Category Archives: Industry Focus

Making It Stick: Three Truths about Teaching with GIS

In their insightful book about the science of successful learning, Make It StickPeter C. Brown, Henry L. Roediger III, and Mark A. McDaniel spell out some truths about learning.  In addition, they dispel some preconceived notions that many of us may have about learning that simply aren’t valid.  I believe that three of these truths are instructive as to how we as the GIS community should approach teaching and learning with GIS: learning is deeper and more durable when it’s effortful, learning requires a foundation of prior knowledge, and putting knowledge into a larger context helps learning.


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Measure the Full Value of Your GIS Investment

Beyond ROI, Key Performance Indices and GIS Close Performance Gaps

[Note:  This is the third post in our new series about Managing GIS.]

A common question we get from our utility customers is, “What is the return on investment (ROI) for GIS?” The reason is most utilities need to justify the cost of building, upgrading, or enhancing their GIS (e.g., investing in a tablet-based damage-assessment app) or doing the same with their GIS data. That justification takes the form of a financial study that answers these questions: What is the payback period of GIS? What is its impact on balance and income sheets? What is the cash flow for the project?

Utility financial people call these hard-dollar savings. Hard-dollar savings are a common measuring stick by which to judge the merits of an investment. Continue reading

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Mobile GIS? Never Heard Of It!

Many Workflows are Best Served with Targeted Apps

I get this said to me all the time:  “We have this big GIS in the office. We use it all the time to make maps and export data into our outage systems or gas leak management system. It’s great! Can we put it into the field for the mobile workers?”

People want mobile GIS.  But I respond like a psychiatrist when they ask for it: Instead of giving them a straight answer, I ask them a question: “To do what?”

Their answers span a big gamut. They range from, “It’s easier to get maps on a mobile device than to carry around paper maps,” to…

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Boomers’ Retirement: Changing Outlook

For generations, Americans worked hard, lived within their means, saved for retirement, spent their golden years in relative comfort, and passed on a healthy inheritance to their children. Many Classic Boomers held only one or two jobs during their careers; received healthy raises, bonuses, and pensions; and didn’t have to worry about healthcare costs gutting their assets. These were traditionally-held patterns and goals. Based on these behaviors, many in succeeding generations could count on an inheritance to help finance large expenditures such as buying a house or paying for their children’s educations. Now? Maybe not so much. Ironically, in the days before the first wave of Boomers began to retire, economists warned against the impact of the largest transfer of wealth in our nation’s history.

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Ancient Rituals and Modern Technology

The electric and gas utility business is complex. Some say the electric grid is the most sophisticated technology in the world. Natural gas networks are not far behind. Diving deep in to the business, there is probably one of nearly every kind of technological wonder at play. Control systems, artificial intelligence, Lidar, sensor networks, augmented reality, and of course GIS. Utilities, to some extent like the space industry, drive innovation of technology. Yet overlaid with all this sparkling technology are some old patterns of behavior.

Every industry strives to improve. Utilities can improve by getting rid of old habits.

Two old behaviors linger: working in silos, and heavy reliance on institutional knowledge. Continue reading

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Denver Growing Smart with Spatial Technology

I’m here in Denver, Colorado for the New Partners for Smart Growth Conference (2/13-15/2014), a perfect location for an event that illustrates the importance of triple bottom line planning that addresses the environment, the economy, and the social sphere of culture, justice, and equity.

For more than ten years, Denver has been adding light rail and commuter rail to their transportation infrastructure to help reduce traffic and improve accessibility. In the last six years or so, a lot of work has been done to revitalize historic parts of downtown to increase its vibrancy and livability.  New shops and trendy restaurants have moved in; planters, trees, and artwork dot the streets; and in the summer, colorfully-painted upright pianos are randomly placed along the walking mall on 16th Street, with free bus rapid transit attracting the young and old to explore and maybe play a tune. Continue reading

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Urban Planning and the DNA of the City

A city looks and feels the way it does because of human intention. Early civilizations built their settlements next to waterways, designing them to accommodate this resource accessibility and their own survival. During the beginning of the industrial revolution, cities were planned with ever-evolving rules ensuring that city streets were wide enough to accommodate the full turn of a horse and carriage. In this way, the values of the people were encoded into the very DNA of the city.

A complex built environment can be reduced to three basic elements: links along which travel can occur, nodes representing the intersections where two or more paths cross and public spaces form, and buildings where most human activities take place. The functionalities of place are all defined by rules and procedures, which make up the core design vocabulary of a place.  Procedural design techniques automatically generate urban designs through predefined rules which you can change as much as needed, providing room for limitless new design possibilities. Continue reading

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Electric Utilities Need Answers

GIS Responds to the Tough Questions

Electric utilities face a new world–one in which the infrastructure is aging along with the workers. The price of everything keeps going up. Customers want better and faster service, but some of them cannot pay their bills. Natural disasters seem to get nastier each year. Governments continue to dole out more and more regulations. The community wants better service, lower emissions, and fewer mishaps. It’s a political nightmare to raise rates. Plus, the new smart grid devices are smothering utility operators with data.

In short: utilities cannot continue to operate as they have been. Utilities need a better way to do business. GIS can help. Continue reading

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USDA Adds People to Its Forest Inventory

At one time, researchers limited their forest ecosystems studies to biological and physical analysis. The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) Forest Service recognizes that humans are also part of the forest ecosystem. The condition of a forest greatly depends on how people think of it and the ways they want to use it.

Dr. Richard Guldin is the acting associate deputy chief for the USDA Forest Service’s research and development. In his keynote address at the Esri Forestry GIS Conference in May 2013, Guldin explained the role of GIS in tracking the health, productivity, and diversity of the nation’s forests. Continue reading

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Sharing Information to Support Smart Grid

I recently co-presented a session on GIS and the Smart Grid to a group of about 150 folks from the gas and electric utilities and the telecommunications businesses. We thought it might be interesting to have the groups come together since as more and more utilities implement Smart Grid (electric and gas), there will become greater interdependencies on one another. We further thought that this session would be a great opportunity for each company to tell us their current practices on sharing data, problems and issues. The premise was, of course, that since ArcGIS is a platform which facilitates sharing of information, that both groups could give us feedback on how best to facilitate collaboration. Much to our surprise, the groups do not have much collaboration at all. In fact, they hadn’t really considered it very seriously. When I probed them further, I asked, well how do you share information with each other? One utility guy, perhaps, half-jokingly said that he bought his friend from the phone company a beer and that’s when they shared information.

The biggest take away from this session was this: the discussion on this topic hasn’t really started. It should. Continue reading

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