In-focus: How Mature is your GIS?

In-focus: How Mature is your GIS?


By failing to gauge its maturity, enterprises are missing the essential strengths of today’s GIS and the awesome power of ‘where’

Often, those in the business of geobased Information and technology speak of “pervasiveness” and “maturity” of enterprise applications such as BI (business intelligence), ERP (enterprise resource planning), AMS/ WMS (asset management and work management systems) and other largescale, wide-reaching applications. These analyses are pursued in order to measure the progress towards a fully robust, widely accessible data and apps that enable employees and customers to foster efficient and effective business transactions and service relationships. The maturity of our GIS systems also should be measured the same way.

There are five levels of IT performance management maturity commonly cited by global consulting leaders such as Gartner, IBM, SAS and others. One common example is a five-step model series of Unaware (unknown), Tactical, Focused, Strategic and Pervasive. Another scale uses Chaotic, Reactive, Proactive, Managed and Utility. Categories and their names are not absolute but they do encourage us to think about where we are and where we want to be. The SAS Institute set prefers Operating, Consolidating, Integrating, Optimising and Innovating. One can add a sixth to any list — Open — as in significantly publicly accessible.

By failing to gauge its maturity, we are missing the essential strengths of today’s GIS and the power of ‘where’. Twenty years ago we were satisfied with making maps and today we are still dissatisfied with not being at the senior management table. That is why today, more than ever, we must cheer loudly for what GIS does throughout the enterprise to deliver corporate bottomline results. GIS is not just a ‘Geographic Information System’, but rather a ‘Geographic Information Strategy’. How we value that ‘S’ word is fundamental to targeting mature GI as a paradigm, not just a software. The ‘where’ of our business is a critical enabler of meeting the ‘what’, ‘how much’ and ‘when’ of our corporate KPIs (key performance indicators).

Most of us would agree that GIS is the best possible foundation for organisations that deal with assets, work orders, customers, markets, constituencies and so many other variables. GIS focuses on the importance of ‘where’ things are: what they do there, how they got there, who put them there, what they connect to and what their initial or residual values are. As we hear so often: GIS matters. How can we accept that we do not have sufficient awareness about how mature our GIS may be or should be?

Maturity denotes a level of preparedness, of capacity, capability and responsiveness in enabling enterprises to fulfill their mandates. Maturity is not about server size, bandwidth, number of licences, years of practice, staffing levels, spans of control or how senior a GIS champion is. Maturity is about the level of direct valuable contribution to fulfilling the mandate of the organisation and its key performance metrics.

Given the importance of such a foundation, do you know how mature your GIS is today? Do you know what value accrues from your current level of maturity? What should you do if the current level is not satisfactory to you, your leadership and overseers, your regulators, your public?

To evaluate the maturity level of geospatial usage, let us assume that the more mature your GIS is, the more likely your return on investment continues to accrue.

Measurable levels of GIS maturity

»Unknown or Operating or Chaotic: Till a few years back, only a handful of people even knew of the GIS team’s existence or potential. This team was unknown, anonymous and driven within by a couple of desktop enthusiasts. At this level, the GIS team was just the mapping people in engineering or planning. More regrettably, they were approached only for making paper maps and most often referred to as “those mapping people”, not on anyone’s radar.

The business model was a chaotic “overthecounter” service scheme. Priorities were based on loudness or next in line. The GIS team reported to someone unfamiliar with their abilities.

The sign on their door only said: GIS: Geographic Imprint Storage

»Tactical or Consolidating or Reactive: Rarely found today are these teams with one predominant business sponsor. They are limited users who rely on a few narrow data feeds with much data inconsistency. These teams of a few people are essentially reactive and they remain severely underfunded. Their champion is their own manager.

Their work programme is based on past needs that established them. Any alignment with higher corporate goals is by chance and by not design. Their software and other tools are not current. Funding is internal to their division and often equal to last year’s, so they are actually falling behind. They simply consolidate geocoded data in support of very narrow duties.

The door sign suggests: GIS — Geographic Improvement Services

»Focused or Integrating or Proactive: GIS is a celebrated asset when it gets noticed because it serves a corporate need or divisional role. This GIS maturity model level is seen as contributing to a greater good. In a focused sense, it targets the department’s role in fulfilling a greater corporate role for the overall corporate good such as engineering network design. This proactive but struggling GIS team is larger and better trained, representing a combo of power users and task-oriented users. The team leader is acutely aware of GIS potential but there still is no well-known respected champion in the corporation.

Focused but too inward looking, this team competes for funding, and wins often but does not move ahead in scale, scope or maturity. It is still focused on a few straightforward production project themes. RoI, NPV and other paybacks are understood but not seen as refl ecting contribution, which is simply to integrate data for specific outputs.

The door invitingly says: GIS: Geo-Info Specialists.

»Strategic or Optimising or Managed: Like all IT, GIS is optimally driven by business objectives. GIS-budgeted line-item investments are managed for data, equipment, software and expertise. The Geo-IT role becomes one of official geodata custodian, official process leader and excellence bureau with a difference. It is now able to optimise inputs and outputs, to optimise support for enterprise goals.

This GIS function has grown beyond a team, to become a way of doing business, and managing work and assets according to the ‘where’ element instead of just ‘what’. This centre of excellence produces a highquality standard set of outputs as a form of business intelligence. These people are now at the thought centres of enterprise processes and results.

The sign on their door proudly says GIS: Geo Intelligence Strategies … An Enterprise Centre of Excellence.

»Pervasive or Innovating or Utility: Pervasive means “occurring throughout” and applies to GIS making an impact across the enterprise, reaching back to suppliers and ahead to customers and citizens. Here we see the ability to innovate, to be instrumental in corporate success stories that exploited the ‘where’ ubiquitously throughout the organisation. They lead, consult, coach and train. GIS is a highly sought-after valued utility.
This GIS team is trusted and well known. The spatial data under management is recognised as a valuable asset. They are consulted before projects take shape. Geo-data is integrated with business data, redefining or blurring what ‘our data’ really means. GI is commonly applied to add creative insights. The CEO/CAO is the champion with the CFO on the right and the CIO on left. Workload is the real challenge, not anonymity, credibility or reliability.

The door sign boasts GIS: Geospatial Informatic Sciences.

»The OPEN (sixth) level: We could add a sixth level to recognise where our best practicing geospatial enterprises have located themselves: Open — internally and externally, locally and regionally, nationally and internationally. Motivated by cost management and corporate social responsibility, the GIS can drive increased transparency and public respect.

The open corporate website has a number of geospatially driven functions and search abilities because that is what best practices are today — they are collaborative with the citizens, customers and employees alike. In open GIS maturity, we have a new willingness by governments to respond to the energetic demands of citizens for access to information. Private sector firms and middle of the road utilities are similarly becoming much more accessible and transparent in many parts of the world and across most sectors. They are no longer the trademark of an ‘unknown’ GIS desk.

The sign on the GIS Centre door frame says: Open, no door needed, we are virtually everywhere.

The GIS strategic maturity loop
Where does the mature, the pervasive GIS reside? Clearly it belongs everywhere that assets, activities, customers, employees or transactions occur. The enterprise begins with its vision, mission and goals. It involves employees, things and processes, and ensures an IT infrastructure as well as offices, work centres and field-oriented assets; assembles a mature geospatial resource; employs various applications to access geo and other intelligence; develops metrics to measure its goal attainment and other insightful KPI informatics.