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At years end I always like to reflect. Looking back what have we learned?

I believe 2016 was a year of growing pains for geospatial. So how did those growing pains express themselves in our business, and our work with GIS. That’s what we will discuss in this blog post.

4 GIS Hits and Misses (and what we learned)

Let’s present some short case studies. I’ll use our GIS Solutions Pyramid shown below to help colour the picture so to speak of each project.

arcgis-solutions-pyramid1. ArcGIS for Investment Company
Problem/Vision: The client wanted to map the location of power plants in a number of Asian countries. Initially the goal was to use web maps to help with client presentations. So visualization or the lower 2 tiers of our solutions pyramid. The client wanted help getting started.

Client GIS Expertise and Data: The client had no in-house GIS expertise. Public data was to be used as the source to build maps.

The Project: The client wanted guidance on getting started with ArcGIS Online (AGOL). WebMapSolutions provided a 2 day GIS Jumpstart: set up, configuration, introduction and training on AGOL use. The client was excited about the value the platform would bring to their business

Results: Four weeks after the GIS Jumpstart the client came back to WebMapSolutions. The public data sources they planned to use were in the wrong projection. We helped re-project the data. But on inspection the data to be used was inaccurate: points did not sit on top of power plants. These were unexpected frustrations for the client.

Hit or Miss: Miss. Good data is the key to any GIS project. Accuracy, and completeness are critical. To get any GIS project off the ground good data is a base requirement.

Lessons Learned: From this experience we extended our GIS Jumpstart to include a Discovery Workshop. This allowed us to better gauge client GIS experience, and helped clients understand their challenges and GIS goals. We realised rather than providing a quick GIS Jumpstart, we should actually be building a ‘runway to success‘ with GIS based on client GIS experience.

2. ArcGIS for Educational Institution
Problem/Vision: The focus was on poverty and underemployment. Designing programs and courses aimed at improving the skills of the underemployment based on local needs. Thus improving employment prospects. The project challenge was focused in the bottom 3 tiers of the solutions pyramid: particularly around data enrichment and calculation. Ultimately the client wanted guidance.

Client GIS Expertise and Data: Though the client had no in-house GIS skills, they were in the process of hiring a GIS analyst. The client had a rich source of data.

The Project: The client had a clear vision of how they wanted to use GIS. WebMapSolutions provided an extended GIS engagement.

Results: We walked the newly hired analyst through AGOL. She found it intuitive and easy to use. She reached back to us for multiple focused training sessions on elements of the platform

Hit or Miss: Hit. This was a very satisfying project. The client built their skills with AGOL gradually. We helped provide guidance and hand holding on an ongoing basis. We helped the new GIS analyst advance her skills from GIS desktop to Web GIS.

Lessons Learned: This was a relatively short project. But given that the client had in-house GIS expertise meant they could move forward quickly. The tier 3 needs, as of last discussion, have still to be realised. Internal enthusiasm/demand for maps and map publishing has swamped the analyst. We remain ready to help as needed.

3. ArcGIS for Insurance
Problem/Vision: The client was looking for help with assessing insurance risk and marketing to potential new customers. They wanted to map their own data, and have an application with specific custom tools to analyse and find business opportunities. From our solutions pyramid this was a tier 2,3 and 4 project. The client wanted help moving forward.

Client GIS Expertise and Data: The client had no GIS expertise but a team of IT folk, and a very bright CIO. Their data sat in spreadsheets and a large relational database.

The Project: The client had a wide set of needs. They wanted to get started with AGOL, but more importantly they wanted all their data published as maps and a Web AppBuilder type GeoAppSmart application with very specific tools to analyse this data. This was a challenging project. Though a project plan was put in place, meetings jumped around. Excitement about AGOL meant keeping focus was challenging. We recognized early into this work that data would be our core technical challenge. Two key non-technical challenges arose as we moved forward. There was a perception within the client that GIS was easy. AGOL was praised but compared with Domo; a BI platform. This perception and comparison proved problematic.

Results: We set the client moving forward with AGOL. Providing set up, configuration and training. We also built out some custom widgets with GeoAppSmart using sample data. There were many meetings around data. The client wanted data in their relational database mapped. This had many technical challenges.

Hit or Miss: Miss. Though there was time and work needed to prepare, integrate and publish client data, this proved a challenging conversation. Level of effort was a key discussion point. In the end, the core and critical data component of the project was never completed.

Lessons Learned: A difficult project. No doubt GIS gave this client a competitive advantage and, if implemented correctly, would have transformed key areas of their business. But narrowing the focus and the perception of ‘easy’ made the path forward difficult. In hindsight, we should have spent more time in the discovery phase and evolving the story before embarking on the project. Making our Discovery Workshop a key part of all client engagements, and ensuring we have a solid plan (emphasizing the importance of data) from the workshop was a key lesson learned from this project.

4. ArcGIS for Banking
Problem/Vision: The client used mostly spreadsheets to answer location based questions. They hoped to use AGOL to map their data to see patterns and better answer key spatial questions. As we describe in our GIS solutions pyramid blog post this was a tier 3 challenge of the type:

“I have a custom trade area, i need to know the population and sales per square mile respectively for each trade area in the State of …”

Client GIS Expertise and Data: The client had no GIS expertise. Though they had some in-house data, additional key data was required.

The Project: Though the client initially approached us to help them get started; to prepare data, and show them how to use AGOL. It became apparent very quickly to them, that they did not have the experience to answer their business questions using AGOL without help. We continue to provide that help.

Results: Answering tier 3 questions can be challenging. Finding the right combination of data, enrichment and calculation requires spatial training and mindset. With our help the client has grown in their understanding of the technology and recognise the value it brings to their organization. In many ways we have become their external GIS department, helping to answer where questions using GIS when they come up.

Hit or Miss: Hit. This has proven to be a very successful project. Initially centred on one department, questions are now coming in from many different parts of the organization.

Lessons Learned: Focusing on the problem and talking through the story with clients is key. Regular meetings clarifying and demonstrating always asking :”Is this was you were looking for?”, has helped us provide the right answers to questions. We recognised guidance and hand holding brings considerable value to organizations new to GIS, particularly for those with complex ‘where’ questions.

Download a free copy of our white paper ‘Getting Maximum ROI from ArcGIS’, which provides a road map for moving forward with ArcGIS and intelligent maps.

matt_sheehanAuthor: Matt Sheehan

Matt Sheehan is a Principal at WebMapSolutions. Matt evangelizes GIS and intelligent maps around the world through keynotes, articles, tweets and his books. Follow him on Twitter:

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