Beyond Maps: Making Magic Happen for Everyone

Kayvan Patti, Bureau Chief, Arlington County

This year marks twenty years since government and industry were racing to prepare for a possible technological meltdown with Y2K impending.  I was fresh out of college and working a temporary administrative job that year, but I remember having to be “on call” in case my office lost everything. (I am still not sure what I was supposed to do in the worst-case scenario.)  The year preceding Y2K resulted in numerous software purchases by government for utility billing systems, permitting, and public safety, trying to beat the clock before January 1, 2000.  Geographic Information Systems (GIS) wasn’t even on the checklist for the purchasing officers and project sponsors trying to get their software procured and functional.  The fact that people might want a visual reference for their projects didn’t register on the list of priorities.

 GIS feeds dashboards for data-driven decision making for leadership, and provides transparency for residents about what’s happening in their community 

Fast forward 20 years: those systems are being replaced, and it’s hard to imagine a local, state/provincial, or federal government purchasing software that doesn’t have a GIS component.  GIS is no longer an afterthought for software purchases; it’s assumed that there will be some GIS component and/or integration, if not a GIS checkbox in a purchasing document.  It only makes sense to have a map where you can click on a location to create a work order for a staff member, who can view it on his/her iPad in the field, write comments on the work done, close the work order, and have the cost of the work order automatically be calculated using the pre-loaded labor and equipment rates.  Imagine calculating the total costs of snow removal after a snowstorm, adding up labor, brine and salt, fuel, and repairs.  Even better, imagine using GIS integrated with asset management to predict your capital improvement project (CIP) budget, and where it will be spent, five years from now.

Location intelligence is an essential component of business intelligence.  GIS feeds dashboards for data-driven decision making for leadership, and provides transparency for residents about what’s happening in their community.  A fire chief can create a dashboard to view operational fire hydrants (data pulled from an asset management system) overlaid with the street network and its attributes plus the location of his/her engines at any moment, and see this on their PC, laptop, tablet, or phone.  GIS power real-time situational awareness; multiply that dashboard across a region, and jurisdictions can aid each other during an emergency.  Residents can view the status and cost of capital improvement projects in their neighborhood.

Making the magic happen requires a lot of behind-the-scenes work by your friendly GIS and IT shops.  Map services have to be created, API calls between systems need to work, user accounts have to be set up with appropriate permissions, server architecture has to evolve and stay ahead of security threats, and troubleshooting has to be quick so nobody is out of commission for long.  All the software and data in the world won’t help unless you have buy-in from leadership who believe in data quality, a dedicated team of professionals who create and maintain geospatial data for use in multiple systems, and users who are committed to entering data in a timely manner and performing QA/QC.  With a shared commitment to excellence, GIS will propel users far beyond maps and into uncharted territory.

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