Geographic Information Systems-A Vital Part of being a Digital Government
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Geographic Information Systems-A Vital Part of being a Digital Government

Dan Ryan, CIO, City of Battle Creek, Michigan

What we know:

The roots of GIS in local government are primarily in creating digital assessment roles or in managing the many assets of a public works department. While these initial efforts were excellent in providing internal cost optimization results there was no real citizen-centric result. Now that geo-location data has become widely known through consumer applications such as Google maps, MapQuest, Ticketmaster, the pressure is on government to enhance government to citizen interaction with consumer like interaction. GIS must be more than record keeping and more about government to citizen applications that add to the cost savings, transparency, decision-making, and communication.

The shift:

If a shift in geographic information system usage does not occur it will no longer be viewed as a strategic resource that most units of government have now invested in. The following needs to be recognized and reflected upon when reviewing GIS usage:

  • GIS is a vital part of the digital workplace with ability to democratize data and access both internally and externally.
  • GIS is a part of a multi-channel response to service delivery and citizen engagement.
  • Solutions can be cloud, on premise, or a mix of both to answer the need for greater agility. 
  • GIS drives new citizen engagement as it combines technologies using social, mobile and cloud solutions.

Example applications:

The City of Battle Creek, MI is home to 52,300 people encompassing more than 43 square miles.  We are not a densely populated high revenue community. Like many communities, our GIS usage began in the Department of Public Works as a method of mapping and maintaining our assets such as sewer and water lines. We moved quickly to parcel mapping, cemetery mapping, and then into applications like defining our voting ward boundaries using census data to create balanced voting districts and road treatment programming to allow for equitable treatment of roads across the city.  Throughout the maturation process of the technology we have moved with each step closer to being that definition of digital government. We now provide a better lit community by seeking electric credits for unlit streetlights inventoried by citizens and staff. Examine “what if” scenarios such as what happens to road surfaces in the community if we make cuts to funding, and may be releasing a polling location “wait time” application allowing voters in the upcoming presidential election to find the best time to go vote. All of these extend current services in a digital method using GIS. We constantly look at and assess the retail world and consumer applications to provide similar experiences to our citizens as they interact with government.  Why not?


It is the consumerization of a technology that moves it from being programmatic to a value add application and on to being an expected commodity. Leverage your existing GIS technology to deliver outward value. The ideas are limitless and the investment is relatively low. Envision a community where free Wi-Fi connection can drive retail couponing and upon coupon acceptance this same application can provide way finding to the business entity! This is a great example of government to citizen to business opportunity that exists because of GIS technology combined with mobile and retail. Imagine the economic impact enhancement provided by understanding how many citizen interaction opportunities exist in your downtown corridors before a public works project to improve walkability takes place. A great use of data analytics combined with GIS. Imagine letting your citizens use smart phones to snap a photo of their issue of interest, click on the screen of their phone to show the geo-position, and submit the issue with intelligent routing behind the scenes, solving problems in a citizen involved manner. The time is upon us to look outward using tools that were traditionally inward focused. Retool consumer solutions to deliver similar experiences to citizens used to being consumers. Let residents, visitors, and businesses consume government services in a multi-channel, transparent, efficient, familiar way.

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