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May 9th, 2011
Thinking About GIS: Geographic Information System Planning for Managers

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roger-tomlinsons-updated-thinking-about-gis-reflects-new-technology-trends-smThinking About GIS is exactly that. Whether one is looking to begin a GIS project or is already involved in GIS operations and solutions but needs guidance and help, this book provides answers. Roger Tomlinson has thought about GIS from all aspects, from operations to management. He brings a wealth of experience and knowledge to the book, and has refined the message in this fourth edition. Tomlinson describes how to think about planning for and implementing a GIS successfully, effectively and profitably. 

Thinking About GIS:

Geographic Information System Planning for Managers

– Fourth Edition –


Roger Tomlinson

Esri Press

ISBN: 978-1-58948-273-9   2011   268 pages


Review by Jeff Thurston


Geographic Information Systems (GIS) continue to be installed around the world today. They are no longer wishes, dreams or concepts that ought to be tried out, but are now viewed as important, essential and critical to the establishment and success of advanced businesses, local governments and infrastructure. We process spatial data, make maps and connect to IT processes for a reason – improved efficiency, greater effectiveness and high returns on investment. GIS installations are now readily documented, lessons are learned and experiences continue to be exposed. All of these lead toward Best Practices. 

Roger Tomlinson is one of few people on the planet that has witnessed such changes in GIS installations over time. Such might be expected from one who is well know as the ‘Father of GIS’ – inventing the technology and implementing the tool from the beginning. Thinking About GIS: Geographic Information System Planning for Managers combines his knowledge, experiences and wisdom of working with the technology over time. But it is not restricted to the technology alone, afterall, few GIS operate independent of people. Consequently, the book can be viewed as the combination of technology and people experiences, proven methods and approaches as well as providing the guidance to weave through the GIS pathway to success. 

This book is about planning for, installing and operating a successful GIS. As Jack Dangermond points out in the Foreword, “this book is for two kinds of managers.” The first group includes those senior executives who are oriented toward organisational planning and management that depends upon this technology to support the organisation. The second group includes those individuals and groups that must operate and maintain GIS as technical managers.

I think there is a third group – those connected with a GIS that have a problem and need help and guidance. Let me explain.  

My GIS project has been moving along smoothly for a few years. Now people are leaving the company and I need to ensure my Director continues to invest interest and time in the project, he or she seems to be floundering. What should I do? Tomlinson points out in Chapter 6 how to describe the information products. Based on this information I begin to put together the titles of products, the departments that might use this data, output requirements, logical linkages, frequency of use, current cost and benefit analysis (and many others). I take this information to my Director, who in turn is reassured that the project is useful, I know what I am doing and that the project has benefit to the organisation. 

Example two – my Director heads to a conference where GIS is mentioned. He has no real idea what it is, but a lot of people seem to be talking about it there. He returns and stops me in the hall asking, “what is this thing called GIS, does it apply to us?” 

Tomlinson’s book can answer this. Chapter 5 says that a ‘technology seminar’ would get the ball rolling and begin to address the issue. His book outlines that the seminar is about, how to set the stage, how to plan the program and how to rank the benefits  – upon discussing the assessment. He even suggests that a look at the organisational processes can provide clues to stimulate the discussion. Based on this information I return to my Director and he sends out an email to all staff that we will hold a technology seminar next week and everyone can attend – free lunch even!  That meeting lights the spark leading to a multi-million Euro installation spanning 4 countries. 

Assume another example – our organisation installed a GIS a year ago, now the management is asking about installing more technology and wants to know how the existing system and the new technology might come together. As a technical manager I work with it every day and can see what is happening, but have not made many notes. Turning to Tomlinson’s book, I see Chapter 10 talks about how to ‘Consider the Benefit-cost, migration and risk analysis’. Based on that information,  I develop cost benefit models, partition costs by year, develop legacy system models, new considerations, identify risks and an assessment of each of the risks. During a meeting with the Director later, all of her questions, queries and curiosities are answered, and she gains an understanding of the overall picture. Sometimes later, feeling confident and knowledgeable about what is involved, she decides to pursue the integration and asks for monthly cost reports as it proceeds. A year later the organisation has new opportunities and ventured into new processes.

In all there are eleven chapters in this book. The author looks at GIS in the wide view, strategic aspects of the technology, how to initiate and build foundations for implementation, data design, database models, system requirements and planning for implementation. The appendix are a valuable addition to this book. They include GIS staff, job descriptions and training. Also, benchmark testing, network design and RFP outlines are discussed along with customizing workflows. Readers will find the included DVD with Tomlinson’s exercises from Planning a GIS training course interesting and useful. 

In summary, this book is a reference text that ought to exist on every executive, manager or technical manager’s book shelf. It is filled with tips, observations, guidance, wisdom and gained experience. Whether one is thinking about GIS – or is already immersed deeply in GIS – this book can help. Readers will not find any other book with as much GIS knowledge as this book contains. Roger Tomlinson brings something unique to this effort that simply cannot be found elsewhere. His abilities as researcher, educator and practitioner are fused into high-powered GIS usefulness within this book. If you want to succeed with GIS, then here is where you start.



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