5 Ways You Are Sabotaging Your GIS, and 5 Ways to Fix Your Mistakes. (START TODAY!)

I love geographic information systems! The creativity in map design, the science of spatial analysis, and the cross-industry power are amazing.

Recently I spoke to a friend of mine in GIS about ways we have been completely messing up our GIS. We took a hard look at what we have seen and had to deal with over the years,

We realized something… we had sabotaged your GIS… A LOT.

You might be sabotage your GIS... make sure you figure out what you are doing wrong.
You… YES you are sabotaging your gis.

We each had our pet peeves and annoyances but agreed there are some things that really sabotage our GIS like really messed things up.

What do I mean about sabotaging our GIS? I mean holding us back, keeping our GIS from being maximally useful, I mean a lot of time and energy being gets wasted doing things in our GIS that shouldn’t be done.

Knowing what we are doing wrong and knowing what is actually working against us is half the battle to creating an amazing GIS.

Knowing is half the battle.
Knowing is half the battle.

We actually came up with 9 things that seemed to always get in the way. I will only be writing about 5 for now because otherwise, this blog post will get too long.

So without any more fan fair, here are the 5 things that sabotage your GIS.

Using Model Builder

On the surface, this little part of ArcGIS and QGIS appears to be an amazing add-on for any non-programmer. Just link a bunch of boxes, change a few parameters, and BOOM… you have your model. But model builder (as of typing these works) has too many limitations that will come back to haunt you… badly.

Model builder seems faster and easier, but it will slow you down in the long run.
Model builder… don’t do it… not even once.

I worked at a big company where the previous GIS guy has been gone for at least 2 years. He had worked at the company for over 10 years, and did some amazing work, but left behind a massive data update system all based on Model Builder. 

The model had two pages of step-by-step instructions, 5 models that had to be run separately, with 2 extra models to verify results. The process took HOURS and had to be babysat the entire time. While it did work, it was painful to run.

The solution, do programming from the start. While you might feel the learning curve is high, it pays off within months, if not weeks… if not days, when you get going.

Not talking to your coworkers

Sometimes in GIS, we can get pretty isolated. Sitting in our office, troubleshooting other people’s questions, or just doing our own thing creating analyses and maps. This is a mistake because GIS is not about us… it is about the people we work with.

GIS is not about you, it is about your team

I have made this mistake a few times. I have gone ahead and designed symbology, tables, features, maps and widgets based on what I thought was going to work and be cool without talking to my coworkers.

While I usually had good initial responses, there were always changes that undid a lot of the work I had done. 

The solution, sit down with people who are going to use your GIS and really listen to what they need. Sometimes it can be as simple as a symbology change, adding more fields in tables, or a complete rework of your online maps.

They are looking to complete their jobs in your work… talk with them, work with them.

Not using multiple GIS software packages.

I used to be an ArcGIS Pro only guy… until I couldn’t be. Turns out that many companies have a hybrid system of GIS software.

Make sure you know more than one, or even two, GIS software packages

Sometimes there is not enough money for everyone to run ArcGIS. At one company I was at, we had 1 Spatial Analyst license between 5 people. This forced us to use QGIS.

Sometimes companies will merge together from multiple companies with wildly different GIS setups. This requires combining GIS data for daily operations while ensuring that access to older GIS data is still possible. 

This doesn’t even cover all the engineering, geoscience, construction and other software that has in-built GIS capabilities that require integration into your GIS.

The solution, accept, learn, and integrate (where needed) the top two GIS software packages. They currently are the paid one (ESRI) and the open one (QGIS). These may change in the future but always use and become proficient in these two.

Not Integrating New Technology

Humans get set in our ways and we don’t like change. Something new comes along, and we resist that new thing because it threatens what we already have. This is normal, natural, and good… but can really mess up your GIS.

Integrate new technology as fast as you can so you don’t get left behind.

However, somewhere in there, we can’t resist change forever… and sometimes if we don’t change, we get left behind.

I worked for a company where I moved our entire field operations from paper maps and handheld Garmins to Android devices and Collector. One field hand, a very highly experienced member of the team, refused to use a mobile device for field ops. He was let go after refusing the direct request of the project manager… don’t be that guy.

Solution, be at or near the leading edge of new innovations, accept new technology and learn fast.

Integrating Too Early

Yup, this one and the one before seem contradictory, but sometimes you can integrate too early and get left with very expensive bricks or broken code.

Some technology… is just destined to fail… or at least not catch on fast.

At my first GIS position, my boss was super keen to have our office operations harness mixed reality where we use Microsoft Hololens to plan operations. We bought two Hololens (the first generation), sent over $10000, and countless hours trying to figure out how to harness mixed reality for planning.

While we may have been ahead of our time in trying, the experience ended in failure. Years later I can say it was a good try, but the technology just wasn’t there at the time.

Solution. Don’t integrate EVERYTHING, but certainly go with what works.

Thanks for reading and be sure to check out my other links!

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