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The importance of business relationship management for GIS

In this blog post, Esri Canada management consultants Allen Williams and Sarah Hughan discuss how business relationship management (BRM) can help GIS teams align their capabilities, projects and strategy with the rest of the organization, while also extending the reach of geo within the business.

Coauthored with Sarah Hughan

One of the challenges that many geospatial teams face is how to engage stakeholders and partners effectively to form a long-term plan for their organization’s GIS. Specifically, they struggle to understand the future business capabilities necessary to achieve the organization’s strategic objectives and determine if and how GIS can meaningfully contribute. This can be daunting because it takes time to identify, shape and scope business ideas. It also takes a combination of business acumen, domain knowledge and geospatial literacy to zero in on high-value opportunities where GIS can contribute strategically.

To address this complex technology planning situation, many organizations form a business relationship management (BRM) function. The BRM team often resides in a technology department and acts as a business–technology planning liaison. The goal of this team is to collaborate with the rest of the organization’s business lines to identify and understand needs and opportunities. The business relationship manager, sometimes called a business partner (BP), can cultivate and connect the different stages of the organization’s value chain, vet opportunities to determine expected benefits and engage all levels of the organization, including the executive-level audience.

For GIS teams with a heavy focus on maintaining and supporting day-to-day operations, much value can be gained by leveraging the BRM role. First off, a well-structured and strategically deployed BRM team has access to various stakeholders across the organization, both vertically and horizontally. Leveraging this reach is an effective way to extend the GIS team’s connection to new audiences to promote and raise awareness of geospatial services and solutions. This helps to engage business areas that may not be familiar with GIS and over time, gain insight to understand what these new business lines require to advance their agendas and how GIS capabilities can help.

For business units just starting their geospatial journey, the BRM can assist in facilitating collaboration and sharing between business stakeholders and GIS staff. One very effective strategy is for BRMs to host art-of-the-possible sessions to illustrate the importance of geographic approaches and share how industry peers are using the power of location intelligence.

Secondly, BRMs can create bridges between the GIS team as a service provider and the business groups that consume these services, looking for opportunities to better align the delivery of geospatial solutions and the integration of services. Working with the BRM, you can connect business issues and dependencies across the organization.

We’re sure that most of you have encountered business units within your organization that were working on similar tasks or projects without realizing others were doing the same. The BRM function can help identify duplication of effort across the organization and identify opportunities for business units to collaborate to reduce future rework. For a GIS team, some common examples include coordinating the requirements more effectively on imagery purchases, understanding the business use cases and efficient use of data subscriptions, and forecasting software licensing growth in preparation for budgeting.

Lastly, in collaboration with their business peers and GIS practitioners, the BRMs can develop a healthy list of potential ideas and opportunities. Using a structured approach to planning, the BRM works to ensure that all opportunities are vetted, prioritized and shared for resource planning purposes. This is especially helpful in managing high-demand business areas and ensuring that priority opportunities become the focus to ultimately build strategic and sustainable annual programs of work. 

For a GIS team to effectively work with BRMs:

  • First and foremost GIS practitioners and SMEs must educate the BRM team on geospatial capabilities and how these capabilities are being applied within the organization, including best practices and examples from elsewhere. Knowing and understanding the basic geospatial patterns of use, such as mapping, visualization, field mobility, real-time monitoring and spatial analysis will assist the BRM in identifying opportunities that are GIS related.
  • Secondly, as opportunities are brought forward from BRMs on behalf of departments, the GIS team must provide support for vetting requirements and scoping projects.
  • Lastly, connecting the BRM with appropriate vendors who can share information on products, facilitate demos and provide case-studies on how your peers are using GIS to solve similar problems is an additional, valuable function. 

Here’s a short list of resources you can incorporate into a GIS orientation for the BRM team:

Working with a strong BRM function over the long term can help transition the GIS team’s role from pure service delivery to being trusted advisors. At that level, the business lines recognize the value and importance of working with the GIS group early in the planning process. GIS team members are engaged in important issues to help strategize scenarios that solve big business problems. Overall, an effective connection between GIS practitioners and BRMs strengthens collaboration and helps to break down silos, fostering geospatial innovation across the organization.

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This post was translated to French and can be viewed here.

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