A Roadmap for Success in Best Practices

You are likely aware of the term and concept of “best practices.” Merriam-Webster defines best practices as:

A procedure that has been shown by research and experience to produce optimal results and that is established or proposed as a standard suitable for widespread adoption.

Best practices are called best practices for a reason. They are the best way to “produce optimal results.” Don’t we all want to produce optimal results? Isn’t that the mission of your organization? Don’t your supervisors, executives and elected officials expect that? Don’t your constituents expect that? Of course. Then why are so many organizations tempted to ignore best practices?

When software companies provide documented best practices to their users, they are trying to help them. They have created these best practices from their work with other organizations using the software. They are trying to keep users from repeating the misfortune of others. They are trying to keep users from reinventing the wheel. They are trying to help users by providing guidelines that will ensure success. Implementing best practices should make systems run faster, be more stable, scale to needs over time, etc. By publishing best practices and helping users implement them, software providers are trying to make you successful by avoiding system failures like downtime and slow performance. Bad performance isn’t good for you or them.

I had a great discussion with a local government agency about GIS best practices in a meeting with a Deputy CIO at a Summit earlier this year. He asked me to provide him with our documented best practices. He said that they needed the documentation because they would implement them to the letter. I was pleasantly surprised. I asked him why he felt so strongly about following best practices. He said, “That’s easy. If I implement your best practices and then the system doesn’t work, I can blame you. If I ignore your best practices and go my own way and the system doesn’t work, I can only blame myself.”

So, I wanted to share with you the insight I shared with him that I have gathered from many years of working with my peers and colleagues in the government space. Here are my three best practice tips for GIS:

  1. Secure approvals from everyone at the beginning for your GIS project.
  2. Deploy your GIS incrementally to leverage tech change. Because we all know tech changes rapidly. (Hello iPhone X that is now outdated.)
  3. Build and maintain a simple system performance model that links user requirements with system design.

I have found these three best practices always ring true. Many people I work with come back to me after implementation and explain that once a GIS is in place, department and program managers need help to define new workflows for this technology. They find that GIS becomes the support function to help make important decisions all throughout the organization.

This is true because GIS plays well with others; it is usually integrated with other processes and decision-making functions. We don’t exist for the primary objective to make a map, although maps are cool and I for one would love to spend my days doing that. And if you want to bet on this, I’d get ready for more people turning to you, as a GIS manager, to help them out with their objectives.

As my CEO Jack Dangermond recently wrote in Forbes about the increasing power of computers and the cloud and the possibilities that are available to us GIS  users: “This is mapping and GIS done at a whole new scale; it is often referred to as Web GIS by many communities and organizations. The geospatial cloud is opening the world of geospatial visualization and analysis to many businesses, utilities and governments. It is letting existing GIS users and new adopters expand their effectiveness across their organizations, from fieldworkers and executives to software developers and data scientists.”

So, get ready my fellow GIS-ers. I truly believe that if we take the time now for thoughtful implementation using best practices, we can be the foundation for the next big step in better government.

Adam Carnow is part of the GovLoop Featured Contributor program, where we feature articles by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Contributor posts, click here. You can follow Adam on Twitter or LinkedIn.

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