I can still vividly remember the day that I knew that I wanted to be a part of implementing Geographic Information Systems (aka GIS). I was a senior in college working an internship at a local engineering firm while majoring in Geography. One day while at work, I went outside on a warm day to eat my lunch and do some homework at the same time. While sitting on a blanket on the ground by the parking lot of the office building, I proceeded to dig into both my lunch and my textbook. I have no recollection of what the title of the book was, but I will never forget the impact of what I read that day and its effect on me.
During that otherwise nonchalant lunchtime, I read about GIS tearing down walls in organizations, bridging the departmental silos and connecting people together in ways never before possible. My imagination went wild thinking of what it would be like to work in a workplace that shared information for the betterment of the whole organization and ultimately the customers. (Even as just a college-kid I had already been exposed to problem fiefdoms in the workplace.) It was hard for me to comprehend a system that could make these positive impacts and provide the resulting information in a visual format too. In my mind, this new technology was the way the world would change for the better – one organization at a time. The textbook offered me the Kool-Aid, but it was my desire to create positive change that enticed me to drink it and never look back.
Now being in the field for over 20 years, I've had a lot of time and experience with the reality of implementing these systems. I've worked in a variety of roles from the trenches as a technical person all the way up to leadership roles in many different types of organizations. While I still have the same belief that GIS can create a game-changing positive effect, I've sobered up to the reality that the systems' potentials are limited by one main thing: people's willingness to change.
People are the common denominator that requires much more time and attention than any technology product. As GIS professionals, we've all had to deal with projects being derailed due to human resistance. Every person has a different change tolerance level. Working in the IT field, we have an innate acceptance for change that perhaps subject matter experts do not. It becomes our job, whether we are aware of it or not, to help support people with different change tolerances levels through the processes of adaptation.
Was I naïve to drink the GIS Kool-Aid? I don't think so. I do however follow up that drink with an entrée of wisdom into the true meaning of creating change which I define as influencing people. My new understanding as a Change Consultant is that people – not just hardware or software - should be a major focus of any technology endeavor.
Please share your stories! What have been your experiences with people and GIS projects? Please email us with what's been going on with you!