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A geospatial strategy on one page

Having trouble getting your geospatial strategy to stick? Keep your strategic plan on senior leadership’s mind using the geospatial strategy-on-a-page. In this blog post, Matthew Lewin and Allen Williams take you through a step-by-step process for developing a one-pager that will summarize the essence of your strategy for anyone in your organization who needs it.

This article was co-written with Allen Williams of Esri Canada.

Not long ago, the strategy team at Esri Canada was nearing the completion of a long strategic planning project with one of our city government customers. We had spent months interviewing dozens of stakeholders and generating volumes of analysis, and the time had come to present our findings to the project sponsors. 

We distilled our material into a concise executive summary presentation that summarized the main elements of the strategy and key recommendations. We included a discussion on the change impact and risks inherent in any strategy. We then presented it to the group, who, after some feedback and a request for a few minor revisions, ultimately signed off and approved the strategy.

At this point, we figured we were done—time to move on from strategy development and into implementation. 

But we had a nagging feeling that some aspects of the strategy were lost on our audience, or, more specifically, that they would be quickly forgotten as people shifted their focus to other priorities. From experience, we know that strategies that succeed remain strongly on the radar of senior leadership. In fact, an ongoing commitment from all stakeholders is critical to a strategy's success.

We needed a way to keep the strategy top of mind. We needed a simple, stripped-down visual that people could have at the ready to refresh their memories and remind themselves of the goals and direction of the strategy. After all, after expending all that time and effort, the last thing anyone wants is a strategy that's shelfware. 

It was from this inauspicious beginning that our geospatial strategy on a page was born.

This article takes you through the four main elements of the “strategy-on-a-page” and provides tips and guidance on its use. Keep in mind that creating a strategy-on-a-page takes work. There are no shortcuts when it comes to understanding business needs, setting a strategic direction or devising an implementation plan. The one-page approach is simply a tool to distill a geospatial strategic plan down to its critical elements so that on a daily, monthly or yearly basis, your team has something to look at, contemplate and keep front-and-centre in the quest for geospatial excellence.

Example structure for a complete one-page geospatial strategy. This structure includes four main sections entitled Vision, Value Proposition, Strategy and Roadmap.

Your strategy-on-a-page will give you—and decision makers in your organization—a high-level snapshot of the important goals, principles and activities driving your geospatial strategy.

1. Vision

The first element of the strategy-on-a-page summarizes your vision and includes your vision statement, supporting goals and guiding principles. Together, these three components articulate how your organization defines success with geospatial.

Vision statement

The vision statement is the first and perhaps most important component of your vision. A well-crafted vision statement is your organization’s north star. It describes a future where your geospatial aspirations have been realized. It also functions as a guide for future strategic decisions.

To create an impactful vision statement, focus on future outcomes. Good questions to ask when defining your vision statement:

  • How will geospatial technology benefit our stakeholders?
  • What is the breadth and scope of our aspirations?

Here’s a nice example for an energy transmission business:

Our geospatial capabilities will accelerate the efficiency and effectiveness of spatial planning and decision making across the organization and provide access to secure, high-quality spatial information across the full span of our asset base = anytime, anywhere.

Developing your vision statement will take time and is a bit of an art, so prepare a few different versions until you land on one that most agree on.

Goals and guiding principles

Connected to the vision statement is a set of supporting goals and guiding principles.

Your goals describe your desired outcomes at an additional level of detail to your vision statement. Goals help you assess progress toward your vision. Ideally, that means they should be measurable so that you have an objective indicator of success. 

If we take the previous vision statement, we need a definition of “accelerate the efficiency and effectiveness of spatial planning and decision making”. Accelerate how much? Does that mean accelerate the same amount in terms of efficiency and effectiveness? Is it the same for spatial planning as it is for decision making?

The terms used in a vision statement are often vague, so refining them through your supporting goals helps everyone understand what you’re striving for. If you’re struggling to define measurable goals, it’s often because your vision statement needs more work. Fine-tune it until you have a statement that links clearly to specific goals.

The final piece of the Vision element is the guiding principles. These include both business and technical principles. Guiding principles are like guideposts for strategic decisions. They’re different from goals in that they don’t signify an accomplishment as much as they provide ongoing, enduring guidance regardless of how plans change. They’re most valuable as a litmus test of the strategic decisions identified in Step 3 to ensure they align with the principles and values of the organization.

From a technical perspective, often identified principles include “minimize system customization” or “favour cloud-based deployment”. On the business side, common principles include “encourage cross-functional collaboration” and “provide demonstrable business value”.

2. Value proposition

The second element of the strategy-on-a-page is the value proposition, which describes the benefits of your strategy to the stakeholders in your organization. This should be a straightforward statement that describes what each group stands to gain from the strategy. It should answer the question, what’s in it for me? 

