Manu King discusses how the NZ Spatial Industry has an opportunity to become a valuable resource contributing to the success of business leaders in their digital transformation journey. He believes that in order to achieve this many spatial professionals and leaders require a Digital Transformation and a cultural shift.
What is Digital Transformation (DT)?
There are two core drivers behind the need for organisations to digitally transform:
- the accelerated pace of new and innovate technology is disruptive to operations
- customer expectations to digitally access and use information are constantly growing and changing
To counter these disruptions, business leaders are having to respond and think about how DT is impacting their business. They seeking to develop new digital channels to gain the trust of the customer and create greater insight. This insight will lead to improved profitably and customer experiences through the development of new tailored products and services.
At the same time business leaders are under pressure to transform their internal workforce and become more collaborative, agile, and smarter. Digitise your business strategy is at the core of any business digital transformation.
Is DT happening here in NZ?
New Zealand government is taking DT very seriously. Colin McDonald Chief Executive of Internal Affairs has made it very clear ‘transform or get left behind’. The recent NZ CIO 2017 conference highlighted international and NZ organisations who are embarking on their DT journey. Of great interest was not just the focus on Technology as the disruptor, but the need to focus on strong leadership and installing a dynamic culture to truly transform.
The role of spatial in business DT
Simply put, spatial capability can play a significant role in supporting the innovation required to transform organisations by:
- creating new customer and organisational insights
- encouraging internal and external collaboration
- streamlining business processes
As Dr Mohamed-Ghouse Chair of the Locate17 and Digital Earth Symposium Organising Committee, and Director of the Cooperative Research Centre for Spatial Information (CRCSI), quotes “Spatial data underpins many disruptive and innovative organisations. Without it, companies like Uber would not be in business”.
However, in general, business leaders are unaware of the role and value spatial can play in their DT journey. Why is this? In my experience a number of current spatial professionals and leaders do not understand or think DT and are therefore unable to sell the spatial value proposition.
Spatial professionals and leaders must change and adapt to DT thinking
The traditional spatial leader has commonly been a GIS centric thinker and implementer. This historical behaviour can create barriers in a DT environment including:
- inability to sell, measure, and align the spatial value proposition within a business context
- inability to react quickly to user demand and customer expectations
- inability to innovate and adapt to changing operational environments
- lack of awareness of industry technology trends and developments
- inability to lead and empower staff and customers
As Colin McDonald quotes: ‘DT is a fundamental shift in the way we think and behave’. For Spatial to have a role in organisational DT, spatial professionals and leaders must change and adapt to a DT way of thinking.
Our neighbours in Australia recognise that spatial is vital to the growth of the Australian economy. Their 2026 Spatial Industry Transformation and Growth Agenda highlights a government and sector led plan for how they will transform the Australian spatial industry to meet the current changes and leverage from the changes in digital technology.
This agenda acknowledges not just the technology transformational changes required but also the need to “organise our current workforce to be resilient and adaptive to change, and enhancing the conditions to develop creative and innovative future spatial professionals and leaders”.
Here in NZ, we need to do the same or run the risk of being an afterthought in our business leaders DT plans. NZ spatial professionals and leaders need to be planning and thinking like our Australian counterparts; changing our GIS centric way of thinking and moving towards a DT way of thinking.
How to think DT for spatial
Unfortunately, there is no instant answer. However, there are a number of cultural and behaviour changes you can make:
- Innovate more quickly by adopting a new spatial operating model to empower business users to self-serve spatial
- Think customer centric, not GIS centric. Partner with customers to ensure business priorities and any investments are aligned and support the overall business goals
- Learn to identify and measure the tangible business uses and benefit of spatial
- Do not have a separate spatial strategy; integrate your spatial strategy with your digital business strategy
- Engage with outside-in thinking people; chances are your challenges are not unique.