Mapping the future of geospatial technology

29 Aug 2017

Paul Synnott, director and country manager, Esri Ireland. Image: Esri

This week on Leaders’ Insights, we heard from Paul Synnott of Esri Ireland, a company that is putting geospatial technology on the map.

Paul Synnott is director and country manager at Esri Ireland.

His background is in surveying, having qualified from DIT Bolton Street in 1989. Since then, he has held a number of managerial and leadership roles, such as survey manager, geographic information systems (GIS) manager, sales manager, country manager and director, across a number of organisations.

Synnott holds an MBA from Henley Business School, University of Reading, where he specialised in organisational climate and leadership behaviour.

‘Geospatial technology is fast being seen as a significant enabler for operational change, digital transformation and better decision-making’

Describe your role and what you do.

As director and country manager of Esri Ireland, I am responsible and accountable for leading the company’s business strategy for revenue, contribution and profitability growth in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland markets. Essentially, this means that I have full operational responsibility for all of our business functions in Ireland, contributing to a multimillion-euro annual revenue target.

As a member of the executive management team at Esri Ireland, I have a leadership role that brings with it the responsibility for creating the organisational climate for success and ensuring business growth in line with our corporate plan and strategic direction.

How do you prioritise and organise your working life?

In my mind, having absolute clarity in your role, responsibilities and goals is the key to prioritisation. I prioritise my work by focusing clearly on the things that matter to our business, which, for me, are our customers and our employees.

I’m adamant about not wasting time, effort or emotional energy on either things I cannot control, people with negative outlooks or looking backwards. Instead, I choose to channel my energy into areas of the business where I know I can make a difference, where I can influence a positive outcome and where I can see opportunities for future business growth.

What are the biggest challenges facing your sector and how are you tackling them?

The biggest challenge in our sector – the area of geospatial technologies and services – is getting on board with the fact that knowledge, knowhow, skills and expertise are far more important than the technology.

Yes, we live in a world where the rate of technological change is increasing at a mind-blowing pace. It is true that geospatial technology is getting easier to use, easier to access and cheaper to acquire, which we now take for granted. In taking it for granted, though, we risk falling into a false sense of security by thinking that technology is also easier to implement. This is not always the case, and is certainly not the case in the corporate and enterprise environment, where geospatial technology is fast being seen as a significant enabler for operational change, digital transformation and better decision-making.

At Esri Ireland, we are rising to this challenge by focusing heavily on our people, ensuring that they are equipped with the knowledge and understanding of how to embed location, place and geography into processes and workflows in a way that delivers added value and significant business benefits to our customers.

What are the key sector opportunities youre capitalising on?

Irrespective of one’s perception of ‘mapping’ – as informed by platforms such as Google Maps, Apple Maps, Bing Maps or location-enabled devices such as smartphones – it is my experience that the whole area of ‘digital mapping’ and ‘geospatial technology’ is still quite special.

This is evidenced by the many failed or poor-performing digital mapping-related projects over the last 10 years. These were projects that were delivered by entities (companies, organisations, individuals) that were less skilled in spatial knowledge and knowhow, and therefore relied solely on the technology to deliver the results.

In light of this, Esri Ireland has been capitalising on the overarching lack of knowledge and knowhow that exists around the organisational and business application of geospatial technology. We leverage our own wealth of knowledge and experience to help companies embrace the many benefits of this technology. This is evidenced by the significant year-on-year growth in our professional services business, which has seen us grow to more than 50 full-time staff, as well as 24 contract staff, across both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland customer base.

What set you on the road to where you are now?

A well-grounded upbringing (thanks to my parents). My first job was managing the grounds – or, in more simple terms, gardening – at a local dog kennels in Kilpedder, Co Wicklow, where I grew up. My first ‘real’ job, as such, was with a surveying company in White Plains (upstate New York), after qualifying as a geo-surveyor from DIT Bolton Street in 1989.

I have been working within the Esri family since 1997 and have grown through various roles to where I am now. A key component of that growth has been a passion and enthusiasm for continuous improvement through personal learning and development.

What was your biggest mistake and what did you learn from it?

This is more of a regret than a mistake, and is that of not setting a clear enough career vision earlier in my career. Clarity of purpose is something that I have always ensured, with respect to getting the job at hand done. However, even though I am totally engaged in my current role, I regret not applying that clarity of purpose to a longer-term career vision earlier. The learning I take from that is to never forget, no matter how much you enjoy your job and no matter how good you are at your role, that it is you and only you who can look beyond your current title, position or responsibility in order to set yourself the next big career challenge. You cannot depend on anyone else to do that for you. 

How do you get the best out of your team?

I see my role first and foremost as one that creates the environment and climate that will enable each member of the team to succeed in their objectives. Thereafter, I ensure that the team understands they see and treat me the very same as any other member of the team. In doing this, we ensure together that every team member has absolute clarity of role, function and purpose. Every member is empowered to make decisions, allowed to make mistakes, and encouraged to challenge each other and hold each other accountable for their actions. This approach develops high-trust relationships between team members, where everyone is working to the same goals. Teamwork and collaboration is a core value of our business and this plays out strongly in our approach to customers and our staff.

STEM sectors receive a lot of criticism for a lack of diversity in terms of gender, ethnicity and other demographics. Have you noticed a diversity problem in your sector? What are your thoughts on this and whats needed to be more inclusive?

On the contrary, the broad use cases of GIS help to keep our particular sector more diverse than some other STEM sectors. People use GIS to make maps, analyse data and decide on best solutions, and, as such, GIS tools and techniques lead to understanding cross-disciplinary phenomena and solving problems rooted in both academic and real-world concepts.

From a curricular perspective, GIS allows us to study climate change, manage our environment, design cities, plan ecological growth models, catalogue contents of an archaeological site and countless other activities. Such a multitude of uses means that GIS, as well as the related geospatial technologies of global positioning systems (GPS) and remote sensing, has proven successful in engaging male and female students from a diverse range of backgrounds.

Who is your role model and why?

I have two. My wife, Pauline, for the way she has put up with me every day for the past 22 years. And Bruce Springsteen.

Why Bruce? Because he has a passion and enthusiasm for what he does that is infectious to the extent that, after so many years of being in the job, he and his team (the E Street Band) continue to mesmerise and engage audiences around the world with the tools of their trade. I also admire how, at the age he is, he continues to give every last ounce of energy on stage to ensure his fans remain engaged with his music long after the gig is over. Perhaps it’s because he is ‘ready to grow young again’.

What books have you read that you would recommend?

The Seven Habits of Highly-Effective People, Stephen R. Covey

Leaders Eat Last, Simon Sinek

The Cross and the Switchblade, David Wilkerson

What are the essential tools and resources that get you through the working week?

Coffee, my iPad, the team around me, a positive mental attitude (which isn’t always easy to achieve) and ensuring that I take time out in the day to reflect on decisions.

Oh … and the website!

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