Magazine article CMA - the Management Accounting Magazine

I Have Seen the Future and It Is GIS

Magazine article CMA - the Management Accounting Magazine

I Have Seen the Future and It Is GIS

Article excerpt

The term "to be" has become very popular as organizations seek to re-engineer the way they work. Although brief and certainly not descriptive, it has a wonderful ability to suggest a world of possibilities and opportunities that the current ("as is") environment lacks.

Defining what the "to be" world will actually look like is quite another matter. You can get there from here but it takes some exploration. The past can be as much a hindrance as help. The business pressures driving the changes are usually symptoms; if attacked directly, they may lead to "local" solutions but not the fundamental restructuring that is usually desired. And while a basic principle of re-engineering is that processes should be designed explicitly with technology in mind, many organizations are reluctant to be perceived as letting technology drive the business, putting the cart before the horse as it were.

The Geographic Information System (GIS) is one application of technology which seems almost a natural vehicle for re-engineering and organizational change. A GIS is basically a combination of powerful hardware and sophisticated software that enables the capture, manipulation, display and analysis of spatial or map data. Typically, a base of geographic information is collected, loaded and then overlaid with layers of "feature" data. Features can be natural (rivers, lakes), constructed (buildings, roads) or superimposed (legal subdivisions, municipal boundaries). "Attribute" data (numbers, text or even images) can be associated with the graphics to bring meaning to the map and feature data.

Originally a rather exotic spin-off from the specialized world of Computer Assisted Drafting and Design (CADD), GIS is now entering the information technology mainstream. Vendors are introducing products built upon standardized components such as relational database management systems and graphic user interface tools. The large mainframes that were once necessary to combine and process complex map data have shrunk to the size of a desk-top, making the products much more accessible.

Organizations which are taking advantage of this accessibility are finding GIS to be a powerful vehicle for change. This is happening for a number of reasons.

* Geographic Information Systems force enterprises to take a broader view of information, and to consider new and complex inter-relationships among data. This typically leads to fundamental questions about the nature of the business -- its services, products and customers. For example, municipalities implementing GIS often begin to view themselves not just as providers of traditional services (utilities, transportation, police), but rather as "stewards" of a much more varied ecological and economic community, involving people, wildlife, natural resources, legal entities and structures. …

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