2014 GIS Managers’ Open Summit: Presentations and Round Table Discussion Notes

2014 GIS Managers Open Summit

2014 GIS Managers Open Summit

The 2014 GIS Managers’ Open Summit took place Tuesday, July 15th, 8:00 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. at the Esri User Conference in San Diego, California. The Summit is a track designed for GIS managers, business and technology strategists, and other decision makers attending the Esri UC. It offers opportunities to engage in conversations with peers on topics that relate to business efficiencies, return on investment (ROI), managing data, and more.

Now in its fifth year, more than 400 people pre-registered for the event, and many more registered on-site. The format was a little different this year. Four scheduled speakers focused on GIS management issues:

  1. GIS for Big Data and Big Decisions: From the Citizen on the Street to the Leadership SuiteJim Geringer and Heather Blatchford
  2. A Modern Approach to GIS in the Enterprise – Adam Carnow
  3. Aligning People, Projects, and Strategic Priorities – Michael Green
  4. Planning, Managing, and Building a GISDave Peters

Each presentation was followed by round table discussions on highlighted topics that came up during the presentations. Like last year, we asked each table to fill out a card briefly summarizing what they talked about, and what their big takeaways were. A representative from each table then shared this information back with the larger group.

For the benefit of those who could not attend this event and the larger GIS community, Dave Peters collected all of the summary cards and has compiled the information presented below.


 1. GIS for Big Data and Big Decisions: From the Citizen on the Street to the Leadership Suite – Jim Geringer and Heather Blatchford

Budgets – if you had a 20% increase in your GIS budget, what would you do differently?

Table 1:

  • Main issues discussed
    • Strategic plans
    • Return on Investment study
    • Proof on concept
  • Takeaways
    • Staffing
    • Salaries
    • Data integrity investments

Table 2:

  • Main issues discussed
    • Difference between hardware and software deployment patterns
    • Employee enrichment with GIS training
    • Use funds for additional GIS staffing
  • Takeaways
    • Every organizations needs are different
    • We all have strategic plans with identified gaps that need to be addressed

Table 3:

  • Main issues discussed
    • Sustainability
    • Staffing
  • Takeaways
    • Each Agency and Participant has unique needs based on individual plans.

Table 4:

  • Main issues discussed
    • Not enough funding for current GIS needs
    • Not enough for needed system upgrades
    • What about on-going maintenance costs?
  • Takeaways
    • Different agencies, different problems
    • High demands, low budgets, understaffing
    • Not enough money (GIS budget) is common problem

Networking – sharing best practices, apps, data

  • Main issues discussed
    • Networking
    • Sharing best practices, apps, and data
  • Takeaways
    • Move away from the term GIS to make people less scared
      • i.e. Information portal
    • Open data – provide for commercial development
    • Provide $ to local government to share data
      • IGIC/Indiana example

Roll-up of local and state data into a national data set, such as addresses, parcels and road/street centerline records. This would be similar to the community basemap approach.

Table 1:

  • Main issues discussed
    • Data sharing
  • Takeaways
    • Willing to share data
    • Legal issues need to be addressed

Table 2:

  • Main issues discussed
    • Free vs for profit datasets
    • Level of detail
  • Takeaways
    • Standard schema needed

Cloud-Apps, computing, data, ArcGIS Online

Table 1:

  • Main issues discussed
    • Not clear understanding of available resources, ways to synchronize data, etc.
  • Takeaways
    • Bandwidth considerations (scalability)
    • Hybrid model options available
    • Good options for smaller environments
    • Security is a concern – need a trust relationship
    • Cloud is a great source for computing resources

Table 2:

  • Main issues discussed
    • Currency of online data
    • Data authority/quality/metadata
  • Takeaways
    • Uncertain about how this will fit in our organization

Table 3:

  • Main issues discussed
    • Data security and privacy
    • Knowing who gets permissions and regulating access
    • Administration strategies
  • Takeaways
    • Weigh security concerns against benefits
    • Do a lot behind the firewall – plenty internally (on-premise)

Table 4:

  • Main issues discussed
    • Data, Data, Data – Metadata
    • Authorization and currency of online dta
  • Takeaways
    • Collaboration is great using ArcGIS Online
    • WebMaps are nice
    • (Power of ArcGIS Online portal is not well understood.)

