of luck with your next project and, of course, my team and I are always on hand should you need further advice or support.
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