Coffee Break! All Things Data and Getting to Know Chris Gerecke

Leslee Oliver By: Leslee Oliver

There is never a dull moment when I sit down with a member of our geospatial technology team, and this coffee break was no exception. Last week’s conversation with Chris Gerecke, Director of Enterprise Solutions for Timmons Group, ranged from bacon (and how it relates to data), to the coronavirus, all the way to the mental strategies of tennis. Chris has an integral role on our geospatial team as he leads a team of data scientists, developers, and consultants that specialize in helping organizations turn data into actionable information, applications, dashboards, and visualizations. There was so much to learn and so many interesting ways this team is helping organizations make informed decisions that positively impact their constituents, staff, and surrounding communities. Keep reading to learn more about Chris, Timmons Group’s data insights services, and how measurable data can help you achieve strategic long-term goals for your agency.
 


Q. I keep seeing the phrase, “Data is the New Bacon.” Can you explain what this means?

Of course. Bacon is something that seems to have found its way into everything we eat - from breakfast, to dessert, to happy hour. It’s very versatile in the flavor it adds to several dishes, whether it’s bacon wrapped dates with goat cheese, maple bacon cupcakes, or Funky Buddha’s maple bacon porter. It comes in many varieties, such as Canadian bacon, turkey bacon, slab and applewood, and can be served up in a variety of ways.  It’s almost like bacon has been re-discovered and is no longer just that boring side that is served with breakfast.  Similarly, data, especially geospatial data, has also found its way into the spotlight hence the term “data is the new bacon.” We as geospatial and technology professionals have spent the last several years focused on data collection (mobile, cloud-based, form-builder data collection apps).  Now we see a shift towards data and working with data to turn it into actionable information and “stories” to be surfaced thru dashboards, maps, visualizations, and other engaging tech.

Q. Can you tell me what your team is doing with data?

Our data insights team is focused on delivering services that turn data into actionable information. We create dashboards, reports, visualizations, apps, and maps based on harvested or real-time data that can be used to communicate information to all types of stakeholders. A few agencies we’ve been working with over the past year include the Missouri Department of Conservation, the Pennsylvania Game Commission, and the Washington Department of Natural Resources.  We’ve helped and are helping each of these organizations organize, streamline, and transform their data into actionable information so that they can tell their “stories” and communicate their accomplishments and progress towards their strategic goals. One of our data scientists recently developed a Coronavirus dashboard prototype utilizing public data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. I don’t want to reveal too much yet since a blog post on the prototype will be coming out on Thursday. Stay tuned!
 


Q. Can you go into more detail about these client projects and how they benefit from data insights?

We’ve been working with the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) for over twelve years building mobile and web applications that have allowed them to streamline their field and in office data collection workflows.  Most recently, MDC came to us with a desire to provide transparency on the agencies’ progress towards achieving the 40+ measures that roll up to the goals and outcomes outlined within their strategic plan. One example was using data to show progress towards MDC’s goal of “Connecting People with Nature.” Specific measures such as “number of jobs supported by conservation” and “unique digital connections” were determined to support that goal.  Through consulting, data engineering, and dashboard visualization creation, we were able to quantify progress towards the unique digital connections measure by showing trends in unique digital connections to MDC via mobile apps, social media (Facebook fans, Instagram follower growth rates, Twitter follows), and digital connections.  Examples include the number of downloads of MO Hunting, MO Fishing, and MO Outdoors mobile apps per platform, and the number of digital reads for their MO magazine.  This is just one example of 40+ measures that we worked with MDC on to identify the data needed to develop data pipelines to feed the data from disparate systems to a central data mart, and to create compelling visualizations that could be shared via a dashboard with the agency and/or with the public.

We are engaged on similar but unique projects with the Pennsylvania Game Commission and the Washington Department of Natural Resources. Similar challenges involve identifying and engineering the data that will be turned into actionable information to drive communication and accomplishment reporting. Data is truly the new bacon for these agencies!
 


Q. What are some of the benefits for a client to implement these services? Are there any that they may not be aware of?

We are finding that a lot of agencies are collecting data, but they aren’t sure what it means or how to communicate it.  On top of that with the ease of entry into data creation using tools such as ArcGIS for Collector, Survey 1,2,3, and ArcGIS Online, we are seeing a proliferation of data being created in silos within departments across organizations.  There is a lot of value in “stepping back” and creating a data roadmap or engaging in a discovery effort to ensure that the data being collected is being mapped back to your agencies’ priorities.  Our data analytics team can configure the most effective set of tools for each client’s unique needs depending on the data available and what it is that they want to convey.  Agencies are then able to easily show the public and their internal and external stakeholders progress towards their goals. That’s the biggest driver, especially now with so much push for transparency in government and a desire to “do more with less.”

Q. If there’s a client reading this that may be interested in these services, what would be the next step for them?

Our team is happy to chat about our discovery and roadmap services and provide a demo of compelling visualizations and dashboards to get the juices flowing and bacon sizzling. I’m always happy to talk about all things tech, data, and geospatial and can be reached at chris.gerecke@timmons.com or by phone at 804-334-9243.  We have a great team at Timmons Group and we’d love to show you some of the great things we are working on.
 



QUICK FIRE ROUND

Q. Favorite app on your phone that’s not a Timmons Group app?
Untappd because I am a huge craft beer fan, especially with Richmond’s thriving craft beer scene. I’ve been on the app for the past six years reviewing, sharing, and rating the craft beers I’m enjoying.  It’s a cool app to up your craft beer game and see what others are enjoying around you or when you travel.


Q. What does an ideal Sunday look like for you?
Spending time with my family and playing tennis. I am crazy about tennis. My wife and I play year-round on multiple USTA leagues. It’s super competitive and a lot of fun.


Q. Do you have any pets?
We have a dog – a 4-year-old mix we rescued from Tennessee.


Q. Strangest thing you’ve ever eaten?
Baby Octopus in Monterey about a month ago.  Seeing eight or ten of them whole, grilled, and served up on the plate was a little strange for me.


Q. If you weren’t in your current career, what would you be doing?
I’ve always wanted to be an astronomer. Not sure if I could make a career out of that but I was all about it thru elementary and middle school.

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