GeoGold: Discovering the Treasure in Local GIS Big Data

Trisha Brush, Director of GIS at Planning and Development Services, Kenton County
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Trisha Brush, Director of GIS at Planning and Development Services, Kenton County

The best feeling in the world is pulling on an old jacket or your favorite pair of jeans, reaching in the pocket and discovering a forgotten $5, $10 or $20 bill. This is the same feeling that can be experienced when discovering the wealth that exists in local GIS data.

"Several local businesses have realized savings upward of $7,000 by using local data and GIS specialist expertise with data analysis"

There is an untapped resource in local government called Geographic Information Systems (GIS). GIS systems are often developed in response to a local disaster such as a hepatitis outbreak, or a gas main that exploded. Local governments have funded these treasures for years and know of their existence through the data’s primary use of asset management. However, local businesses and commercial users’ knowledge of this type of data are limited at best, but not for lack of data or efforts on behalf of GIS professionals to educate the masses.

Planning and Development Services (PDS) of Kenton County is the managing partner of a GIS partnership called Link- GIS. LinkGIS is a three county partnership made up of local public agencies in three Northern Kentucky counties of Campbell, Kenton and Pendleton. LinkGIS partnership financial support comes from the following organizations: Sanitation District #1, Northern Kentucky Water District, Campbell, Kenton and Pendleton counties’ Fiscal Courts, Campbell and Pendleton counties’ Property Valuation Administrators and PDS. Together these three counties cover 594 square miles and are maintaining over 5 terabytes of geospatial data.

GIS shops everywhere are now coming up for air after years of data maintenance and quality control. Each shop knowing with the effort of making the data easier to consume, it tends to grow exponentially. Thus geospatial experts are faced with the challenges of Big Data. This Big Data is not just any data it is armed with standards, accuracy, key identifiers, commercial values and, most importantly, metadata. This is a database administrator’s dream, or nightmare, as the GIS practitioner labors in a painstaking meticulous fashion to stitch the data together flawlessly.

Four years ago a special interest group targeted LinkGIS with the goal to abolish the partnership. The issues in question from the group pertained to the current and historical costs of the GIS, insurance that all parties were paying their fair share, and funds belonging to one county were not being used to support projects in another county. It was at this point that the sleeping GIS data giant awoke and moved to action. Fear for our jobs became a quick reality and the threat of GIS obsolescence became tangible.

Now in Northern Kentucky there is a GIS revolution, a paradigm shift to demonstrate to an unaware audience spatial information in a digestible format they can use to make HUGE decisions, and detect patterns unseen by any spreadsheet. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a map is worth a million. PDS on behalf of LinkGIS has addressed the basic issues with Big Data, capturing, curation and storage, with success. The partnership’s focus over the last year has targeted three strategies to battle some of the overwhelming accusations and challenges with Big Data, sharing, analysis and visualization.

$5 Dollar Discovery

Social Media—Twitter and LinkedIn are instrumental in executing the first effort to share how to acquire data, the birth of new feature data sets and how the data is being used in the community. One post a week helped to bring awareness of solid GIS initiatives in Northern Kentucky.

$10 Dollar Discovery

NKYmapLAB—The goal of this initiative is to monthly analyze a wide variety of tabular data with a public interest focus, and present it in a more visual format that facilitates understanding by the public and its elected leaders.

$20 Dollar Discovery

Face-to-face—Meeting with elected officials to share stories and help them understand the workhorse role that GIS plays behind the scenes. The daily uses of GIS in emergency dispatch, school bus routing, permitting and emergency response enlightened them to the indispensable part GIS plays in routine, but critical workflows.

The LinkGIS partnership ascertained that the good data and works of the GIS team, which seemed obvious to the partnership, failed to translate into effective external communications. The messages never reached outside the partnership. While sharing stories over coffee with local elected officials about the acute role of GIS in emergency siren placement, voting precinct redistricting and school district boundary disputes that determine the allocation of over $750,000, it was clear that the light bulb just turned on. We have launch, the message has been received.

Using these deliberate tactics has resulted in unforeseen increased revenue by 25 percent for the partnership. Several local businesses have realized savings upward of $7,000 by using local data and GIS specialist expertise with data analysis. These monies are a drop in the bucket to the real dollars that can be found with geospatial Big Data, communication and analysis. The true treasure is having businesses, the public and elected officials using your data and experiencing the value of GIS with a purpose.

The time has come to share the harvest of big GIS data. As GIS professionals, mastering the ability to share, analyze, and visualize locationbased data that is meaningful to the public and elected officials, validates the years of data curation and maintenance that have come to pass. There is a movement within the geospatial community to shine the spotlight on the behind the scenes workhorse that is GIS. By serving citizens through demonstrations of how GIS touches their daily lives, and showing them patterns undetected by spreadsheets the true paragon is revealed. The golden age of geospatial Big Data is here; the plan is to become more analytical, data-driven through sharing and strategically minded.

Don’t let the emphasis of managing GIS Big Data keep you from finishing the communication about the importance of GIS in your community. Get out there and make the message resonate to the point of responsiveness. GIS professionals, it is time to move to action. This is your job. Don’t take for granted that someone else is marketing the effective uses of your GIS.

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