Sell GIS benefits for firm and client success

August 2010 » Columns » CE + GIS INTERSECT
Janet Jackson, GISP

GIS perspective
Jackson:
Ayn Rand said, “The ladder of success is best climbed by stepping on the rungs of opportunity.” And selling the benefits of GIS to your engineering clients is one of the best opportunities I know of to make both of you successful — quickly and easily.

When is the best time to begin the selling process? Now. Start today. And how should you begin the selling process? By learning and doing something quick and easy, like creating a GIS drawing of your client’s project area. Take your clients through the basic differences between CAD and GIS. Explain that CAD is a drafting design tool and then show them how and why GIS is different. Explain that a mapping and analysis tool — GIS — is what they need because at the beginning of a project, the scale is usually large and most details too vague or nonexistent to require CAD. Including clients from the beginning of a project is a great way to get them involved with new or different technologies, especially if they’ve heard about GIS but haven’t seen the benefits firsthand.

One of those benefits is enhancing project communications. If a picture is worth a thousand words, imagine how valuable a GIS drawing will be as a communication tool between you and your client. And if you really want to move up another rung on the ladder of success, take the time to teach your client how to use the basic drawing tools in GIS so that he or she can mark up the GIS drawings with questions, comments, or new information. Then, by saving the drawing as a PDF file, your client can e-mail it to you for your review in a fraction of the time that it would normally take to communicate.

Start today by learning a few of the many GIS benefits, then quickly involve your clients by showing, teaching, and creating maps of their projects that highlight their interesting data. That is the best way I know to climb the ladder of success while also creating a great opportunity for your clients.

Civil engineering perspective
Lowe:
When clients need a map, a database, or an existing snapshot of a project, facility, or campus, the first thing we engineers normally suggest is a conventional survey. But when clients see the costs associated with this effort, they often decide they cannot afford it or realize it’s not in the budget. The map never materializes, but the problem — lack of accurate data — still exists.
This scenario is particularly true in the public institutional segment, where extremely tight budgets are a major constraint and driver of how much a client can afford. Clients are usually starved for vital information, but rely on repeated, outdated, and inaccurate information because that is all they have.
A useful and affordable option is GIS, but many of us don’t fully understand how it works or appreciate its benefits. We have been programmed to believe that surveying is the only means to a sound solution. We forget that GIS is a viable option and one that can generate beneficial results in an affordable and less time-consuming way.
GIS can provide a cost-effective method to collect a database of information, whether it is for buildings or infrastructure. By creating such a system, proper long-range planning can be initiated by knowing what you have, where it is, how old it is, and what is proposed that could impact the present and the future.
Repeatedly, institutions rely on so-called record drawings for buildings or infrastructures, but there is never anything to connect all the dots. When something breaks or a violation is levied, everyone wants to find that one piece of information that shows the big picture. Most of the time, that document, map, or database does not exist, but rather is a large unfinished puzzle with many pieces. That’s when an engineer can bring an affordable option such as GIS to the table.
Rome was not built overnight, and GIS is not an instant fix, but when considering continued shrinking budgets, growing inventory every year, more accountability to the end users, and more public awareness, GIS may be the solution that works.

Janet Jackson, GISP, heads McKim & Creed’s GIS activities company-wide. Lester Lowe, P.E., is a senior project manager with McKim & Creed. He has led project teams on a variety of civil and municipal engineering assignments. His forte is helping clients develop sustainable structures that accommodate budgets and schedules. Contact Jackson and Lowe at intersect@mckimcreed.com. McKim & Creed is an engineering, surveying, and planning firm.


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