How North Dakota's GIS Hub Streamlines State-Wide GIS

Bob Nutsch, GIS Coordinator, State of North Dakota
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Bob Nutsch, GIS Coordinator, State of North Dakota

Bob Nutsch, GIS Coordinator, State of North Dakota

The North Dakota State Government has used GIS since the early 1990s. Since its first application, the technology behind and  uses of GIS have continued to grow. It has now become an essential tool and an increasingly integral part of agency business  processes.

"The GIS Hub has helped reduce the cost, encourage collaboration among state agencies, and create a solid foundation for  current GIS initiatives"

History

In 2000 the state hired a consulting firm to provide insight about the future of GIS for North Dakota. The goal of the review was to develop a statewide GIS program that established clear goals and a way to achieve those goals. We had data stored in  multiple locations and formats, data currency issues (i.e. difficulty finding the most current data), and lack of metadata  used to contextualize data. The report identified a number of obstacles that needed to be overcome, such as declining agency  budgets and a shortage of GIS resources. The bottom line was that GIS was expensive to implement, and without a cost  effective strategy, it didn’t make business sense.

In response to the widespread demand by state agencies and results of the study, in 2001 the North Dakota State Legislature  appropriated general funds to develop a GIS infrastructure. Shortly thereafter and continuing today, Information Technology  Department (ITD) and the GIS Technical Committee (GISTC) operate the “GIS Hub,” an infrastructure comprised of geospatial data storage, data services, and application interfaces. The GIS Hub supports state agencies in the development of their GIS  and the dissemination of common interest data to other levels of government and the public. The GIS Hub has helped reduce the cost of GIS, encourage collaboration among state agencies, and create a solid foundation for current GIS initiatives.

Current Status

The GIS Hub has helped create a successful GIS program in North Dakota, which operates around two key drivers. The first goal  is to efficiently deliver geospatial data, resulting in cost savings and protection of property and lives. One example of  this is the use of GIS by the Abandoned Mine Lands Division of the Public Service Commission as a tool in their mission to  eliminate potential or existing hazards associated with abandoned surface and underground coal mines. GIS is also used  throughout the Oil and Gas Division for permitting tasks, day to day map generation, as well as general office uses. GIS is   one of the most highly requested resources the Oil and Gas Division offers to the public in the form of maps and oil and gas  data.

The second key business goal is reduced project start-up costs thanks to the existing infrastructure and data provided by the  GIS Hub. A great example of reduced costs and increased accuracy lies with the Department of Health and State Water  Commission. The Department of Health has regulatory authority over the water quality of the state. The State Water Commission  has regulatory authority of the water quantity of the state. Engineers, Scientists and Hydrologists in both agencies know  that they are using the same data when using streams, lakes, water resource districts, and watershed boundary data from the  GIS Hub. This saves time, increases accuracy, and lowers the cost of GIS for both agencies.

The GIS Hub is operated through General Funds, which are part of the Information Technology Department’s budget. ITD also  provides the hosting infrastructure and support services for the GIS Hub. The support services include the State GIS  Coordinator who serves as a liaison between ITD and the agencies and also chairs the GISTC. The primary role of the GISTC is  to service the GIS Hub and provide a collaborative environment that supports state agencies’ GIS. A secondary role is to  coordinate among federal, state, tribal, local government and the private sector. The GISTC is an excellent example of state  agencies working together. This group has  defined ownership and stewardship of data stored within their agencies, and provides a conduit for communication and data to other agencies and organizations.

Moving Forward

In the immediate future, the GIS Hub has three big initiatives. First, we are working to improve our disaster recovery posture. As GIS has become a critical asset, we need to ensure the system can continue running in the event of a disaster. Like with all disaster recovery plans,implementation is complex and costly. Second, we plan to use more virtualization in order to increase our ability to ramp up in the event of a disaster, such as flooding. Third, as part of our mobile strategy, we are increasing our use of software as a service.

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