Communicating the value of GIS to senior management – securing support/resources

  • Main issues discussed
    • Alignment with purpose and strategy
    • Understand business needs
    • Resonate a solution in a language senior management can understand
  • Takeaways
    • Know business purpose and priorities
    • Establish meaningful metrics
    • Increase product throughput/improve workflow productivity, etc

Advocating GIS in your organization – know your audience, know their priorities

Table 1:

  • Main issues discussed
    • Cross department buy-in
    • Across department communications
  • Takeaways
    • GIS is an asset value add, not an end solution
    • Case studies
      • Walgreens
      • City of Roseville – GIS/IT
      • Sweden Grid – Utilities
      • PlaceWorks – urban planning

Table 2:

  • Main issues discussed
    • How to get their time to implement a huge integration
      • Core goals – build balanced infrastructure, keep user productivity and performance high
      • Align to strategic business plans – start there, GIS follows
    • Strong mayor who promotes change (management challenge)
      • Won’t take time to understand what’s already in place
      • GIS is put into county code w/ court orders to lock it in place (improve stability)
      • Understand organization core objectives, connect to these (improve value)
      • Commercial entity, fiber optics, can’t build infrastructure with two people on staff (need more infrastructure)
    • Understand the business
      • Go from scattershot to enterprise
      • Strategic plan – interview everyone
      • Many different workflow processes in several offices
        • Focus on short term “wins”, business gains.
      • Start with the younger employees, show them as they integrate
      • Continue to communicate successes
  • Takeaways
    • Understand the business (strategic goals and priorities)
      • Migrate from scattershot to enterprise
      • Have a strategic plan – interview everyone
      • Many different workflow processes in several offices
        • Focus on short term “wins”, business gains.
      • Start with the younger employees, show them as they integrate
      • Continue to communicate successes

Governance: Consolidation/optimization of GIS services as a separate entity or combined with overall IT

Table 1:

  • Main issues discussed
    • Current organizational model and challenges
  • Takeaways
    • Lots of organizational models all with pros and cons.

Table 2:

  • Main issues discussed
    • IT cost center vs Business Profit Center
    • Lots of talk – management challenges
      • Disconnects, challenges with IT consolidation
      • Business approaches, business strategies, business leadership (IT)
      • IT focus on back office automation/GIS focus on business workflow optimization
      • Power struggles/mixed business strategies
    • Takeaways
      • Complex problem to solve
        • GIS value in IT or Business – how to represent
        • Utilization of overall governance framework including stewardship and partnerships
        • Leverage business strategy to drive and influence IT Information Metrics
      • New CDO (Chief Digital Officer) approach (GIS/IT business enablement focus)
        • Reinvent IT more tightly integrated with business operations

Mobile Services – Devices, apps, workforce, security policy, support, wireless services

Table 1:

  • Main issues discussed
    • Disconnected capability is key
    • Security is a concern, especially with the Cloud integration
    • How do we build and maintain apps at the pace expected by users
  • Takeaways
    • Focused apps; new user configurable apps
    • Use templates
    • Develop a security plan

Table 2:

  • Main issues discussed
    • Security policies/defining methods and strategies
    • Support for security standards within organizations
    • Related table access with field applications
    • Mobile application deployment (development) patterns
      • Disconnected editing
      • One location (app service), many uses (multiple user interfaces)
    • Takeaways
      • Collector w/ related tables – wonderful
      • HTML5, Java – programing environment supported on all devices
      • Building apps to common standard (configurable applications)
      • Apps for multiple devices/multiple flavors
      • Setting device/app standards for handling customer security needs.

