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The Geospatial Edge: Issue 6, Summer 2023

The Geospatial Edge is Esri Canada’s periodic newsletter for managers and professionals tasked with growing their organizations’ geospatial capabilities. In this issue, Matt Lewin delivers seven practical tips for driving geospatial technology adoption in your organization so that you can maximize the time, effort and money that you’ve invested.

Last month I met with the head of a city government's geospatial unit to review the state of the program, and the topic of technology adoption came up. His challenge was getting staff to actually use the tools they put in place, which was concerning considering how much time, effort and money they had invested. How could they improve this situation? It's a complex topic and worthy of a newsletter in my mind.

The sobering fact is that despite the best efforts of organizations, only 20% of organizations consider their digital transformations a success, and low user adoption is singled out as one of the most common points of failure. People simply didn't use what we built! I'd wager that the geospatial space isn't much different.

At a macro level, there are a few trends currently driving changes in tech adoption habits within organizations. One is the general consumerization of technology. This is the trend of corporate systems resembling consumer-grade applications in terms of form and interaction. People expect easy-to-use, fast and aesthetically pleasing applications and won't tolerate the stodgy, monolithic systems of ITs past. Couple that with the fact that users have a wide array of readily available apps and data options, and organizations have a real challenge on their hands.

The democratization of technology and data means that corporate users can often access tools and relevant data and perform at least some aspect of their jobs without the corporate-supplied technology. When you factor in less restrictive IT governance policies that promote bring-your-own-device, low code/no-code and open data philosophies, you get a power shift away from corporate-driven technologies toward a user-driven environment.

So what's a manager to do? Despite the trends, there's still a need for corporate-delivered systems as part of a strategic digital transformation, and adoption is an essential outcome. That's true for geospatial solutions too. The key is to get ahead of it and take proactive steps to overcome specific adoption barriers while respecting the trend toward greater user choice. Below I've compiled some guidance for driving adoption in your organization.

Make a Compelling Case

It might seem like change management 101, but generally, people don't change their ways unless they have a compelling reason. That means one of your first jobs as a geospatial advocate is to build a case that captures the hearts and minds of your users and motivates them to embrace your vision.

It's human nature that most people will be hesitant to embrace a new technology due to fear of the unknown or concerns about their ability to adapt. By presenting a persuasive argument that highlights the advantages of the new solution, particularly the geospatial benefits, and addresses potential challenges, managers can alleviate these concerns and generate buy-in from stakeholders.

As highlighted in a 2015 HBR article, the best argument for new technology is that it will make your life better/easier/more productive. Of course, what improves one person's life doesn't necessarily improve another person's. Work on building a nuanced story that highlights the value proposition of your solution for multiple audiences.

Set a Deadline for Legacy Tools 

One of the primary barriers to adoption is people's tendency to cling to their old, favourite tools. Setting a clear deadline for these tools to be retired or downgraded helps create a sense of urgency and encourages timely action. Deadlines signal that the organization is committed to progress and encourages employees to adapt to the new solutions within a specific timeframe. This helps prevent complacency and ensures a smooth transition—maximizing the potential benefits of technological advancements.

Additionally, setting a deadline helps allocate resources effectively. Legacy systems often require significant maintenance, support, and training, which can be a drain on time, manpower and financial resources. By implementing a deadline, organizations can strategically plan and allocate resources toward the adoption of new technologies. This ensures that the necessary investments, such as infrastructure upgrades, training programs and system integrations, are completed within a defined timeframe, streamlining the transition process and maximizing the potential benefits of the new tools.

Make New Tools Easy to Learn

How easy a tool is to learn directly affects the willingness and confidence of individuals to embrace and utilize new tools. If, for example, a new field data collection app is complex and difficult to understand, users will often revert to workarounds or look for other solutions. On the other hand, when new tools are user-friendly and intuitive, individuals are more likely to engage with and adopt them.

Simplicity reduces the learning curve. Users are able to quickly grasp the basics and utilize the technology to its fullest potential. It empowers individuals to navigate the tools confidently, boosting their productivity and efficiency. Moreover, an intuitive user interface and well-designed user experience enhance user satisfaction and engagement, creating positive associations with the technology.

Ensure Sufficient Training

Technology adoption without proper training can lead to frustration, resistance and underutilization of the technology's potential. Training provides individuals with the knowledge and skills necessary to navigate and leverage the features and functionalities of new technologies. It helps them understand the purpose, benefits and best practices of using the tools, enabling them to incorporate them seamlessly into their workflows.

Sufficient training helps users overcome any initial apprehensions and builds a foundation of proficiency that allows them to maximize the benefits of the technology. Effective training programs also address individual needs and learning styles, catering to a diverse range of users and ensuring inclusivity in the adoption process.

Encourage Feedback

User feedback is often the most valuable source of insights into how new technology is being used or not used! By actively seeking feedback, managers can understand their unique requirements, workflows and pain points related to a new solution—and, ideally, incorporate them into the solution. 

Users may face challenges in understanding the technology, integrating it into existing systems or extracting meaningful insights from geospatial data. By soliciting feedback, organizations can proactively provide support, training and resources to overcome these obstacles. Feedback can also highlight areas for enhancement, suggest new features or functionalities, and uncover novel use cases.

Implement Quickly and Deliver Early Wins

Back to the first point about building a solid case for your new solution. The last thing anyone wants is to be sold a promise and then wait for ages, potentially years, to see any results. That's why you need to implement quickly and get some early wins.

Early successes build trust and credibility. They show users that your business case is not just a theoretical concept but a real solution that delivers real value.

Quick wins also generate excitement and engagement among stakeholders. When people see the positive impact of technology firsthand, they become more motivated and enthusiastic about using it. This enthusiasm can often spread throughout the organization, and it becomes easier to secure additional resources, support and commitment for the technology's long-term integration and utilization.

Engage Influencers

Often overlooked but powerfully important is the role of influencers in advocating for your solution.

Influencers are people with clout. They hold sway within your organization based on their credibility, expertise or seniority. Getting the support of an influencer(s) can help build trust, generate excitement and encourage broader adoption among users.

Do you know someone like this? Try to engage them right from the case development stage. Influencers can share their experiences, success stories and practical insights, providing valuable guidance and inspiration to others. Their thought leadership can help address misconceptions, dispel resistance and promote a deeper understanding of the technology's capabilities and applications.

By actively using and championing geospatial technology, they can inspire and motivate others to follow suit. They can even help to drive conversations, organize events and create platforms for knowledge-sharing and collaboration, further accelerating geospatial technology adoption.

Let's talk

I'd love to know about strategies you're applying for driving tech adoption. If you have an interesting story, send me an email or connect with me on LinkedIn. I'd like to hear about your experiences!

All the best, 


The Geospatial Edge is a periodic newsletter about geospatial strategy and location intelligence by Esri Canada’s director of strategic advisory services, Matt Lewin. This blog post is a copy of the issue that was sent to subscribers in July 2023. If you want to receive The Geospatial Edge right to your inbox along with related messages from Esri Canada, visit our Communication Preference Centre and select “GIS Strategy” as an area of interest.

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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