Governments Show How to Get Business Smarts with GIS

National or state governments are not typically the first organizations that come to mind in discussions of business management prowess. And yet, some official bodies are becoming just that. They are embracing geographic information systems, or GIS, as a tool to make smarter decisions and more effectively undertake their charges.

Moving beyond tracking uses like tracking utility poles, governments have been some of the early adopters of GIS technology. As a result, they’ve had more time to learn what was possible and to begin experiments with it. They can be great examples for someone who is considering a GIS master’s program or an MBA degree with a GIS concentration.

Not only can they spark ideas of equivalent projects in private industry, but they show other potential career paths. One example is the Calgary region of Alberta, Canada. The Calgary Regional Partnership, working with GIS consultancy GIS Planning, has opened a website called ExploreCalgaryRegion.ca:

Using Geographic Information System (GIS) Software, the website provides immediate access to in-depth information including dynamic real estate, demographics and industry breakdowns. Website visitors can view available properties, along with size, use, cost and development incentives. Corresponding demographic reports such as labour force, education levels, consumer spending, and age can be created. In addition, businesses are mapped by industry showing their distribution and concentrations throughout the area.

This isn’t marketing to tourists. It’s trying to attract business development. Some basic information, by industrial and commercial real estate location, which most companies would need to help make decisions about whether to expand into the area are easily at hand. Convenience is a powerful tool when executives are making decisions. A flip side is that such a system, particularly if drawing data from public sources, could be valuable for many businesses.

A retail chain, for example, might want to pull up foot traffic numbers, tax considerations, real estate prices, and locations of competitors when planning new locations. Another example of a government using GIS smarts is Malaysia. The Prime Minister’s economic planning unit is developing a GIS system to find the best locations for government projects. As Dato Rosni Abdul Malek, the director of the National Databank and Innovation Centre, told FutureGov.asia:

“We’ve had problems where we discover locations selected turned out to be unsuitable for the project. We wanted to avoid such instances as such; we felt the need to develop a GIS system that can help us and other government ministries identify or redirect the location of their project where we know they can achieve maximum results and where people can really benefit from it,” she says.

Government agencies that seek funding for a project must indicate where they want to locate it. The economic planning unit can examine relevant data in the context of that location and make a determination if the spot is suitable or if an agency will need to find a new site. Again, not only could governments have such a need, but so could corporations. And expand the idea to logical position — where in the infrastructure or organizational structure a project would make the most sense from a strategic view — and you open new possibilities in management.

These are approaches to GIS analysis that require advanced training. As they become more widely used, the market for people with the requisite background and education will only grow.

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