Open data and shared data – between and among departments within a single organization, between and among organizations. Fits with Esri Open Data App

  • Main issues discussed
    • Why are you doing open data
    • Organization, governance, and licensing of open data
    • So many apps already available
  • Takeaways
    • Not clear why you are doing open data

Prepping your executives to engage with Esri – leverage Esri partnership to expand use of GIS at your org

  • Main issues discussed
    • IT with Business and who does what
    • How does IT and GIS work together
  • Takeaways
    • How do you get IT to understand the value of GIS
    • Move from order taker to service provider

Data protection, training, and awareness

  • Main issues discussed
    • Marketing your data
  • Takeaways
    • Different levels of data security
    • Risk Assessment strategies

Advocating GIS in your organization – know your audience, know their priorities

  • Main issues discussed
    • Know individual roles within the organization
    • Need for GIS Department
  • Takeaways
    • Co-existence of GIS with IT to help advocate GIS
    • Understanding of GIS by management
      • Finding their language
        • Keep it simple (visualize solution opportunities)
    • understanding how to sell GIS benefits
      • Focus on areas that have greatest impact (benefits)
      • Share the value of GIS information throughput the workplace
    • Getting them to buy and commit implementation funding
      • High return on investment
      • Low risk implementation

Big data – definition, management, sharing, processing, authoritativeness

  • Main issues discussed
    • Definition – aggregation of a pervasive data set
    • Management – trust, open minded, top down management, support, collaboration
    • Technology – storage, services, enterprise architecture
  • Takeaways
    • Standards, Metadata
    • Products (GeoEvent Server and GIS Tools for Hadoop)
    • Guidelines, Architecture Design patterns

Finding a champion to broaden exposure with senior executives. Importance of key staff.

  • Main issues discussed
    • Administration support (firewall)
    • Finding a champion to reach the executive staff
    • Silos – information resources and relationships
    • Enterprise operations, Legacy investments, Integration challenges
  • Takeaways
    • GIS is an analysis engine
    • Common challenges with both private and public organizations
    • Key focus targets can open doors to build success


2. A Modern Approach to GIS in the Enterprise – Adam Carnow

GIS Strategic Plan

Table 1:

  • Main issues discussed
    • Simplify the message/vision
    • Identify the type of language used
    • Who had a strategic plan for their organization
      • Half of those at the table
    • Takeaways
      • Line of sight strategy between Government/Company objectives
      • One pager for general staff consumption

Table 2:

  • Main issues discussed
    • Planning the strategy
    • Learn management priorities
  • Takeaways
    • Short term, mid-range, open strategy
    • Steering committee, meet every 6 months with operations and VP only present.

Table 3:

  • Main issues discussed
    • GIS not being held as important
    • Relationships between IT and GIS
    • CIOs and CEOs not having a GIS background
  • Takeaways
    • Need a long term and short term vision
    • IT/GIS plan or separate
    • Budgets cause issues with implementation

Table 4:

  • emphasizing communication without communicating
  • Main issues discussed
    • How to communicate technical details (dumb down UMD)
      • Leadership adopts catch phrases, hard to disabuse
      • Data/planning/analysis focus not clear
    • Data silos breakdown ownership
      • No communication
    • Too busy putting out fires
    • Strategic plan is
      • convincing Execs they should be leading leadership
        • Use their vision/language
        • Focus on the purpose
  • Takeaways
    • We know what we want to do
      • Communicate in their language
        • Why is it expensive?
        • What is their benefit?
        • Small app for the executive (show benefits)
        • Interpret for the user techies
      • Use ArcGIS Online/Esri Web site for COTS solutions vs reinvent
        • GIS = my GIS app
        • GIS liaisons

Table 5:

  • Main issues discussed
    • Should funding be included for strategic planning?
    • Alignment of issues with other partners/agencies and departments can be challenging.
  • Takeaways
    • The difficulties in aligning with other agencies and political involvement
    • Issues and challenges that alignment with other agencies creates.

