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Six geospatial strategy archetypes

What makes a geospatial strategy effective, more than anything else, is how well it aligns with the needs of the business. And while there is no simple formula for ensuring business alignment, managers can learn from and benefit by a study of geospatial strategy archetypes that take into account different business needs.

An archetype is simply a recurring pattern. You see them referenced in many disciplines, from literature to psychology to computer programming. They’re common patterns or models that you tend to see time and again. In the case of a geospatial strategy, an archetype refers to a basic configuration of people, processes and technology that organizations commonly implement in response to specific business priorities. I’ve identified six as part of a simple archetype model.

In this model, three different business motivations we commonly see with our customers (efficiency, productivity and growth) form a matrix with two broad levels of geospatial maturity (low and high).

The model is derived from two important factors that underpin every geospatial strategy: business motivation and geospatial maturity.

Business motivation refers to the overall direction and priorities of an organization. It relates to where and on what the business is focusing its efforts. Typically, organizations are trying to do one of three things: be more efficient (get lean, eliminate waste), improve productivity (deliver work faster, better, cheaper) or grow their business (expand products, services and markets). Many organizations will claim to be pursuing all three at once. However, in my experience—at least at the macro level—the priority for senior management is almost always in one of these three areas.

The other key dimension of a geospatial strategy is the current level of geospatial maturity. This refers to the overall level of proficiency an organization possesses in the geospatial discipline. Organizations at the low end of maturity lack the expertise, tools or processes needed to deliver sophisticated geospatial capabilities. High-maturity organizations are well-oiled geospatial machines, able to support complex, high-value capabilities.

The intersection of business motivation and geospatial maturity produces a distinct set of geospatial strategy archetypes—each addressing a different challenge. Collectively they serve as implementation blueprints. Think of them as a useful starting point for building a detailed, tailored strategy. It’s a bit like building a house. It’s easier to start with a set of pre-configured floor plans and then make adjustments than it is to start from scratch and try to navigate the endless design decisions that dictate building a house. The six archetypes are guidelines to help focus your strategy building efforts right from the start.

Efficiency-oriented strategies

Efficiency-oriented strategies are a fit for organizations that are focused on right-sizing or streamlining their operational footprint. Often these organizations are facing internal challenges with their business or experiencing a downturn in their industry and need to trim the fat to stay on track. Common tactics include cost-reduction initiatives, lean management programs and restructuring.

1. Automate geospatial workflows

In Archetype One, a mature organization positions its future geospatial capabilities as a source of efficiency. This is a strategy for organizations prepared to deliver in a lean environment by implementing or refocusing solutions around business automation. This means automating or streamlining workflows at critical points in the information lifecycle, including data capture, spatial analysis and map production. The intention is to reduce the manual effort (i.e., cost) required to perform these tasks. Beyond the technology, organizations must focus on streamlining processes related to workflow support, data management and application management, and rationalizing staffing around the requirements of the lean geospatial approach.

Mature organizations in the oil and gas sector, for example, commonly employ this strategy. This is a volatile industry where staying lean is critical to riding out downturns in oil prices. Firms in this space have been quick to adopt solutions such as drone technology that lower the cost and effort of monitoring oil facility sites.

Key tactics

  • Technology—Prioritize business automation solutions at key points in the geospatial information lifecycle across all lines of business; rationalize or rearchitect data and infrastructure environments to support automation focus
  • People—Reduce non-essential roles; hire or develop talent to support the new solution environment; implement a lean business analyst role(s) to seek out and identify geospatial efficiency opportunities
  • Processes—Streamline processes impacting lean workflows, such as data management and application management; focus on tight governance of new technology spend

2. Streamline the geospatial footprint

Archetype Two is for low-maturity organizations facing efficiency mandates. Realistically, the options are limited for these organizations. This archetype focuses on minimizing the geospatial footprint as much as possible while maintaining critical solutions and services. Tighter budgets require tough calls, and expensive capability-building exercises are unlikely to get traction. The goal is to bring the organization’s geospatial capabilities down to a “minimum viable product” and ideally position for future growth when times are better.

Key tactics

  • Technology—Deploy simple, standard mapping and data management solutions to minimize workflow complexity and support requirements; reduce or eliminate applications that don’t support critical business functions; prioritize and implement a “SaaS-first” philosophy to externalize support and maintenance costs; rationalize applications, data and technology infrastructure onto the new environment
  • People—Identify critical internal staffing roles to retain; outsource supplementary functions to external providers; lean on vendors for production support and guidance
  • Processes—Establish a baseline, keep-the-lights-on level of service and support; develop precise, repeatable geospatial workflows for users to follow

Productivity-oriented strategies

Productivity-oriented strategies are a fit for organizations that are focused on improving business performance but expect to maintain similar budgets and resource levels. Keep in mind that productivity is different from efficiency. Efficiency is about shrinking the inputs to production, such as labour hours and headcount. It’s about doing the same with less. Productivity, on the other hand, is about increasing output relative to the amount of effort. It’s is about doing more with the same

Productivity-minded organizations typically have a sound business model within a relatively stable industry and want to make improvements. These are usually incremental improvements as opposed to major transformational changes. Common investments include workforce productivity solutions, process re-engineering initiatives and technology infrastructure upgrades.

