Last month I was very pleased and excited to join thinkWhere – a spatial technology and location data sharing company. I’ve never done one of these kind of articles before, but I thought I’d reflect on, and share my experiences in a previous role, and how that has informed and further increased my enthusiasm for the great work that is being done here at thinkWhere. I also thought it was about time I got the chance to finally show the kind of things I do as a ‘GIS expert’ (though of course I can’t actually take any credit for the work shown in the screenshots below ;)!).
I have been working as a GIS expert and with spatial data throughout my career, and in recent years I have learnt first-hand the importance of empowerment and the positive effect it can have on team members. (I’ve also walked up a few munros – the clue to this particular peak is below ;).)
When you think about the opposite of ’empowered’ – words such as ‘discouraged’, ‘hindered’, ‘prevented’ – you realise how important it is to provide teams with access to the tools, data, support and most importantly trust, that enable them to feel empowered to carry out their role effectively and efficiently.
When I worked within a team to ensure they got access and support to use appropriate tools for their work, I was met with such enthusiasm and relief that impressed upon me how fundamental this form of empowerment is to our working lives, and how we may well take it for granted until we no longer have it.
I also realised how much of an affect it can have on mental wellbeing and overall happiness and job satisfaction (though I’m sure you all knew that already, and I’m no expert on these things).
As a GIS expert, I understand the challenges of maintaining spatial data and ensuring its validity when multiple users are accessing and editing the data. GI managers are understandably protective of the spatial data they manage – they want to ensure it is kept in a controlled, neat, and tidy way, and don’t like the idea of other non-GIS experts creating and working with the data and ‘making a mess’.
This approach to spatial data, and the associated amount of time and effort the GI experts need to put into that, rather than providing support for non-expert users, can cause frustration, feelings of inefficiency, and disempowerment from the users who know what they would like to do with the data but must rely on the GI experts to carry out the work when they have the availability.
I would argue that this way of working takes up a lot of time, puts up barriers between the GI expert and the GI users, and creates bottlenecks where the GI experts have limited, or no, time to provide the services that they are the only ones able to carry out.
Empowering the users with appropriate tools can allow them to view, analyse and edit data and create an audit trail so everyone has transparency.
As I was leaving my previous role, I joked that I would be back selling thinkWhere products within a few months, and during my induction chats I realised that it could well be true: I could see immediately how a lot of what I had been trying to implement in my previous role was provided in thinkWhere’s flagship product groundMapper.
I was very interested to find out more about groundMapper, which is an online service providing a cloud-based, centralised location for an organisation’s spatial data – for storage, visualisation, simple analysis, and editing. As well as storing the organisation’s own spatial data, it also provides access to Ordnance Survey and other third-party datasets which the organisation has access rights to. The GI experts within the organisation have full control on access and editing rights of the datasets.
groundMapper is constantly evolving as thinkWhere works closely with its customers to continuously add new functionality. The other exciting thing from my perspective is that it is built on a lot of Free and Open Source Software, but that’s for another time ;).
GI experts are empowered
The obvious benefits of groundMapper to me were the fact that it removes a great deal of the everyday, data loading overhead, and maintenance of an interface from the GI experts within the organisation and leaves them free to do the more exciting, innovative work that they are more interested in, care about, and never usually get round to. It also provides them with the time to offer support to non-expert users.
A bit cheesy, but to misquote a well-known advert: ‘thinkWhere does all the mundane, repetitive data loading work, so you don’t have to’.
GI users are empowered
Users are able to access and interact with the organisation’s spatial data in an easy-to-use interface which provides simple tools for querying and analysis, as well as being able to edit the data in a well-constrained manner (GI managers, don’t panic – the data are all subject to rigorous data models and constraints!).
Implementing groundMapper provides empowerment for everyone – the GI experts are empowered to spend their time on more interesting and fulfilling GIS work, and the GI users are empowered to work with the spatial data they need to successfully achieve their objectives.
Do you feel empowered in your role? Do you feel that other members of your team or organisation are equally empowered? I’d be very interested to find out…
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