The role of training in the success of your GIS

Blog Post created by WSimonazziesriaustralia-com-au-esridist Employee on Mar 2, 2016

There are many definition of GIS, however the most widely used is the one depicted below. I like this definition due to its simplicity but also because it allows to quickly explain what are the main components of a GIS and to point out the implications that each component has in the success of a GIS deployment.




The image define GIS by its five principal components:  data, software, procedures, hardware and the most important one, the user, the group of people that have the knowledge and expertise to operate the system to support the organization's operations and to adapt it when changes in the business needs occur.

In the next lines, I'll focus in the human factor, and more specifically, in the importance of having a well trained GIS team supported by a well designed training plan and how this fact contributes to the success of the business.

The GIS industry, a highly dynamic environment 

As industries evolve, organizations need to evolve to adapt to industry changes, and software tools need to evolve to adapt to the organization's changing needs.   In response to changes in demand and technology, the ArcGIS platform gets new tools while existing tools evolve adding more capabilities, some decline, and others exit. In consequence, user's knowledge needs to evolve in parallel so they can keep operating the system in the most proper way, taking advantage of the new capabilities offered by the software and reducing to the minimum a possible negative impact a technology change can have in the business's operations.

A well trained GIS team is key for the success of the business

We all know that the decision to implement a GIS is not a trivial one. Generally speaking, we can say that it is not an easy enterprise and that it requires the investment of a considerable amount of time and resources, therefore it's in our best interest to reduce to the minimum the risk of a failing GIS project. Considering training as one of the strategic lines of your GIS project plan will raise exponentially the chance of success of the GIS in the organization.

Benefits of training

A while ago I came across a great blog post from Suzanne B.  from the training services team in the Esri HQ in Redlands that I'd like to share here. In her post she listed some of the most relevant benefits training has in the organization and how they contribute positively to the success of a GIS:

  • Training increases staff efficiency—it’s not uncommon to hear students who have learned a software task in an Esri instructor-led class excitedly claim they will now save hours on the job.  
  • Training increases staff productivity—a natural result of increased efficiency, productivity increases when tasks are completed more quickly and in a more confident way. 
  • Training increases staff knowledge—Knowledge is more than the sum of the topics covered in a class. Knowledge is the synthesis of different concepts and skills learned over time, which enables a person to recognize and act to prevent errors and reduce liabilities.
  • Training leads to new business opportunities— When users are well trained, they are freed to be creative and see possibilities for information products and workflows that may not have been apparent before the training. Interacting with peers in class by exchanging ideas and experiences certainly helps realize this benefit.


To complete the list, I would add some of the typical benefits of GIS training:


  • Training significantly reduced potential for mistakes (both GIS software user mistakes and GIS deployment mistakes),
  • Training allows to design enterprise architectures based on best practices.
  • Training also allows to implement better workflows and improved data QA & QC which ultimately yield a better return on your investment in GIS.


In the same way training is crucial for the success of a GIS, the way we implement training within the organization will determine the success of the training plan. Formal or self training There are many resources freely available that someone can use to increase his understanding on a particular topic; to mention a few: videos, blogs, participation in forums, mailing lists, etc. All these are great resources to increase our understanding about a particular topic , however, very often, they offer a partial view of the topic and many times they are just opinions that might not be correct. This is where formal training comes into play. Benefits of formal training All the resources that I mentioned above are great as a complement to a formal, well structured training session. There are many advantages of formal training compared to self learning. Since I want to make this post short and concise, I have highlighted the most relevant below: Formal training gives:


  • the opportunity to dedicate time just for training. Students can be completely focused on learning about a particular topic and so to get the most out of the training session. 
  • the opportunity to do it with a certified Esri trainer using official Esri materials. This gives the student the confidence of having the latest, best structured way to learn about a particular topic, but also to be supported by a trainer that has been certified by Esri and by CompTIA,  therefore a trainer that has the knowledge and skills required to deliver the course and manage the class according to the standards of Esri and the industry.
  • the opportunity to interact with other students in a classroom environment (physical or virtual). This helps students to discuss and compare different ways of approaching similar challenges.


The Training Plan

Ideally, A GIS implementation plan should include a training plan that reflects the training requirements of the organisation during the whole life cycle of the GIS deployment. There are several techniques to do that although they all share the same principle, it requires a close collaboration between a training consultant and the stakeholders involved in the project.

A training plan has to reflect the short term training needs of the organization segmented by user group and workflow, and the mid term training needs to ensure the organization can support their enterprise GIS progression and the professional development progression of the staff. This balance between enterprise GIS progression vs staff professional development needs contributes to the stability of the team, another  factor that has a direct impact on the success of the GIS.

Benefits of training in the stability of the team 

There are other less obvious benefits of training that worth to mention here. According to a research done by IBM, employees who do not feel they can achieve their career goals at their current organization are 12 times more likely to consider leaving than employees who do feel they can achieve their career goals. This number increases to about 30 times for new employees. Considering the efforts companies invest in the recruitment process and the time lost to filling the same role again, the impact to performance and margin can be significant.

Training and the investment in developing a "skills building culture" dramatically impacts employee retention.

Only 21% of new hires intend to stay at companies that do not offer training for their current jobs. However, the study reveals that 62% of new hires intend to stay when training is provided. This nearly three-fold increase is a powerful example of the positive impact of training on the new hire retention.


To finish off this post, I leave below a quote from Henry Ford that left me thinking for a while when I first read it.....hoping it has the same effect on you.

"The only thing worse than training your employees and having them leave is not training them and having them stay." Henry Ford