The key here is to identify the right mix of roles in your organization. They should reflect specific business functions on the one hand and general user types on the other. For instance, for an energy transmission business, you might identify the VP of asset development, planning engineers and construction staff as your “specific” functions; and analysts, field staff and the public as your “general” beneficiaries. Whatever mix works for you, the point is you’re highlighting the cross-section of stakeholders where your geospatial strategy delivers the greatest value.

You’ll create one value proposition statement for each role you identify. The wording of each statement should speak to the interests of the role. For example, a value prop statement for field inspectors might say, “Our solutions provide inspectors with real-time access to maps, as-builts and work orders on any mobile device in the appropriate geographic context.”

You’ll need to be concise. After all, you only have so much real estate to work with on one page! The trick is to balance brevity with communicating the unique benefits that geospatial technology provides. Make it short and snappy.

3. Strategy

The third and most involved element of the strategy-on-a-page is the strategy section itself. This section answers the question: how do we achieve our vision? 

We break this section into three parts organized around the building blocks of a geospatial capability. They include:

  • Technology & Data: Focuses on the technical aspects of your strategy, including business applications, geospatial data and IT infrastructure.
  • Processes & Governance: Focuses on operational and administrative functions, including service delivery processes and governance practices.
  • Workforce & Culture: Focuses on your human capital, including the knowledge, skills and responsibilities of your geospatial workforce and the culture of spatial thinking.

In this section, we’re highlighting the strategic choices and expected outcomes that define each building block. Remember, the purpose of a geospatial strategy is to create a sustainable geospatial capability through which your organization achieves its vision. Since you’re limited in how much you can display on one page, the goal is to showcase the decisions and outcomes that define this capability. 

Technology & data

For the technology and data portion of your strategy-on-a-page, highlight strategic decisions that result in significant changes to your application portfolio, data environments, and practices, or IT infrastructure. For each decision you highlight, indicate the business outcome you expect to result from this decision. The business outcome provides a level of justification for each decision.

Here’s an example:

  • Decision -> Migrate internally managed solutions, data and customizations to SaaS hosted platform
  • Outcome -> Improves performance, reduces internal security requirements and reduces application maintenance requirements

Processes & governance

For the processes and governance portion of your strategy-on-a-page, include strategic decisions that establish or change processes related to how geospatial technology and services are managed and supported or how you oversee and monitor the effectiveness of your overall geospatial investment. Again, pair these decisions with anticipated business benefits.

Here's an example:

  • Decision -> Establish a formal geospatial governance structure comprised of IT, GIS and department representatives 
  • Outcome -> Provides accountability, decision making clarity and issue resolution procedures for the geospatial investment

Workforce & culture

The workforce and culture portion of your strategy-on-a-page summarizes decisions that impact your workforce complement, the level of spatial literacy across your organization and the culture of spatial thinking. Make this section explicit in terms of how you plan to alter your human capital to reflect changes introduced in your technology & data and processes & governance sub-strategies.

Here’s an example:

  • Decision -> Develop persona-based professional development pathways and curriculum for key geospatial roles
  • Outcome -> Aligns staff knowledge and skills with evolving technology capabilities

One additional tip: for each section, organize the strategic decisions in order of relative importance. Evaluate each decision’s level of significance in terms of advancing your goals and the degree of impact in terms of change to the organization. These decisions will generate the most conversation and scrutiny, so put them front and centre. It’s better to be open and honest about the direction you’re advocating for rather than have it come as a surprise later. Your strategy-on-a-page is a vehicle for expressing the most important and impactful aspects of your strategy. Don’t bury key critical decisions in the details!

4. Roadmap

The final element of the strategy-on-a-page is the roadmap. This section describes the sequence of activities required to implement your strategy.

Typical roadmaps span three to five years, but you can design one of any duration—whatever makes sense in terms of timing and effort. To fit the roadmap into the strategy-on-a-page, you'll need to summarize activities into discrete work packages. You won't have room to itemize every job and task, so you'll need to be thoughtful about what you present.

One way to do this is to group related or dependent activities into projects and categorize them into common themes. For example, you can organize projects according to which of the three strategy components they support, namely technology & data, processes & governance, or workforce & culture. You can also group them by business area, such as GIS projects, IT projects, asset management projects and department-focused projects. You could also simply group them into technical and non-technical projects. However you formulate the groupings, the point is to clearly link the planned activities and the direction described in the strategy.

Once you have your completed strategy-on-a-page, be sure to use it. Print it out, bring it to meetings, display it prominently where everyone can see it. Highlight the strategy in presentations and share it on your corporate network. Use it when engaging new business areas or even print it as a large poster for GIS Day. Your strategy-on-a-page is an ideal awareness-building tool—use it to its full potential. 

Good luck, and if you need any help, please reach out!

For further reading, check out our e-book Geospatial Strategy Essentials for Managers.

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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