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Is the role of the traditional GIS Analyst changing?

Have you noticed? While demand for geospatial or location data is growing enormously, the traditional GIS Analyst is becoming a relative rarity.

It’s something we see in many of the businesses we speak to. How can that be?

In truth, the disappearing of the traditional GIS analyst is the subject of evolution rather than extinction.

Where once they were techies with maps, jealously tending their data hoard, they are now enablers of business value.

So, what’s changed and what does it mean for organisations?

The old-world GIS Analyst

In the past, the GIS Analyst was assigned to a department that required some type of geospatial insight. It was their role to provide answers to questions like “How do I help buses run on time?” or “How do I maintain a rail network?”

They would gather and prepare the data, maybe integrating different data sets. They would validate the data, perform the analysis and produce a result.

If the data was good and if the business had asked the right question (not as common as you might think), they would have the answer they were looking for. Too often, the answer simply begged another query to add to the end of the queue.

When not engaged in mundane, repetitive data quality tasks, the GIS Analyst often simply responded to an endless queue of requests.

That old-world model is changing because of three factors:

  • Greater demand for insights
  • Greater availability of data
  • Greater availability of data tools

Increased demand for geospatial insight

Today, everyone appreciates the power of geospatial insight. When your phone can find your car, your pet, a date and a coffee all within (hopefully) easy reach, you start to ask what that sort of insight could do for your business. Organisations are asking more and more from their location data.

The challenge is that, under the old model, there simply weren’t the number of GIS analysts in each business to respond to a never-ending request queue.

Greater availability of location data

Simply put, there’s just more data to analyse. Everything produces location data today: your mobile, the insurance tracker in your car, smart devices everywhere. We are all sensors, now.

Organisations are collating more data too, sharing data sets and dealing with the inevitable incompatibilities.

Before they get anywhere near an answer, the  analyst is overwhelmed with volumes of incompatible or uncertain data. The historically labour-intensive tasks of data validation, integration and enhancement have become unmanageable.

A bigger range of smarter GIS tools

It’s the availability of automation and visualisation  tools that has been central to the transformation.

A well-crafted web tool can enable an end-user to perform their own, multiple analyses.

Instead of being the keeper of secrets – and, inevitably, the bottleneck in geospatial analysis – the GIS Analyst has become an enabler of increased business value.

That’s a dramatic transformation.

The key to this new world of GIS-enabled business value is for the GIS team to focus on repurposing their data and effectively “productising” it so that it can be accessed through a driven or guided workflow within tools made available to non-expert end-users.

The evolution of the GIS expert?

Smart tools, drawing on expertly curated data, enable end-users to undertake their own analysis. The focus turns from GIS-expertise (which they now embed within the tools they provide) to the domain expertise of the user.

After all, who is better placed to make buses run faster; the techie with the map or the experienced transport manager with location-enabled data at her fingertips?

For organisations that embrace the evolved role of GIS specialists, the results can be dramatic:

  • Data is delivered faster to the people who need it.
  • Those people can run their own queries on demand (no more submitting query requests to a queue) … and re-run them in endless variations.
  • End-users are more innovative as a result
  • The GIS team – freed from mundane maintenance and endlessly responding to others’ queries – can focus on their own innovation. They deliver even greater value to the organisation.

Overall, the business becomes more agile, more innovative and gains a competitive edge over slower to evolve and innovate competitors.

So, let’s celebrate the evolution of the old-world GIS Analyst into a new-world enabler of business value.