Business leaders’ seminar

By on 28 January, 2014


For a number of years, the spatial information industry in Australia and New Zealand has shown a high level of maturity. There are substantial technical skills available across most major product suites, a growing and mature focus on spatial data management and infrastructure, an appreciation of the organisational issues which impact spatial data management and a higher level of understanding of the multi-disciplinary role that spatial information plays in many large projects.

This maturity means that many user organisations are now on their third or fourth iteration of GIS as they continue to want more from their software. And as this maturity continues, many are questioning why they remain with a “turnkey vendor” who may have previously provided all of the GIS software, the back-end database software, the front-end web or light client software, the mobile software and the integration software.

While single-source suppliers have traditionally been considered to be the “holy grail” in the belief that a single vendor will provide more integrated solutions, more overall focus, less risk and a higher level of accountability to the customer, this rarely occurs. Sadly, the single-source supply contract often results in mediocre solutions, price gouging and poor service, as evidenced by the continued 30+% product churn in the GIS industry as customers continue to seek better products, better service and lower pricing.

This churn is also exacerbated by more and more specific targeted and niche spatial products becoming available to focus on solving specific problems rather than trying to be “everything to everybody” across a corporation. These niche products, often based on open source and developed by small companies who are “light on their feet”, are proving popular to provide “single point solutions” based on generic database structures. Some of these solutions succeed and prosper, but many more fall by the wayside. Nevertheless, there are a number of innovative and exciting products now targeting the spatial industry with many now gaining footholds in traditional GIS sites. But beware, there are risks to these types of solutions and these risks need to be recognised and managed.

In addition, and because the user community has matured to this high level, users are now demanding that they have more control over their product mix and so that they can make more use of innovative solutions. “Best of breed” product mix is not a new concept, but is becoming more popular with the GIS and broader asset / property market, particularly as more and more sites embrace “end to end” integration often using mobile solutions to ensure that business data is captured “at the pointy end” of the business process rather than being entered into a spreadsheet (or worse still, written on a form) for processing and duplication to a number of other corporate systems back at the office.

This then puts the focus more clearly on the need to have better definition of the “business process” so that innovative technology, as and when available, can be applied to these processes to enable real changes to be made to drive efficiencies. CEO’s and business managers are under continual pressure to reduce staff, increase efficiency / productively and reduce turn-around / decision time to ensure that the business prospers in these highly competitive times. Never is this more apparent than in government where politicians from all sides currently strive to reduce waste and increase efficiency while trying to make better decisions and to be more responsive to the public. “A tough ask”, you might say, but innovative (technology) solutions should be able to produce real benefits otherwise one may well ask “what is the point?” and “why should we spend all this money on IT and GIS?”

So the “de-coupling” of vendors to provide a “best of breed approach” has started and can further provide a catalyst to seed innovative solutions across a number of major organisations using GIS. Where will this lead? Will some of the more “traditional” vendors become innovative and responsive in the process, or will they wither on the vine and go the way of ICL or IBM by the end of this decade? It will be interesting to observe these changes as they unfold.

But as part of the plan to make these innovative changes happen, it is important that the “boring bits” are done properly so that the necessary funds can be made available to proceed. And for a technologist these “boring bits” often include the need to develop a winning and robust Business Case which includes a believable and measurable Return on Investment (ROI) set of calculations, because this is what the CEO looks at and this is what the CEO will make the decision on, not whether a specific technology solution looks “really exciting”.

So the question that a CEO will generally ask is “why should we spend a large amount of money on what may be ‘toys for the boys’ or will this investment produce real business productivity gains that will return the cost many times over?” In any long-term and viable business, these are important questions, and to ensure that the technology meets the business requirements, these questions must be answered.


This guest post was written by Bruce Douglas, Director of Corporate GIS.

To address a number of these issues, Bruce will be hosting a Business Leadership Seminar on Tuesday 18th March at the Sydney Masonic Centre for end-user organisations only. Vendors and solution resellers / consultants will not be permitted.

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