How GIS will Disrupt these Professional Careers

It’s really funny how time flies and changes.

8 years ago (2007) while joining Makerere University one of the finest in East and Central Africa, If one had asked me to wager on what I would be doing 4years later upon graduation in (2011), I would have confidently answered in capital letters “FOREST MANAGER”, even though I knew that out of 400,000 graduates chewed and spat out every year in Uganda, only about 80,000 get into formal employment……………YES! That’s how math can be annoyingly vivid when things are put into perspective.

Fast track to 2015! Happy New Year by the Way…! I would have terribly lost the wager, here is how.

The great uncertainty that the future holds towards our professional careers is something not to be ignored. Jobs that used to require Degrees now need Msc, jobs that used to require Msc, one now needs a Phd, having a Phd alone is no longer safe.

What this shows us is that we are reaching a point of formal education saturation. So that begs the question; how does one stay relevant in his profession in an age of uncertainty especially in many African countries where degrees, Msc & Phds are more glorified than entrepreneurship? I think the answer lies in being multipurpose!

Over the years, there has been a growing awareness of the economic and strategic value of GIS. GIS benefits organizations of all sizes and in almost every industry. . The benefits of GIS generally fall into five basic categories:

  • Cost Savings and Increased Efficiency
  • Better Decision Making
  • Improved Communication
  • Better Recordkeeping
  • Managing Geographically

GIS technology with its great benefits as seen above is going to disrupt some professions that have stood the test of time!…..YES I SAID IT…. and you are damn right i can definitely make another wager on this!

Since there is no application… YET….! to predict our career trends, I will rely on the tried and tested method of prediction using industry trends to take a sneak peek at how GIS will disrupt these professions.

Lets group these professional careers into 3 categories: i) Data & Information Managers ii) Technical Experts and Field Personnel’s iii) Others.

Data & Information Managers
This group contains highly skilled professionals whose work is literally to simplify and give meaning to figures, numbers, activities in a project and a whole bunch of staff that lea people like me and you cannot comprehend without their input. To put it into perspective it’s like trying to read….. “您好”….. by a non-Chinese speaking person (seriously where do you even start). They include:

The funny thing about traditional tools used by statisticians like SPSS, STATA, EXCEL is that although very effective in what they do, they leave out one very key factor while analyzing data; ….LOCATION!, the data being collected comes from a location and therefore your analysis MUST reflect that aspect.
GIS with its innovative geo-statistical tools, incorporates location in its analysis. GIS tools place the final icing on the data~ (cake) with an illustrative map. It is inevitable Statisticians have got to add GIS to their arsenal of tools if they are to stay relevant in 2015 and beyond.

M&E Officers
M&E jobs are one of the hottest selling professions in many African Countries, this is due to the number of donor aided projects being implemented by 1000’s of NGO’s working in Africa. But having an M&E accreditation alone as the job trend suggest is no longer enough. There is a common saying in M&E, if you can’t show, track the progress or show the impact of a project, its useless spending resources on it. Well what better way than to use GIS!

Feasibility studies, Baseline Survey, Implementation, End of Project Evaluation, Output, and Input etc are all terms quite familiar with M&E professionals.

Identifying feasible projects, tracking progress, showing impacts and putting it into perspective in an easy to understand way has never been more exciting while using GIS tools.
Imagine this, if the project has constructed 100 water wells in various locations, what use is it to use a graph or write a lot of words when one single map can communicate this much more effectively.

Tracking projects through maps helps M&E practitioners to identify spatial gaps in the project and ensures predicted outputs or impacts have the greatest impact on the community.

Communication Officers and Information Managers
There has never been a better tool that speaks volumes and easy to understand by various stake holders like maps. The cool thing with GIS software like ArcGIS or QGIS is that they can integrate graphs, charts into maps which give a fresh way to view information.

If communication officers are to continue being relevant to organizations, they have got to embrace GIS as a communication tool. Otherwise any serious organization looking to keep salary cost low will never hire both. “seeing is believing”, we are visual animals. It doesn’t get clearer than that!

A friend of mine who recently got a job with UNMEER in Siera Leone called me for materials on GIS, because it was a mandatory requirement— “don’t ask questions when you see a giraffe running”–African Proverb.

IT Technicians
The computer/information age as many call it, means with time it will be a basic requirement to have basic IT skills. Just like knowing Microsoft packages have become. Many adverts I have seen by large NGO’s like WFP, UN, shows that knowledge of GIS is a great skill being looked for by HR personnel’s.

GIS’s ability to intelligently guess using what is referred to as “interpolation” makes it a tool any geologist should get their hands on. That’s how soil maps, weather or temperature maps are generated. GIS has over time saved oil and water drilling companies tons of money by keeping dry wells out of their drilling sites, using interpolation you can use what you know to guess values at locations you don’t know.

Program/Project Managers or Officers
The only way you will run a project effectively in order to create project visibility, transparency and accountability to all stake holders is by embracing GIS as a tool. “A picture is worth 1000 words”~Chinese Proverb.

During my NGO days my boss introduced a cool idea of having all offices of Managers decorated with illustrative maps showing project coverage. Such that when someone walks into your office, he doesn’t need to even ask questions like, how much land have cleared so far of landmines?, or where are we working?. Because the entire life story of the project is clearly pinned to the wall.

Epidemiologist and Public Health Practitioners
Imagine you work with the Centre for Disease Control and you where about to be hit by an epidemic and you needed to collect all the environmental data, death reports and you needed to put all this together to understand the spread and the cause of the disease and probably stop it before it becomes uncontrollable, GIS can help you do that. UNMEER is using GIS tools in Siera Leone to save lives and curtail the spread of Ebola.

Natural Resource Managers
The GIS software manufacturer ESRI stands for Environmental Systems Research Institute. The use of GIS in Natural Resource Management has been going on for ages. The need for GIS arose from its effectiveness in Natural Resource Management.

NGO Emergency and Humanitarian Activities
NGO’s have to deal with a whole lot of data being collected, sometimes on projects that seem unrelated. The powerful feature about GIS is its ability to establish relationships, trends and patterns that can be extremely illusive to identify with other software programs. I have written extensively on how NGO’s can use GIS in their work. Check it out here

International aid donors more than ever want to be engaged visually and require visual evidence to trace– how & where their resources are being spent before they can inject more funding, not just 30 page booklets and reports, probably with concocted figures. Secondly, there are so many organizations competing for the attention of the same donors (USAID, SIDA, EU, NORAD etc).

To put this into perspective imagine this for second, two NGO’s seeking for re-funding on a similar project , one presents a 30 page report and the other 10 page report with several illustrative GIS generated maps. Of the two reports which one will most likely be paid attention to?….Don’t be the NGO that gets left out, this is because GIS creates visibility, transparency, accountability, that has for long been lacking in many organizations. Here is the link to the article “how can NGO’s use GIS an mapping in their work”

ii) Technical Experts and Surveyors
Real Estate Managers and Developers: Location! Location! Location!
Logistics and Procurement
Land Surveyors
Climate Change Specialist
District Planners
Security Analyst
Water Shade Management

iii) Others
Retail Sitting

As a practitioner in any field, you need to understand that if you are to increase your “earning capacity”, and not find yourself, overtaken by other practitioners, you must be upgrading your skills, constantly….permanently—- trust me you don’t have a choice on this.

In Darwin’s theory of Evolution he famously said,” it’s not the weakest or the strongest that gets selected against, it’s the organism that fails to adapt”

Always a pleasure reading your comments and insights.