GIS as a Location Platform

Table 1:

  • Main issues discussed
    • Like a poker game (ACE in your hand)
      • Share information/Secure data
      • Weak gets bigger, then concerns
    • Takeaways
      • It is an evolutionary process

Table 2:

  • Main issues discussed
    • Simplify (make it simple to use GIS)
    • Include location information with all data
  • Takeaways
    • Strategy about how we can link our data together (by location)

Marketing GIS

Table 1:

  • Main issues discussed
    • We think GIS Management thinks solutions
    • Don’t say GIS – have a solution
      • Nice, pretty, tells a story
      • Show it
    • Find the right sponsor
    • Find a partner with solutions that work
      • Fits your business model
    • What is the bottom line
      • Where is the most pain/exposure/bad press
      • Solutions/benefits/sustainable – back it up!
      • Repeatable
    • Everyone needs information
      • Find avenue of least resistance
      • Harvest the hanging fruits
      • Strategic goal – Fix it
    • Takeaways
      • Go mobile
      • Be proactive

Table 2:

  • Main issues discussed
    • We have done a lot of work, yet people are not aware of the value.
    • Getting people using what we’ve got
    • Spatial analysis – not just making maps
  • Takeaways
    • Focused maps that meet users’ needs
    • Join business meetings and listen for opportunities for GIS
    • Enable GIS where they do their work
    • Personal connections/relationships matter
    • Try your best to never say no
    • Be persistent – don’t give up

Engaging with Executives

Table 1:

  • Main issues discussed
    • Limited time and all about the $$
    • Filtering, segmenting, don’t bargain, dependencies
    • Communication up and down different management levels
  • Takeaways
    • Focus on upper management priorities
    • Keep it high level – focus on values, address the pain (solutions)
    • Demo – visualization (iPAD on elevator) – cool focused apps
    • One page executive summary – all about the value
    • Their focused “dashboard” to show GIS benefits

Table 2:

  • Main issues discussed
    • Expectations – knowing your audience (pain points)
    • Executive have a shelf life, shorter than yours
  • Takeaways
    • Visualization works best

Sustainability – COTS over Custom

Table 1:

  • Main issues discussed
    • Cost of custom applications when budgets are limited
    • Federal (BLM) – Structured process – National contracting
      • Contracted for custom apps
      • COTS
      • Common portal
        • Publishing GIS Services/utilities
  • Serving very large communities
    • Tempo is increasing
    • Still much paper processes
  • Small business (COTS drivers)
    • Cost effective
    • Limited budget
    • Open source
  • Takeaways
    • Flexibility of COTS when budgets are limited
    • Larger organizations can meet the needs of broad audiences

Table 2:

  • Main issues discussed
    • Custom apps require data model changes
    • 3rd party integration requires data model changes
    • Stitching COTS = Custom Solution
    • New relationships require attention and present moving targets
    • Redundancy in custom solutions
    • 3rd party source in escrow (Washington)
  • Takeaways
    • Hybrid solution allows for sustainability and flexibility

Table 3:

  • Main issues discussed
    • Often COTS don’t do exactly what is needed, so customization is needed.
    • It’s one thing to build something; it’s another to maintain it.
    • However COTS over Custom can have similar problems when Esri supported tools are no longer supported with subsequent releases.
  • Takeaways
    • Focus on “throw away apps”.
    • Need to use COTS where applicable, but need to be flexible to create when necessary.
    • Follow good project management
      • Prioritizing your business needs
      • Use business needs to define if COTS is acceptable or not
      • In other words, 7 of 10 tools in COTS are good, but you may need to build and maintain the other 3 tools as custom applications.

Table 4:

  • Main issues discussed
    • COTS don’t meet all our business needs
    • Maintained legacy apps can satisfy critical business needs
  • Takeaways
    • To go COTS: need to make the case (benefits to the stake holders)
    • Develop a strategic plan
      • Challenge of migration from legacy to COTS
      • Need a champion

Power of Spatial Analysis

Table 1:

  • Main issues discussed
    • Automation
    • Marketing GIS
    • What kinds of analysis opportunities
    • Understanding business needs for spatial analysis
  • Takeaways
    • Maps answer where and what
      • Spatial analysis answers why
    • Communicates purpose, efficiency
    • Automation available, along with documentation

Table 2:

  • Main issues discussed
    • Main benefits of GIS come from spatial analysis
      • Data in/of itself is not useful
    • Takeaways
      • We have always done analysis, but doing it spatially can help you do it faster and see things you can’t see in tabular data.

