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Mapping the future—State & local governments make progress on enterprise GIS strategies

This article appears in the issue May 2010, [Volume 19, Issue 5]
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The seven-person GIS services department manages data and helps with application development for about a dozen agencies. For instance, health and human services agencies can use the same software and tools to map registered sex offenders or create maps of childcare services or dentists and doctors for health licensure agencies. “They are charged for initial development and then a monthly hosting fee,” Pedersen explains. His office also has a contract with the state emergency communications board to provide data for 911 services.

Some “power user” agencies, such as the departments of Transportation and Environment & Conservation, have longstanding GIS needs and choose to host and develop their own applications internally.

One of Pedersen’s challenges is to find stewards for all the data layers that his office doesn’t have the capacity to maintain. For instance, the Department of Environment & Conservation is the steward of the hydrography layer, and the comptroller’s office is steward of parcel information. “They have a need and a business case,” he says.

The shift to a fee-for-service model comes partly out of necessity. With state budget cuts, funding for GIS Services fell 40 percent last year. “We have to change the way we operate and not rely on appropriations,” Pedersen says.

Psomas’ Gooch says the fee-for-service model doesn’t usually work too well. “You are offering agencies a disincentive to use it,” he says. “An alternative perspective is that GIS is being integrated into a host of business services and adding a high level of functionality. It might be better to allocate that cost across your whole organization the same way you pay for lots of other infrastructure.” 

One-man GIS department

In some city governments, one person is the whole GIS department. That’s the case in Dover, Del., where Mark Nowak has been GIS manager since 2005.

“The city manager was very supportive from the first, and had seen elsewhere how it could benefit city services,” he says.

Nowak may be a one-man department, but that hasn’t stopped Dover from doing some impressive things with GIS. The city began using ESRI’s ArcGIS Server in 2007 and developed Web applications for the planning department and other agencies.

Nowak said he started by creating parcel layers connecting information about properties from the city’s mainframe to the parcels map. “Once they clicked on that and saw the value, I had won them over,” he explains. “Once they see how it can improve their job, it’s easier.”

The Department of Utilities is now using a product called ArcFM to model and maintain maps of all electric, gas and water, and wastewater utilities. Building inspectors and fire marshals have mobile GIS to check databases and report from the field. (They used to write notes on paper and go back to city offices to look something up on the computer.) When a resident calls and asks when their trash day is, the receptionist now pulls up that information on a map.

“Five years ago,” Nowak said, “they couldn’t do any of that. People are now thinking in a GIS mindset. People from the fire marshal’s office just came to me with new ideas they have. And nine times out of 10, if they have a good idea, we can do it.”

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