When a manager is faced with a heap of spatial data but doesn’t know how to make sense of it, let alone how to drive business-critical decisions with it, then it might as well not exist at all. However, it is in their best interest to break into that vault of information and become more wealthy* as a result.
Most GIS consulting clients already know about GIS in some way. They know enough to ask the consultant what they want and have an idea of what data they might need to get there. But there are a lot of business executives and managers who have spatial data but don’t know a thing about GIS who could benefit highly from the skills that GIS consultants can offer. Sometimes this comes about by reading about a GIS study that a competitor undertook, in a trade-magazine. But short of that, without a small amount of GIS knowledge a manager may have a tough time figuring out what to do with spatial data, even if there’s an understanding that it would be helpful to them.
Here’s where to start for a new data manager or executive:
1) If there’s an in-house data staff, ask for a debriefing that focuses only on the what. What you want is a high-level presentation that tells you what is in the data storage vaults at your organization. Ask if any of it is spatial data. If there’s a dedicated GIS team, obviously the presentation can focus only on the spatial data component. Be sure to inquire how it all fits within the larger context. It’s also helpful to know the history – why the data are collected, for example.
2) In very small organizations it is entirely possible that nobody knows what data is available. Sometimes data is hoarded by individuals for their particular purposes and are not shared with others. To get a handle on these datasets, a survey or individual talks will have to suffice to gather the requisite information.
3) At the very least, visualize the data! Spatial data is meant to be seen. Map it out. Get a cartographer to explore the data and make it meaningful. In this case we aren’t talking about full-fledged analysis, just maps of what’s available.
4) Now that you know what data exists, what part of it is spatial, and have seen it mapped out, you can start to explore analysis possibilities. The most basic way to do this is to think about how those data (combined with other data that may or may not exist yet, or that you may have to get elsewhere) can answer business-critical questions, drive innovation, or add value in some other way. If, through this thinking, even a small hint of a possibility arises…
5) Get your GIS team, your data team, or your GIS consulting team (if you don’t have one – get one) to explore the idea for you. Questions to ask: is my idea feasible with the data we have? are there other ideas that are related to mine that are feasible? what other data might we need?
*Wealth is money, time, efficiency, and/or doing good.