The new normal for the GIS world

Toby, our account manager, has had to embrace many changes since his move from automotive sales to geographical information systems a few years ago, but at a time when everything seems to be in flux, we asked Toby how those systems, work, and life in general, had changed for him in the last year.

From office to working from home

I’ve now been at Beacon Dodsworth for 4 years and had the privilege of working on some of our largest projects. Lately I've been getting to grips with using, and teaching people to use our geographical information systems in a remote environment. The long commute allowed me to make my cycle training a part of my everyday routine and I’ve been developing as both a GIS professional and competitive cyclist. Then coronavirus happened and like most people around the world, everything changed.

Beacon Dodsworth were quick to move away from an office environment to protect their staff but even so, the first 2-3 weeks were a bit of an adjustment, and it took this time to find a good routine and pattern that I could work to. However, my home office is all set up to mimic my desk in the office as much as it can. I’ve even brought my chair home which helped a lot with comfort. Unfortunately one of my new co-workers, Kev, is very grumpy with me working from home as it means that he can’t sit on the sofa whilst I’m out at work anymore, although he does get the additional staff benefit of more treats and walks.

Desktop GIS to online mapping

Fortunately, one project I have worked very closely on is the development and deployment of MapVision, our completely web-based mapping tool. In the development of MapVision, I worked on the client facing side and spoke to users about; in the early phases - requirements, and later stages their feedback and ideas to improve the platform. This meant I was completely comfortable with this new product when it was needed most. Although all of Beacon Dodsworth products are resource-light enough to work on a laptop, the added advantage of being able to create and collaborate with others completely online has made my job a lot easier.

From face-to-face to online training

In addition to helping clients to identify the right product to meet their specific requirements, I spend much of my time training and offering support to users on Prospex and MapVision. Each client uses the tool in different ways, so moving to online training has been a challenge. Fortunately, now that we have a powerful online collaboration tool in the form of MapVision, we can easily turn sample data or postcode lists into maps, visuals or analysis to get immediate feedback on whether that is what the client requires. Our focus on one-to-one or small group training also transfers well to online training. Plus of course I feel very lucky to have that contact with other people during lockdown, especially since it allows me to pass on client needs to our developers to ensure that MapVision continues to develop as a product.

Changing client needs

With changes across the country, we’ve seen a change in our projects too. Projects prior to COVID-19 seem to have mostly been paused and replaced with new digital projects as other organisations try to keep moving forward despite lockdown. This has led to a decrease in clients requesting static maps as PDF or JPEG files and an increase in clients wanting interactive maps such as those offered in MapVision.

I’ve also seen an increase in clients wanting one-off bespoke maps for very specific projects, often in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. We tend to handle these requests as consultancy jobs as it is often more cost effective for a client without an in-house data team.

Tough commutes to circuit training

I race for a national cycling team, with most summer weekends spent travelling the UK to races. About 60% of my training came from my daily 20 mile (each way) commute by bike. With the new office only 20 metres away and a complete halt to sporting events I have had to find other ways to stay on form. I quickly found a very similar routine by getting up and leaving at the same time as I would for work, but doing a morning circular 20 mile loop. In the evenings I can easily extend this distance too. Although with no races planned for this season (yet), training has been long and low intensity to maintain an endurance base.

The new normal for working in geodata

So, after a few months after the COVID-19 lockdown began, it feels as though my own working pattern, and the location intelligence marketplace is settling down into something of a new normal. Thanks to the flexibility of our new web-based systems - and a lot of doggy treats to keep Kev happy - working from home is sustainable for the foreseeable future. Progressive GIS companies are fortunate in that the demands of clients for location data services have changed rather than reduced. A lot of companies are looking at geodata to create a sustainable future for their sales and distribution networks, and reviewing solutions to suit a home-based working trend. 

Kev the greyhound looks on at Toby as he works.

Kev looks on resentfully at his new co-worker and interloper in his daytime domain.


Toby during a cycle race before lockdown began.

Toby during a cycle race before lockdown began. It has still been possible to train but racing is on hiatus for now.

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