Skip to main content

Talking geospatial to executives: Tactics to connect and communicate

When it comes to talking about geospatial technologies with executives, the key is to demonstrate how these tools can be used strategically to drive organizational efficiency and innovation. GIS managers need to take a unique approach when communicating geospatial initiatives to help executives understand the value these systems bring across the organization. In this blog post, I’ll help you prepare for conversations with executives by showing you how to position geospatial products and services.

It’s no surprise that GIS managers need to be able to understand and talk confidently about geospatial technologies. After all, GIS is a powerful tool for driving efficiency and innovation across an organization. But what many of us don’t realize is that we also have to learn how to speak the language of executives when communicating with top company officials.

It’s essential for us as geospatial professionals to understand our industry from the higher-level viewpoint of corporate leadership, a viewpoint that connects the dots from the top down and zooms out on trends, opportunities and limitations impacting organizational decision making. GIS managers need to take a unique approach when communicating geospatial initiatives if they want to help executives understand the value these systems bring across the organization.

In this blog post, I’ll explore seven techniques you can use to bridge the gap and present geospatial so that it resonates with executive decision makers.

Seven techniques for powerful executive conversations about GIS

1. Prepare in advance for your discussion. Try to understand your conversation partner’s level of geo-literacy, which is how well they understand the importance of a geographic approach. If they have a low level of literacy, start your conversation by explaining how your geospatial strategy contributes to top-level goals and objectives.

You’ll also need to appreciate the cultural norms of your organization—for example, whether its departments are siloed by design or whether the organization is risk-averse and therefore slow to adopt unproven technologies.

2. Gather adequate facts and research to support your message. You’ll want to raise relevant, industry-specific topics. For example, in municipal government, connected communities, digital twins, equity modelling, vision zero, community engagement and government transparency are important and current topics to include in your conversation about GIS. In architecture, engineering and construction (AEC), topics like engineering planning & design, partner collaboration, field worker enablement, BIM integration and real-time monitoring should be the focus. 

Again, it’s about understanding your industry from a higher-level viewpoint and connecting its needs and pain points to GIS. The ultimate goal is to get leaders to see the need for a shared view of GIS that extends beyond technical topics into its broader implications for the entire organization.

Easier said than done—right? But to effectively make your argument to executives, use language they understand while emphasizing how GIS can create efficiency and innovation across all departments. With relevant information at the ready, your conversation can equip executives with knowledge about how GIS can improve their organization in meaningful ways. 

Here are a few questions to ask yourself in preparation for your discussion:

  • What level of knowledge does my executive audience have about GIS?
  • What are the most pressing issues or problems the company is facing?
  • How can GIS help address those issues?
  • Who has solved this business problem before with GIS?
  • Why is now the right time to address this business problem?
  • How can I communicate the related GIS benefits effectively and clearly?

3. Deliver a value proposition and highlight key benefits. Here are some value statements you can take and reshape in preparation for your discussion:

  • Location intelligence enables organizations to capitalize on the power of geospatial data with insights that can become an integral part of any business decision.
  • Superior location abilities enable companies to visualize and analyze geospatial data across their operations, allowing them to access a deeper understanding of their situation. This in turn allows them more control over asset condition, location of crews and customer engagement than ever before.
  • By implementing GIS as a cornerstone technology across our organization, we can boost efficiency and unleash a range of strategic advantages, such as real-time information exchange and enhanced data-driven decision making capabilities.

Many top organizations leverage the power of location to maximize their business agenda and stay ahead of the competition; a geospatial strategy can make that vision possible.

With GIS, executives can see across their entire business from a high-level vantage point and maximize location-based information for equitable delivery of programs and services. 

In a recent strategy engagement with the City of Tacoma, Grace Brosnon, Tacoma’s chief technology officer (CTO) commented: “The power of geospatial technology and data to uncover insights can be transformative for city governments like Tacoma. By exploring the spatial relationships between variables like demographics, infrastructure, environment, and more, we can develop more effective strategies for equitable growth. With the right strategies in place, city leaders can use GIS-enabled insight to create programs and services that bring opportunity to those areas with historically low opportunity. It’s an invaluable tool for helping us work towards a more equitable future.”