System architecture design

  • Main issues discussed
    • Implementation costs (budget)
    • Hardware/software needs
    • Location of GIS in the organization
    • Security
    • Interoperability
  • Takeaways
    • Leadership buy-in/Department buy-in
    • Know your audience
    • Sell your solution


3. Aligning People, Projects, and Strategic Priorities – Michael Green

Skill/Will Matrix

Table 1:

  • Main issues discussed
    • GIS is a small field (skilled workforce needed)
      • State and private marketplace
      • Will ArcGIS Online help address skill challenges?
    • Salaries don’t match required skills in the workplace
    • Depend on contractors to fill skill gaps
    • Will is a primary motivating component
      • Will to do cool things
      • Not willing to learn is a problem
      • Is it a job or a passion?
    • Takeaways
      • Build a culture for success
        • Common vision
        • Empowerment
      • One on one meetings with staff

Table 2:

  • Main issues discussed
    • People are the issue/Collins says people first (right people in the right job)
    • Then we have some control over our team, but not all users
  • Takeaways
    • Private vs public – people in the wrong quadrant should transition out
      • Public workplace – we have less control over apathy and incompetence.
    • Remove obstacles to users
    • Make sure the technology is not the problem
    • Make the technology easy and even fun
    • Bring end users and GIS Techs together
      • Embed GIS with the user community
      • Bring GIS liaisons to GIS group
    • Identify liaisons who are both “doers” (skill and will) and influential

Change Management

Table 1:

  • Main issues discussed
    • Change management – broad – people are strong
    • Micro management – slows change
  • Takeaways
    • Turned a light on myself
      • I show interest and then resist
    • Patience is important – look inward

Table 2:

  • Main issues discussed
    • Managing data
    • Integrating the IT workflow into GIS
  • Takeaways
    • Creating a repeatable process

ArcGIS Online and what it means for a platform

Table 1:

  • Main issues discussed
    • Host applications
      • decrease development costs
    • Credit usage
      • how to control costs
      • ELA concerns
    • Esri Jumpstart
      • Esri help to get started
    • Takeaways
      • ArcGIS Server deployment
        • Host local or leverage the cloud

Table 2:

  • Main issues discussed
    • GAP in technology (online vs on-premise)
    • Security concerns
    • Managing public vs private operations
  • Takeaways
    • Shareable
    • Limited functionality and usability for advanced users (does not yet replace the core GIS)
    • More development needed in some cases (future potential)
    • Empowerment to larger user base – focused apps and templates
    • More education needed about credits

Speaking a different language

  • Main issues discussed
    • Losing organizational language – capturing institutional language
    • IT paradigm “it’s just data”
  • Takeaways
    • Understand from the others viewpoint
      • What’s the thing that inspires them
        • Tie to funding or other payoff/benefits
      • We often don’t think in terms of budgets
        • Removing pain/obstacles
        • Goal: work myself out of a job

Are you seeing the growth of GIS the way that you want within your organization?

  • Main issues discussed
    • Executive buy-in important
    • High level champion for the GIS platform
    • Getting positive field user feedback as proof of value
    • Too many SaaS offerings and technology overload
    • Language barriers with terminology
  • Takeaways
    • Better communication involving success stories
    • Educate new management with history
    • Involve management in the process steps

3 A’s (Alignment, Analysis, Action)

  • Main issues discussed
    • Effective top down management (local government)
    • Dealing with elected officials / Business needs.
    • Continuity with rollover of executive status
    • Getting the message to upper management
  • Takeaways
    • Have training elements available
    • Not always change the process – but change the message as necessary.
    • Story maps are a useful tool for messages to executive management.


