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What is the geographic approach and how does it empower enterprise IT?

The Esri ArcGIS technology ecosystem is radically changing what “The Geographic Approach” means for government by bringing spatial data to Enterprise IT. In a series of blogs, I expand on what this means for the success of the Federal Government and the communities it serves. 

In the first blog of this series, The value of geospatial data for government, I explained why spatial data is important to government. In this blog, I discuss how spatial data empowers government when considered as part of the whole IT architecture. It starts by redefining what the Geographic Approach means, and follows by defining what ArcGIS does so well when designed in tandem with Enterprise IT. 

The Geographic Approach is a strategic concept employed extensively by Esri to describe how using spatial data opens new horizons in decision making. Over the past few decades, “The Geographic Approach” has typically referred to the process of combining multiple layers of data on a map to enable multi-factorial analysis (also known as spatial analysis). This work is performed in Geographic Information Systems (GIS) by trained specialists from within an organization.  

There is however a radical change afoot. Spatial data is rapidly becoming a norm for analysis and complex problem solving for all types of roles across government. Up to now, GIS was mostly the tool of specialists, but it is now being democratized. Public servants and Canadians alike can extract value from spatial data, and increasingly expect to be able to do so. Spatial data makes analysis and decision-making easier, more comprehensive, and more transparent. 

The big challenge is to connect this rapidly growing set of users – each with their own spatial information needs – with the right data and tools. It is for this reason that Esri provides an ecosystem of ArcGIS solutions connecting spatial data and incorporating it across the information systems and applications of Government IT Enterprises. It certainly reaches well beyond the archetype of ArcGIS for (only) Spatial Analysis. Given the inherent complexities, this digital ecosystem can be summarized in three tenets that form this “new” geographic approach for government. 

1. ArcGIS provides a framework to guide IT architecture design.  

All spatially enabled tools, apps, and services in the Esri ArcGIS ecosystem are deliberately designed to integrate into a single harmonious Enterprise IT architecture. From a human experience perspective, this is the optimal way to simplify working with GIS. All tools have the same look and feel, in ways similar to how Microsoft 365 succeeds in providing easy-to-use IT solutions to public servants. These tools span across mobile applications, on-premises solutions, hybrid architectures, or fully in the cloud (Microsoft Azure, etc).  Whether using ArcGIS Field Maps, ArcGIS StoryMaps or any other, users enjoy the benefits of working within a single connected digital environment and see their results accelerated.  

Put simply, a single geospatial infrastructure across an enterprise IT means that the power of GIS and the value added of spatial data is in the hands of everyone in the way they can most easily use it.

2. The geographic approach empowers enterprise-wide information management of spatial data.  

The bi-directional exchange of data empowers every spatial service in an enterprise to acquire, handle, distribute and divest of spatial data without redundancies and stovepipes. The Esri ArcGIS ecosystem does this most notably by providing dedicated server tools and engines, standardized data libraries, and well-defined sharing protocols. Esri also notably provides ArcGIS data interoperability, which specializes in integrating and distributing data in many formats.  

This approach drastically helps avoiding duplication in data acquisition and analysis common in big organizations – gaining efficiencies. Enterprise-wide information management is also extremely powerful for the mobile segment of public service, as data management is often the last hurdle in full integration. Lastly, it makes it easier for an organization to comply with governmental data policies.

3. The geographic approach means ArcGIS as an enterprise application platform.  

Esri’s ArcGIS solutions can act as the architectural foundation to which other tools used by an organization can be connected. The scope in which this integration occurs varies greatly. In some instances, third-party applications are directly built within the ArcGIS ecosystem, such as ArcGIS for PowerBI which empowers Microsoft PowerBI analytics with spatial data. Other times, Esri works directly with its 1500+ worldwide partners (and growing) to anchor their services within the Esri platform. This is true for example of Esri’s partnership with ICEYE, where users can order cutting-edge Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) in record time and easily integrate this into ArcGIS Pro. Users can also design data-driven maps using ArcGIS Maps for Adobe Creative Cloud.   

In such a way, Esri's ArcGIS strengthens geospatial infrastructure and provides a common information management architecture to the enterprise IT stack, wherever it resides (on premise, in the cloud, hybrid), inclusive of third-party applications. The whole enterprise can become a single spatial ecosystem.  

The path forward for government 

These strengths of the ArcGIS digital ecosystem are powerful when conceived as a full component of an enterprise IT design. This approach – The “new” geographic approach – should matter greatly for many departments of the Government of Canada given their ongoing digital transformation.   

There are many strategies to move ahead. In the next blog of this series, I will be providing additional examples of how geographic thinking helps government succeed in their objectives. Government organizations wanting to know more now are invited to contact us. We will connect you with the resources to succeed.  

About the Author

Mathieu Primeau is Esri Canada’s Senior Customer Success Manager for the Canadian Federal Government in the National Capital Region. He brings 20 years of experience in GIS and expertise in design-thinking facilitation and event moderation. Mathieu has helped numerous defence organizations around the world learn and develop strategic skills. Prior to joining Esri Canada, Mathieu served as Commanding Officer of the Mapping and Charting Establishment and Special Advisor to the Deputy Minister of National Defence.

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