Moving to Enterprise GIS

Geographic information systems have become an important tool not only for those with a GIS degree, but everyone with a business degree. Whether used for analyzing sales data or for predictive analysis, GIS offers an integrated insight into business information that can have a big impact on corporate strategy and associated tactics.

Location becomes a unifying force that ties together otherwise disparate data so that executives can make connections impossible any other way. However, for all that integration, GIS in companies is usually fractured. So even as the technology and analytic methods deliver value, companies implement them inefficiently, possibly duplicating resources, and almost certainly failing to get the full return possible on their investments. A change in approach — developing an enterprise view of GIS — is the solution.

Companies often implement GIS because of departmental interest. Marketing, logistics, operations, business development, or some other group adopts GIS to obtain better analytics for its particular interests. Suddenly, the company effectively has a new function that crosses a number of borders, possibly including the department that asked for GIS; IT, which provides the technical implementation; HR for user training; and finance for analytic help.

When a company deploys GIS by department, it runs the danger of creating multiple silos. Even though there are common areas — IT might be able to add users to the same software, for example — the approach is still splintered. Information isn’t shared because there are no mechanisms to automate distribution. As GIS software vendor ESRI notes, Enterprise GIS requires a different approach:

In recent years, many organizations have become data rich while remaining information poor. Implementing GIS across the organization benefits business managers and other decision makers who can use geospatially enabled data to devise better solutions to business problems. Through enterprise GIS, IT managers have solutions for integration problems and interoperability issues and can integrate them with existing high-value systems such as SAS and SAP. Because geospatial data is accessible and usable by staff throughout an organization served by an enterprise GIS, GIS specialists can use their time more productively by focusing on analysis, application development, and other high-return activities.

Breaking out of departmental to embrace the enterprise approach isn’t a simple change. Here are some of the factors that come into play:

  • GIS Role — GIS software and implementations are based on assumptions of how an organization will use the system and data. Enterprise GIS must have a basis that covers all the needs of the various departments.
  • GIS Management — Just as there are different assumptions under given GIS software or implementations, there are also expectations of particular management strategies. To leverage the technology over the enterprise, a company needs a single management approach.
  • GIS Implementation — A company will have to determine how best to support GIS across departments using a single suite of tools (even if from multiple vendors) to make effective use of technical expertise and user training.
  • Cross-Department Strategies — GIS offers the biggest return on investment if it can bring together insight across the company. So there should be a strategy to make data available throughout the company, provide access control so that only people with authorization can get to sensitive information, and have a common set of data definitions so that one department’s calculation of inventory is the same as another’s.

Enterprise GIS is an extensive undertaking that requires active support from top management. The good news is that by taking such an approach, a company can gain more value for its investment of money and time.

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