3. Expand the reach of geospatial solutions

Archetype Three focuses on expanding the range and reach of geospatial productivity solutions across the business. This involves implementing a wider range of in-field, in-office and field-to-office solutions to a broader cross-section of users—especially areas with little or no geospatial footprint. Productivity solutions vary widely by industry, but anything that helps workers improve the quantity or quality of work is a fit. Most mature organizations will already support a range of productivity solutions. Mobile field data collection tools come to mind. The focus now is to expand the offering to include even more advanced productivity solutions. This might consist of advanced spatial analysis solutions, such as AI-driven image classification applications. As with efficiency-oriented strategies, a key factor here is ensuring the abilities and know-how of the organization are sufficient to implement and support these solutions. 

Key tactics

  • Technology—Implement productivity-focused solutions covering in-field, in-office and field-to-office workflows; focus on business areas of high strategic importance or underserved areas of the business with little geospatial footprint
  • People—Focus on expanding spatial literacy to underserved lines of business so they can help to understand and identify spatial productivity opportunities; provide training and skills development on new productivity solutions
  • Processes—Redesign and integrate workflows to take advantage of new productivity solutions

4. Selectively evolve geospatial capabilities

In Archetype Four, a low-maturity organization focuses on maturing its geospatial capabilities so that—in time—it can support a broader range of productivity solutions. Unlike an efficiency mandate, a productivity mandate means there’s often an opportunity for longer-term capability building. The focus of this strategy is to invest in and build the basis of a strong enterprise geospatial function, including establishing a common geospatial technology platform, migrating legacy technologies onto the platform and implementing some range of high-value/low-risk solutions. It also involves tightening up the geospatial function to align support and governance processes more closely with the IT organization.

For example, a North American agriculture business adopted a similar strategy to support its precision agriculture initiative. The relatively low-maturity organization chose to shore up its geospatial support model and expand its enterprise GIS platform footprint to support the productivity mandate, while also implementing a range of quick-deployment solutions that supported crop yield optimization.

Key tactics

  • Technology—Establish a common enterprise geospatial platform; migrate solutions to the platform, especially redundant legacy mapping solutions; prioritize a set of high-value/low-risk productivity solutions for quick deployment to the new platform 
  • People—Establish an enterprise-level workforce complement such as a geospatial manager, architect, developer and business analyst
  • Processes—Align geospatial support and governance processes with a comparable IT function to avoid creating a geospatial silo

Growth-oriented strategies

Growth-oriented strategies are a fit for organizations that are focused on expanding their businesses beyond traditional boundaries. These organizations prioritize growth in its many forms: an expanded customer base, broader product or service offering, new market geographies or entirely new lines of business. Significant emphasis is placed on innovation and digital transformation, geographic expansion and new business acquisition.

5. Accelerate geospatial innovation

Archetype Five is the most aspirational strategy. It involves investing in geospatial innovations that contribute to the creation of entirely new business opportunities. This strategy is appropriate for mature organizations that recognize a unique role for geospatial technology at the edges of the business. This type of strategy requires a commitment to innovation, often including dedicated resources to advance the research and development of new solution opportunities. Implementing out-of-the-box technology is unlikely to move the needle in this strategy. The focus is on applying geospatial analysis in unique ways to existing or future business challenges. When done successfully, an innovation strategy can become an exciting and new source of sustainable advantage.

Key tactics

  • Technology—Research and identify strategic business capabilities and opportunities; develop solution offerings that drive growth in key business areas or create sustainable advantages enterprise-wide; focus on technology and data best practices that promote innovation and collaboration, including elastic computing infrastructure, rapid application deployment tools and open data sharing and access
  • People—Acquire or develop talent educated in advanced spatial and data science analytics; establish partnerships with innovation partners and higher education 
  • Processes—Promote broad spatial literacy through initiatives designed to create geospatial awareness, promote cross-department and public collaboration, and generate a culture of innovation and exploration

6. Aggressively scale up geospatial capabilities

If Archetype Five is the most aspirational, then Archetype Six is the most transformational. Growth-focused organizations need all the help they can get. If low geospatial maturity is the status quo, a prudent strategy is to scale up aggressively to keep pace with the business. This is a time for bold moves. Incremental improvements will be insufficient and delays will cause the business to grow weary from the lack of tools and support. This strategy intends to rapidly grow capabilities in high-need areas, align to pre-existing digital transformation initiatives and improve spatial literacy at all levels.

Key tactics

  • Technology—Prioritize quick-win solutions that align with existing digital transformation initiatives or growth opportunities identified by the business; direct funding toward technology and data infrastructure improvements that support rapid deployment of quick-win solutions
  • People—Prioritize the acquisition and development of talent that can support the quick-win solutions; in parallel, build out an innovation function tasked with exploration and identification of high-growth opportunities
  • Processes—Promote successes broadly; align support processes with IT practices; establish robust governance processes to support the expected growth of and demand for the geospatial platform

Remember, archetypes are a starting point to a strategy, not an end result. It may be that no one archetype perfectly fits your situation. That said, in most cases, you’ll find they serve as a useful template to help get you on your way with building your geospatial strategy. By understanding where the realities of business and geospatial intersect, you can more easily develop and implement a geospatial strategy that fits the bill.

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This blog post was originally posted to the author’s page on LinkedIn.

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

About the Author

Matthew Lewin is the Director of Strategic Advisory Services for Esri Canada. His efforts are focused on helping management teams optimize and transform their business through GIS and location-based strategies. As a seasoned consultant, Matthew has provided organizations in the public and private sectors with practical strategies that enable GIS as an enterprise business capability. At the intersection of business and technology is where Matthew’s interests lie, and he thrives on helping organizations bridge the gap to achieve their most challenging GIS ambitions.

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