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Make a compelling business case for SDI using these building blocks

Recent emergency situations due to the coronavirus and severe weather events have demonstrated to the world the immense importance of geographic data sharing for making difficult, complex decisions during challenging situations. But sharing data within an SDI to assist decision makers in day-to-day operations has also proven to be of immense value. One of the best ways you can convince your organization’s managers to invest or reinvest in SDI is by developing a business case. Read this blog post to find out about the critical importance of SDIs, why SDI implementation costs are coming down and why the applications of SDI technology across industry sectors are increasing—and how you can use these facts to build your own SDI business case.

SDIs are critical for decision making

There is no doubt about the critical importance of SDIs in today’s modern society. In application after application, SDIs come to the forefront as a tool for helping make important decisions at critical moments. Well-known high-impact situations like the pandemic, river flooding, wildfires, severe weather and earthquakes make news headlines and affect many people’s lives. But behind the scenes, there are teams of geospatial specialists diligently working away to collect and share data for making geospatial products that are analyzed, studied and evaluated by managers and executives for deciding how to react to, manage or mitigate an event or situation.

SDIs are not only critical for decision making at global and national levels but are also essential infrastructure for regional and local decision making in daily operations. They are also key for more commonplace applications such as land records, environmental assessments, economic development, public safety, transportation management, utilities (water, gas, electric, telecommunications) administration, defense, natural resources, infrastructure maintenance and other public services.

So, the importance of SDIs from global- to local-scale applications is not in question. The question is why some organizations are not making further investments in their SDIs for effective and efficient data sharing in day-to-day operations as well as in preparation for occasional major or catastrophic events.

Data sharing between SDIs is critically important during emergency events like pandemics. Shown here is the COVID-19 Canadian Outbreak Tracker.

SDIs can also become incredibly important during wildfires, as shown here with the B.C. Wildfire Dashboard.

Emergency management of floods like those in Alberta can also benefit from the use of SDIs. The Alberta Floods app identifies areas where the likelihood of flooding is highest based on 30 years of shared data.

Building a business case

Why should organizations make additional investments in their SDIs? Normally, organization managers require business cases to help them evaluate investment decisions and decide if a particular venture is worthwhile. In this scenario, the business case would describe the needs, outcomes, challenges, future opportunities, options, costs, benefits, capacity and risks associated with implementing or improving the organization’s SDI.

Potential outcomes

Let’s start with some of the potential outcomes of sharing geospatial data and using complementary shared data. They include:

  • Avoiding duplication of effort, like different organizations collecting the same data
  • Having the necessary geospatial data available for many additional applications 
  • Helping improve data quality through collaborative efforts
  • Streamlining data production processes and data sharing workflows
  • Creating an efficient and effective data supply chain
  • Sharing experiences and best practices to improve productivity
  • Creating shared SDI tools and applications
  • Building shared or common visions and objectives

Potential challenges

A good business case should also look at the challenges that could occur with the implementation and operation of the SDI, including the following barriers that could affect maximum collaboration:

  • Lack of time and resources
  • Difficulty connecting with users outside the immediate community
  • Technical or interoperability issues
  • Efficient sharing that may depend on only a few stakeholders
  • Complex SDI governance or administrative frameworks
  • Difficulty giving up some autonomy and adjusting competencies
  • Differences in SDI capability maturity between collaborators
  • Unequal distribution of costs and benefits between SDI participants

A business case is a document that provides a justification for the proposed SDI project or implementation based on the expected benefits from the SDI and includes an analysis of the costs. SDIs are a collaborative initiative, so the business case should be a joint effort with the stakeholders and collaborators.

