GIS Providing Actionable Intelligence for Effectual Decision Making

Timothy Oliver, GIO-Assistant CIO, Horry County Government
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Timothy Oliver, GIO-Assistant CIO, Horry County Government

Timothy Oliver, GIO-Assistant CIO, Horry County Government

Horry County, SC has a unique perspective with regard to its IT and GIS department. That philosophy has guided not only the direction of its network infrastructure decisions but also its software and solution choices supporting their line of business applications along the way. It’s philosophy, “there are only two kinds of data, financial and spatial, in local government and even then, they are related.” From a local government perspective, everything we do is related to location. E911 calls, property values and assessment, taxation, economic development, building permits and the list goes on, but all operations are tied to a location. GIS data is the foundation on which we operate. Organizations have spent decades developing, maintaining and improving base GIS data. Many organizations have become experts at putting dots on a map, analyzing the GIS data from all aspects or how to get from one point to the next. At Horry County, SC, we have taken GIS to the next level providing Actionable Intelligence (AI) to users. 

"The ability to utilize "Big Data", GIS and mobile platforms to provide Actionable Intelligence will improve the ability of  government to manage incidents effectively and responsively"

Centralized IT/GIS: Maximizing resources is critical to any organization. To have GIS and IT as one department has tremendous benefits by not duplicating hardware, storage or manpower. It helps in maintaining OS patches and updates and development programmers. It brings along with it the added benefit of knowledge and access to all of the line of business data within an organization. IT/GIS staff have knowledge of all of the data, how to access and ownership of the data which is imperative to  a successful analysis and development with GIS as the core technology. The power of GIS analysis is when it performed across multiple lines of business (ie; the relationship between 911 calls (domestic violence) to foreclosure filings to 911 calls for service (suspicious vehicles) to declining property values when use is changed from ownership to rental.) The Horry County IT/GIS department has seen the benefits and the ROI associated with a centralized approach to managing IT/GIS assets.

Next Generation: Beyond dots on a map, great cartographic representations and analysis to tell either side of a story, Horry County is taking GIS to the next level. Mobile and Actionable Intelligence are the primary focus of projects being developed  by county staff. Providing applications and data to a mobile workforce is critical to efficiencies at the local government level. Putting line of business information in the hands of staff and citizens is much easier when driven by the GIS.

Requiring that all lines of business applications be GIS centric, has allowed Horry County to rapidly deploy applications to  the mobile workforce. Using ESRI web services and AGOL (ArcGIS Online) has enabled deployment without having to develop for multiple OS. The county’s development process is device agnostic, enabling end users whether staff using iOS devices currently the supported device by the County) or the public using iOS, Android or Windows devices. It is important to support all devices without having to try and maintain programming staff in house familiar with all device languages.

GIS staff in most agencies are great at making maps, adding layers and layers of detail and working overtime to make the cartography stand out or to tell the story from a specific viewpoint. At the same time, end users of apps (specifically) for the most part are not GIS experts and don’t want to have to turn on or off a multitude of layers just to see the information that is relevant to their job, especially if a first responder in public safety. Also, with so much data available providing on the “actionable” information when needed is critical, not having to decipher what I need and how do I get to it. Along with actionable information now—what about providing future actionable information based on line of business data that could predict the likelihood that something will happen in the future.

Horry County has developed applications using “Actionable Intelligence”. AI is the power that differentiates its applications from other COP (Common Operating Picture) or SA (Situational Awareness) systems. “Big data” and GIS are powerful tools, but in emergency situations, time is of the essence, it is easy to just display ALL of the data layers that are available. The issue with that is not all users are skilled as GIS Analysts and may not know what layers to display or how to turn layers on and off. Too much information all at once can also clutter the map and it may be more information than the user needs to make decisions. Additionally, first responders may not know what data is available, or how to access the data. AI is a toolset of well thought out queries and actions based on field experience, and historical analysis of similar incidents. AI makes use of that experience and analysis to sort thru all of the “data” and available information and provide only Actionable Intelligence based  on the incident. Actionable Intelligence is driven by predefined queries and instantaneous critical information based on multiple datasets/layers and is generated without requiring human intervention.

IT and GIS must work together to provide timely access to data for decision making. No matter whether the first responder in a public safety setting or planners looking to the future to adequately provide services, politicians making decisions as a result of a natural disaster, or proactive policing based on line of business applications not generally accessed or analyzed by public safety staff, pertinent information must be provided. It must also be provided to mobile users in real time delivery.

The ability to utilize "Big Data", GIS and mobile platforms to provide Actionable Intelligence will improve the ability of government to manage incidents effectively and responsively. The County’s IT/GIS department’s goal is to meet the  ever-changing needs of its users. Information is information; data is data, unless it is actionable. IT/GIS focused to serve the needs of its end users.

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