Interview: Ben Berghauser, Onneer

By on 2 May, 2022

Ben Berghauser, Managing Director, Onneer

It takes more than software to make the most of a GIS solution, says Onneer’s managing director, Ben Berghauser.

Onneer is a new company in the Australian GIS market, but the people behind it bring experience and knowledge spanning 40 years. Managing director, Ben Berghauser, and his colleagues have long focused on enabling large-scale enterprise GIS using Esri’s ArcGIS software, including the design and implementation of complex systems.

We spoke with Berghauser to get his views on opportunities and challenges in the Australian GIS sector.

What drove you to start a new GIS company?

There were three key reasons. Firstly, because we knew a lot of our peers were either working independently or looking for more when it came to using their ArcGIS knowledge, and from that we saw them needing more options to continue to grow their career within a collective of like-minded others. Secondly, we saw a need for a more holistic approach supporting the large-scale commercial-off-the-shelf GIS customers. Their needs were more complex than software alone and we could see how our experience could help. Thirdly, we wanted to share our experiences in a workplace we enjoyed being in and with people who enjoy doing what they do.

Do new clients understand GIS and what it can do?

Our clients usually have a broad understanding of GIS. They commonly have great technical understanding and domain knowledge but are unsure about how to improve the capability outcomes, fix parts that are not working well or expand to provide new outcomes. We ordinarily deal with managers who have an exceptional vision and understanding of what they want to achieve, but need a bit of assistance and further experience to bring it together.

I think clients generally need help in treating and managing GIS as a discrete capability and knowing what goes into making it successful. They also need help linking the strategic intent with a direct connection to daily operations. Managing a GIS is a complex ICT enterprise as it grows in size and competes with all the other priorities of organisational requirements.

Do we have a GIS skills shortage?

On balance I’d say no… at least not relative to what’s happening in the greater labour market. Where I believe the industry does have a deficiency is in the way the skills are applied. We see a big shortage of that ability to address capability as a whole, not as just a bunch of disparate technical solutions. Within the GIS skills in the industry, we can’t see obvious pathways for capability managers — the existing efforts seem to focus on the scientific and in the use of the GIS.

Industry could solve this by being better at describing the GIS as a capability more than the individual worth of its parts. Career paths are not clear and those that do exist focus on the users who operate the GIS, not those who maintain it. Industry doesn’t highlight the benefits a career as a GIS capability specialist provides. This could be done better.

What other challenges are there?

I think the biggest challenge is in bolt-on solutions from other markets which diminish the value of GIS. Integrating sub-par mapping capabilities circa 2007 still seems to be happening, and it creates an interoperability nightmare when those customers look to the industry and wish they could do the things other organisations are doing with their GIS. The industry has moved on from this type of closed system; everything is interoperable and open (albeit within several distinct spheres).

What inspires you to be in the GIS industry?

I’m inspired by the enthusiasm I see when someone realises the benefits of applying GIS to their problems. You can see it when they just ‘get it’. The part that drives me is getting the capability to a place where I can see increasing numbers of users evolving and engaging with it. Nothing makes me happier than discovering a user who has solved a business problem with the GIS, organically and without having their hand held.

What will you be speaking about at Locate22?

I’ll be talking about the importance of language. Specifically, when we manage a GIS and don’t apply professionalism in our own language. This has been an ongoing capability focus for us, and we’ve seen it in multiple clients — the moment precision starts to drop in how we describe the system, critical understanding begins to fall away because it’s an invitation to your stakeholders to flatten the meaning of complex issues.

This article was first published in the Apr/May 2022 issue of Position magazine.

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