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The Geospatial Edge - Issue 4, Fall 2022

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 delves into how to make your organization more flexible in the face of oncoming change.

How to build flexibility into your geospatial strategy

By now, you're probably well aware of rising inflation's effect on our economy and our supposedly imminent recession. This is a sobering turn of events given the struggles so many have been through over the last couple of years of the COVID-19 pandemic.

It got me thinking about the importance of adaptability and why, even at the level of an organization's geospatial program, it's so important to bake flexibility into your plans and programs so that you can successfully navigate uncertain times and ride out difficult situations.

An excellent new piece from Harvard Business Review about the importance of adaptability provides guidance on how to “evolve from a static, plan-then-do model to a dynamic and continuous approach to strategic decision making and execution.”

The author breaks it down into three essential components: the willingness to adapt, inbuilt flexibility and dynamic planning. The dynamic planning component is the most practical piece, so here are the five key steps of that model applied to your geospatial strategy.

The five key steps of dynamic planning—in a geospatial context

1. Define extreme but plausible scenarios. Rather than having one working assumption about the future, think through a range of business scenarios, particularly those that would significantly affect your geospatial program.

For instance: a sale to a competitor, the acquisition of a competitor, the consolidation of your geospatial program under a new department or a raft of staff reductions.

These are highly impactful and not entirely impossible scenarios for many organizations during volatile times. Use these as a basis for working through the design of your strategy (step 2).

2. Identify strategic hedges or options. Consider your options in terms of the mix of technology, processes and people defined in your strategy.

If one option provides greater flexibility in terms of altering course or redeploying investments under the previously described scenarios, then it should receive a higher strategic weighting.

If a potential acquisition is on your horizon, perhaps favor platform architecture decisions that enable the broadest range of integration with external corporate systems.

3. Run experiments before locking in investment. Use the early stages of your plan to pilot new ideas and develop proofs of concept.

Since you might have difficulty securing major investment funding during uncertain times, there could be room for some small, quick-win experiments in your strategy.

If they fail or if an unexpected scenario unfolds that requires you to pivot strategies, you're ok because you haven't invested significant time and resources. If they prove successful and a favorable scenario materializes, you'll have a running start on implementing them at full scale. Favor pilots that would move the needle if successful.

4. Identify trigger points, signposts and metrics. Identify a set of leading indicators that, once reached, would trigger action on one of your strategic experiments. You want to be ready to go when the time is right, so ensure you track metrics or trigger points that indicate when to act.

For example, monitor the adoption uptake of one of your proofs of concept and, at the same time, stay on top of key management messages. If arrows are pointing north on both, build the necessary case for a full-scale rollout.

5. Provide prescriptive surveillance. Conduct future scenario planning as a matter of ongoing practice.

Don't wait until you're faced with an impending downturn or a corporate overhaul to start planning—bake it right into your strategic performance monitoring activities. Formulate a catalogue of plausible business scenarios, and during your quarterly or annual planning meetings, ask whether your geospatial systems, projects and programs are positioned to succeed under these scenarios. Or, at the very least, could you ride out the storm?

If not, go back to step 2 and develop a set of viable options. 

More geospatial resources

Another tool I can point you to for planning purposes is a set of geospatial strategy archetypes. For those facing potential cuts and reductions, have a look at the “efficiency-oriented strategies”. These strategies offer guidance on streamlining your geospatial programs in response to downward business pressure.

I also invite you to check out our upcoming seminar with IDC Canada entitled “Superior Outcomes Through Superior Capabilities".  We'll review the results of a study of over 300 Canadian organizations where we looked at the geospatial practices and capabilities that separate the leading organizations from the rest. We'll review the findings and provide tactics for adopting these practices in your organization.

Also, keep an eye out for Volume 2 of our e-book Geospatial Strategy Essentials for Managers—coming December 2022! If you don't have volume 1 of the e-book, download it here.

Let’s talk

I'd love to know how you're coping with uncertain times. Please feel free to connect with me on  LinkedIn, or email me directly. All you need to do is write to me and let me know what's on your mind.

All the best,


The Geospatial Edge is a periodic newsletter about geospatial strategy and location intelligence by Esri Canada’s director of management consulting, Matt Lewin. This blog post is a copy of the issue that was sent to subscribers in November 2022. 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 Management Consulting 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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