Potential types of costs

Next let’s look at the costs—specifically, what costs need to be looked at. At a high level, the types of costs that would be incurred in the development or improvement of an SDI within the Esri technical ecosystem are as follows:

  • Development costs – These are the “people” costs for planning, implementing, testing and accepting the SDI for operational use. These one-time costs could be for internal staff resources or for consultants and contractors. Some capacity building costs may also be required.
  • Technology costs – These are the cost of procuring any additional Esri technology that is required for implementing the SDI. Products to be considered include ArcGIS Pro, ArcGIS Hub, ArcGIS Enterprise, ArcGIS Online and any necessary extensions or additions. If you already have this technology, then only system configuration costs may be required.
  • Common data costs – Some common geospatial data is already available with the Esri technology package, including access to the Community Map of Canada, the Living Atlas of Canada and other data that is already freely available online, which includes government open data and data that is shared by other agencies.
  • Exclusive data costs – These are the costs of collecting and maintaining your own specific geographic data. These data layers could include city infrastructure, flood or fire extents, criminal activity and other geospatial data that is unique to the specific application and geographic area for the SDI. If this data is already collected and maintained by the agency implementing the SDI then this cost would only be related to continuing this existing data collection and maintenance activity. 
  • System operations and maintenance costs – Once the SDI has been tested and accepted for operations, this cost would be for the ongoing operational staff to monitor, configure, correct, maintain, upgrade and secure the SDI. 

The business case should include the costs for the implementation and operation of the SDI. Over the years these costs have come down to the point where SDI implementation can now be considered by even the smallest of organizations.

If your organization is already an Esri customer, the incremental costs of realizing an SDI are quite manageable even for small organizations. Once you start looking at an SDI implementation, you may find that you already have much of the knowledge, data and technology, so it’s just a matter of performing some training, configuration and operation work.

Potential benefits

The next step in developing a business case for an SDI is to determine and showcase the benefits. The critically important role of sharing geospatial data for decision making is gaining greater recognition among many governments and economic sectors. The benefits of sharing geospatial data and the economic rationale for governments and others to invest in geospatial data sharing is based on the decision-making applications requiring this data. So, let’s have a look at the applications.

In general, the big-ticket applications which provide the major benefits for SDI implementation and operation include: natural resource inventory and development; public safety incident management and reduction; health surveillance and control; smart city development and operation; and climate change mitigation and adaptation.

From a broader perspective, the Government of Canada published a value study that indicated that in 2013, the geospatial industry generated about $2.3 billion in revenue in Canada. So, the importance and value of geospatial business to Canada is not in question and the estimated productivity gains that come from removing barriers to sharing spatial information help make a greater contribution to productivity. Geospatial data sharing can also provide indirect societal benefits. For example, geospatial data sharing can help streamline disaster-related damage reduction efforts, potentially saving governments billions of dollars per year.

But what applications would an individual organization benefit from with the implementation of an SDI for data sharing? The many beneficial applications of SDI include:

  • Base or fundamental data sharing
  • Helping to reduce traffic congestion
  • Helping to improve flood protection
  • Infrastructure site developments
  • Land value improvements (for example, for organizations working on affordable housing)
  • Tax assessment improvements
  • Improved government efficiency
  • Forestry and agriculture planning
  • Climate change adaptation
  • Site selection
  • Historic and archaeological site protection

In conclusion

In summary, the costs of SDI implementation are coming down significantly over time, while the importance and diversity of SDI applications are increasing over time. This makes the SDI costs low and the benefits high, which is the ideal business case scenario and what you want and need to spur your organization towards a go-forward decision. Build a solid business case and you will be one step closer to persuading your manager to implement or improve SDI for your organization.

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

About the Author

Gordon Plunkett is the Spatial Data Infrastructure (SDI) Director at Esri Canada. He has more than 30 years of experience in GIS and Remote Sensing in both the public and private sectors. He currently sits as a member of the Community Map of Canada Steering Committee, GeoAlliance Canada Interim Board of Directors, the Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC) Technical Committee, the Canadian General Standards Board (CGSB) Committee on Geomatics, the University of Laval Convergence Network Advisory Committee and the Advisory Board to the Carleton University Geomatics and Cartographic Research Centre. During his career, Gordon has worked on projects in more than 20 countries and has contributed to numerous scientific conferences and publications. At Esri Canada, he is responsible for developing and supporting the company’s SDI vision, initiatives and outreach, including producing content for the SDI blog.

Profile Photo of Gordon Plunkett