Best Practices for Successful GIS Data Management

GIS Contributor


Lowell Ballard, Director of Geospatial Solutions for Timmons Group, shares some of his experience on managing GIS data and growing a GIS program.     

In my twelve years at Timmons Group, an interesting observation in many organizations that we have worked with is how GIS is managed and governed as an asset. Often, organizations do not provide the proper attention to spatial location and appreciate the important role it plays.

Organizations tend to overlook spatial data including the role it plays to almost every group / division / department and the overall importance of data governance. As the avid GIS practitioners that we are, we see GIS data as the fulcrum around which all other data resides.

For most of our clients, approximately 90% of the data managed are physically tied to the face of the earth – so here comes the mantra to remember: location, location, location!

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For many organizations, spatial data is managed within a specific department or group. As the organization grows, GIS is typically incorporated into the IT department or, on the other hand, made its own Department, where processes for data management begin to form. To best manage GIS data within an organization, keep in mind that there is no metaphorical umbrella encapsulating a “one size fits all” management style; however, I strongly believe there are best practices for success.

Below are some examples and my reasoning as to why I believe they are important to the success of your geospatial data management.

GIS offers support for multiple entities

GIS is an organization-wide asset and typically impacts just about every aspect of your business; because of this, your organization as a whole will benefit to support your GIS group and coordinate management efforts centrally.

GIS Services are IT-“needy”

Because GIS services are highly resource intensive, they require significant computing resources.  To ensure that all GIS needs are met, we recommend locating GIS infrastructure within another support group, e.g. GIS/IT department.  This will typically alleviate any infighting or clashes over technical resources between IT and various business units that may occur.  It also allows for collaborative funding from multiple groups in the organization.

Technical Committee

I’m not someone who is a huge fan of committees but I will harp on a need for a GIS technical guidance group.  GIS technical user groups help to guarantee that all organizational departments are represented and working cohesively to avoid costly duplication of efforts and wasted time.

Business Committee

GIS should be the passenger and your Organization’s mission should be the driver.  We believe that the needs of the business should always precede any conversation about technology.  It’s important that your GIS program is working to solve business related problems and priorities rather than “pet projects.”

Hybrid Organization

While I’m a fan of centralized GIS coordination –I’m an even bigger fan of placing data management and decisions in the hands of the operational groups within an organization.  For this reason centralized coordination and decentralized data production work can greatly benefit your overall organization.  IT / GIS typically don’t “own” data – they simply make it available and reliable to support the needs of the organization.

I hope these key elements aid you in the governance of your GIS enterprise organization and provide helpful insight into the best practices to grow your GIS program.  These examples are my personal lessons learned from a wide assortment of client types and sizes on what approaches work best and what can be tossed out of your management repertoire.


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