Effective Offshore GIS Data Management Services

November 17, 2011

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Many industries are moving toward deploying offshore delivery models for the management and maintenance of their GIS data. The prospects of significantly reduced costs, increased accuracy and the flexibility to rapidly respond to business needs are creating an increased demand for these services across the board. According to a statement made by Kapil Sibal, Indian Minister of Communications and Information Technology, at Map World Forum 2007,the Indian GIS market alone is expected to cross the $1Bn mark next year (2012) with the vast majority of this revenue being derived from GIS business process outsourcing.

While businesses are looking to reap the rewards of offshore services, many are concerned that advertised service levels will not be met, physical distances will cause challenges and “tribal” industry knowledge cannot be transferred quickly enough for outsource providers to be effective. Indeed, without the correct management, and contractual and communication arrangements in place, these fears can become reality.

The Tenets of Successful GIS Business Process Outsourcing (BPO):

While significant risk does exist with any BPO operation, ensuring that adequate management controls are in place will significantly increase the effectiveness and success of outsourced services. PA Consulting Group, a leader in both GIS and the management of outsourced operations, recommends that organizations looking to outsource business processes adhere to the following three tenets of GIS BPO.

Contractual Arrangements and Performance Metrics

Define and agree on contracts and performance metrics that are specific and tailored to your individual business data. For instance if some data elements or attributes are more important to your business than others, ensure that these are quality assured and measured separately with a higher performance / accuracy acceptance threshold than other data items.

Ensure that data metrics are clear, unambiguous and easy to measure. Spell out data quality metrics in the contract and secure agreement before any outsourcing operation is established. This will reduce the likelihood of contractual “wrangling” and ensure that the required quality is delivered from the outset.

Link performance to payment. Consider the use of performance related payment schemes, as getting things right the first time not only gives businesses faster access to outsourced data, but reduces the QC burden and time-consuming “find – fail – fix” cycles that ensue as a result. High delivery acceptance rates are good for both parties - outsourced provider and customer alike.

Design metrics to engender the desired performance. Be aware that in any outsourced operation, when push comes to shove, compliance with the minimum contractual performance and quality levels may be all that can be achieved. Ensure that your performance metrics encourage that service providers pay particular attention to important or key data elements, even if this does mean accepting a lower quality level for subsidiary data.

Data Management Practices and Procedures

Review and if necessary adjust your current GIS processes to ensure they are “outsourcable.” Many organizations have attempted to “off-load” their existing GIS business unit to an outsourcing provider without considering whether it is in a suitable state for such an endeavor. While this sort of “quick win” can be tempting, it often amplifies issues instead of resolving them. It is important that your organization has the right end-to-end GIS-related business processes in place before attempting to outsource the data management and maintenance portions of those processes.

Define clear data management guidelines. Take the time to construct clear and easily understandable guidelines for managing your GIS data. Ensure that all business rules are defined and that they are simple enough that they can be easily applied and taught to others.

Make business rules comprehensive and unambiguous. Rules that are easy to understand and cover all possible permutations will ensure that data are managed correctly and will ultimately reduce the number of time-consuming and expensive clarification requests received from the outsourced operation.

Establish a lean, informed and empowered QA/QC function. Only through comprehensive quality assurance and control activities will you have the confidence that the outsourced operation is performing as desired. Staff your QA/QC group with skilled resources that can provide clear guidance to service providers and help with the transfer of detailed business knowledge.

Strong Communication Channels

Hold regular meetings with offshore teams. While time differences can cause challenges, agree on a regular meeting time to discuss the performance of the outsourced operation, focusing on driving performance and efficiency gains. Clear and regular communication will increase knowledge transfer and improve the quality of the data received.  

Make the investment to meet service providers in person. Although e-mail, telephone and videoconference technologies provide a convenient means of communication, nothing is as effective for training and conveying business rules as face-to-face contact.  Make the investment to visit service providers at their location or ensure that they visit your location in person. If costs may be an issue, consider including one of these trips per year as part of the contractual arrangements with your service provider.

Consider onshore project coordination. For larger outsourcing operations, consider having an onshore project coordinator role from your outsourcing provider to coordinate operations and act as a conduit between your business and the outsource provider. This approach will reduce miscommunication, which is one of the main contributors to errors and rework in outsourced data management operations.

While outsourcing of GIS data management operations can deliver significant cost and efficiency benefits, only through establishing clear management practices and procedures can these benefits be assured. By following these simple steps, many of which require up-front investment, the benefits can be assured and a trusted and long-term outsourcing business relationship can be established.


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