Jillian Elder is not your average GIS Manager. She was a Geography major at the University of Illinois and was hired by Walgreens in 1999 to do site analysis, which had a GIS component to it. When the company changed GIS platforms, Jillian became the department expert. Over time her role would evolve into a dedicated GIS resource, and use of geographic or location analysis has become critical to achieving the company’s objectives. Jillian sees GIS as another tool in a broader informa- tion toolbox that helps to solve a problem. As her team sits within the Market Planning and Research Group that reports to the CFO, she is charged with finding and accessing the best data from across the organization to answer particular questions. While many of her peers in other organizations and industries see GIS as just a software application, Jillian sees GIS as a tool – and one tool of many – to solve a problem. You have to ask a question, have an understanding of what the problem is, then you task the software, not for an answer, but for context to formulate the answer.
LBx Tell us about your Research Group and its objectives.
ELDER As a research organization, we support the market strategy and planning objectives of the company. Our department has specialized expertise in Market Strategy, Health Care Research, Daily Living, and our Enterprise GIS (EGIS) and Business Intelligence teams. For EGIS, our biggest customer is our internal market planning and research group and as such we look for the best data across the organization to support understanding our customer, the market, our competition, how to optimize existing stores, and new opportunities. We also keep our software and methodologies current and accessible for decision making.
Beyond our own organization, we support the company’s needs for spatial analytics, both by providing our software, data, and training, and by working on a host of research projects, big and small. It could be as simple as a map for a district manager’s territory or as complex as determining the right markets and stores to test new concepts.
We have five people on our team with a variety of skills who can slice and dice data to find relationships to geography that would not otherwise be apparent, and that turn out to be the basis of key strategic assumptions. Our job is to support the organization in making the best possible decisions with the data available to them.
LBx Is the research group the best fit for a geospatial department?
ELDER We thought about this a lot as we worked on our strategic plan a few years ago. It works, as this department is the gold standard for non-bias independent research and recommendations, and the EGIS team also works in that consultant capacity. What we were missing is a bit more visibility to the full organization so our colleagues could know we exist and seek us out. We are working to overcome that with branding and marketing efforts internally. We have a group logo and a one-pager that describes who we are and what we do and we are endeavoring to create User Groups throughout the organization to solicit feedback, offer training, and really create a community of users across the enterprise.
The other reason why we decided to remain within our research area is there is really not another more appropriate fit. We work hand in hand with our IT department to develop our applications, but we are definitely not IT, and our strategic services would be sought out there even less. Other divisions within the company would narrow our focus as they are mostly designed around one function. However, our company is constantly growing and changing in its organization, so there could be a different logical fit in the future.
LBx Many geospatial vendors speak in terms of benefits from deploying an enterprise GIS. What does this mean to you?
ELDER Our goal is to reach this stage of maturity, which does not happen overnight. I think it starts with a group of dedicated GIS profes- sionals working to build a flexible platform so that users in a variety of business areas can leverage GIS technology and spatial data. Ideally, you can create an environment where you can configure purpose- driven applications and have them embedded in processes without needing a GIS expert in each department. Done correctly, we hope to have a hub and spoke network across Walgreens of people using spatial analysis in different ways, but ultimately keeping the governance of a central organization to avoid redundancies or accidental silos.
LBx What’s the biggest challenge in meeting your vision?
ELDER There are two enormous challenges in adopting an enterprise view of geospatial or location data. First is...
The complete article is available in the Fall 2012 Digital Edition of LBx Journal.