4. Share stories and showcase examples. You should also be using these conversations as an opportunity to share real-life success stories that show GIS at work. It’s often effective to demonstrate how the top organizations in your industry—better yet, your direct competitors—have been using it.

For example, many top organizations are using digital twins to get a virtual sense of their physical operations. GIS plays an essential role in these new initiatives by enabling organizations to better monitor their operations in real time, optimize service delivery and make timely decisions based on reliable data. By monitoring process performance and identifying trends, these companies have maximized their efficiency and launched innovative ways to gain insight from 3D data. Geospatial technologies like ArcGIS Urban and ArcGIS Reality are interesting options for exploring and running proof of concepts on potential use cases.

Many success stories and case studies are available online (for example, on Esri Canada’s Resource Hub), so be sure to leverage them and use them to draw parallels in your conversation with your executives. The more context you can give for your assertions, the better.

5. Connect the dots for your execs so they don’t have to. Be sure to explain how GIS links different parts of the organization by providing data-driven insights across multiple business units.

Here’s one way of describing this:

GIS connects different parts of the organization by providing insightful, data-driven information. It can help empower teams to work across multiple business units more efficiently. With GIS, critical information can be exchanged quickly and accurately between departments, dramatically increasing collaboration and communication speed and leading to better resource utilization across all teams. By giving organizations the power to analyze complex datasets from disparate sources, GIS gives a clear understanding of how the various parts of the organization are interconnected. The output can then take the form of a map, 3D model or dashboard, allowing executives to get a holistic view of processes and enabling them to make informed decisions more quickly and with greater confidence. That leads to improved organizational efficiency and better performance.

6. Use clear language when explaining complex GIS concepts. The goal is to present your message to your executive so they can understand your ideas in a single conversation.

When you’re explaining these geospatial concepts, provide clarity and simplify the vision for everyone in your audience. Keep your message clear and concise. Consider incorporating imagery or visuals into your narrative. Use the art of storytelling to support the conversation and be convincing. Focus on what’s in it for them and on the benefits of investing their time, energy and resources in learning about a system that might be new to them.

For example, if you manage a large team of field inspectors or field workers, focus on the benefits to the business, like GIS enabling a common operating picture that will allow you to optimize field worker location, collect geo-referenced data and exchange information in near real-time from the field.

7. Keep your execs in the loop. After your initial discussion, reach out to your executives with periodic updates on developments in GIS within the organization. Try to make sure that geographical thinking is incorporated into every communication opportunity, including quarterly updates, annual reports and department presentations. Get creative and use maps, visualizations, facts and spatial data as evidence to share insight. Doing so shows dedication and commitment to your geospatial practice and is a great way to build trust with executives over time.

In conclusion

Preparing for your GIS conversation with executives involves understanding their pain points and interests and arming yourself with enough information for a productive discussion. Do your homework. It’s essential to tailor your messaging to each executive, ensuring you deliver an effective and engaging message every time. Focus on the key benefits of GIS initiatives, like the cost savings that result from streamlining processes, real-time information exchange and advanced analysis, for example. Illustrate those points with stories from successful organizations that have leveraged GIS.

Don’t miss the opportunities to promote and drive home the value of geospatial as an invaluable capability for any organization, as it strategically drives efficiency and innovation. Finally, remember that raising the awareness of GIS with executives takes time and commitment. One conversation at a time!

Let me know how it goes, and please reach out should you need help or guidance along the way.

Want to grow your geospatial strategy toolbox? Sign up for our newsletter, The Geospatial Edge, to get a fresh batch of geospatial strategy resources delivered right to your inbox once per quarter. Simply visit our Preference Centre and select “GIS Strategy” from the available options.

About the Author

Allen Williams leads the Management Consulting Practice at Esri Canada. He focuses on helping organizations build transformative geospatial strategies and roadmaps, giving them practical steps to maximize the value of location intelligence. Allen has worked with organizations at all levels of government and a broad range of industry sectors. He helps customers develop long-term geospatial strategies and governance programs resulting in modernization and innovation.

Profile Photo of Allen Williams