4. Planning, Managing, and Building a GIS – Dave Peters

Building effective GIS operations

  • Main issues discussed
    • Under staffing
    • No/Little buy in from senior stake holders
    • Relative – based on your organization culture
    • Build marketing skills – take responsibility to improve communications.
    • Find the solutions
    • Lack the power to influence the persons who are decision makers
      • Not that you are inadequate
      • Bridging the gap so each party hears that same thing.
    • Take responsibility, manage expectations, listen, do requests, produce
  • Takeaways
    • Senior management wants a GIS, but expects GIS managers to do it.
    • Not a collaborative effort

Engaging with executive management

  • Main issues discussed
    • Getting the meeting
    • Showing what is possible
    • Analytics, grants and building
    • Tie in with existing plans and needs
    • Power of speaking with one voice
    • Geoenable existing solutions such as customer location, and easy win
    • “We have always done it that way” – ask why.
    • Note: Executives are strategic thinkers
  • Takeaways
    • Have something to show
    • Find out (identify) their pain points
    • Have a middle manager or director champion

Enterprise GIS Vision

  • Main issues discussed
    • Tried to define what enterprise GIS is
      • Consistency of use across the organization
      • No duplication of effort and staffing
      • Integrated GIS organization across departments
    • +/- of distributed/centralized management model
  • Takeaways
    • Component (distributed) verses corporate (centralized)
      • Centralized – enterprise governance and strategy
      • GIS craft – understanding + opportunity – specific disconnects

Governance and political landscape

Table 1:

  • Main issues discussed
    • GIS steering committees
      • Good for buy-in if properly done
    • Where GIS is situated in the organization
    • Role of committees
    • IT/GIS mix
  • Takeaways
    • IT/GIS relationship is important
      • Some confusion in roles
      • Position hoarding can be a problem
      • IT formal processes can be valuable
      • Steering committee TOR (terms of reference) process can be valuable
    • Who should be on the committees?

Table 2:

  • Main issues discussed
    • Interagency conflict and silos – political challenges
  • Takeaways
    • Migrate from us vs you => we.
    • Older and bigger => harder to change
    • Educate executive -> has to be rebuilt every 5-7 years

Managing technology change

  • Main issues discussed
    • How to bring together all of the disparate parts that don’t cleanly connect.
    • GIS and IT system requirements need to be aligned
    • May need SQL Server + Oracle for optimum solution
  • Takeaways
    • Getting administrators on board (GIS training and business value)
    • Training (GIS and IT management and administration)
    • Management oversight/support

GIS business workflows

  • Main issues discussed
    • How do you document business workflows
      • Tools: Word, excel, Visio project, mind mapper
    • Who updates existing workflows
    • Managing wants over willing to learn
  • Takeaways
    • User interviews with all stakeholders
    • Embracing change – innovation
    • Winning over stubborn clients – learning to turn heads
    • Be available at the very beginning – early involvement

GIS Staffing

  • Main issues discussed
    • Common problem: (1) person is the manager, analyst, developer, etc
    • Challenge: training new hires to be productive
  • Takeaways
    • Hire productive (experienced) employees that do not require a lot of coaching and training that takes time from senior level employees
    • Outsourcing – generating partnerships with contractors to fill the missing gaps

GIS Matrix Management

  • Main issues discussed
    • Often no direct management authority over users
    • Leadership buy-in, sponsorship, and support critical
  • Takeaways
    • Matrix organization is common structure throughout GIS community
      • Integrates IT, applications, database, and GIS user community
    • What works has to be shared

2 thoughts on “2014 GIS Managers’ Open Summit: Presentations and Round Table Discussion Notes

  1. Pingback: 2014 GIS Managers’ Summit: Presentations and Round Table Discussion Notes | GIS Tidings

  2. Here are the key takeaways I took from the round tables and presentations. One could list more, but I feel that these apply to all people who fill GIS Manager or Coordinator type positions.

    • Be open to and lead change in your organization.
    • Learn the things that cause the most pain to your executives then develop tools to address these needs.
    • Communicate your success stories
    • Empower your user base by providing focused apps and templates quickly by using COTS tools -a good app now is better than a great app next year.
    • We need a living Strategic Plans that is updated at least annually, changes should be communicated to your executives to ensure continued buy-in on the goals and vision for your organization.

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