Opportunities and Challenges
By Craig Gooch
The opportunities for using Geographic Information Systems (GIS) in government agencies and utility companies to improve efficiency are almost limitless. Unfortunately challenges limit the full realization of all the benefits GIS has to offer.
The work of most agencies relates to location – whether it’s customers, services, assets, students, buses, fires, voters, power lines or power plants. GIS, by providing the means to organize and access information based on location, is an excellent management tool to help understand patterns, from crime mapping to freeway congestion. For instance, field crews using GIS can manage work orders and service requests more efficiently by bundling responses based on proximity. The result is less cost in time and travel and less air pollution.
Making the Transition
Today, to a great extent, information remains a mixture of paper and multiple electronic formats distributed throughout an agency. Basically, the data is all over the place and not easily accessible to those who need it.
It’s challenging to pull it all together. GIS solves this problem by serving as an integrating technology based on location. For example, Psomas has implemented a one-click report system for Riverside County, Alameda County and the City of Dublin with over 100 different parcel-related items: environmental, administrative, property records, permits, and more. It provides a consolidated process to clarify site conditions upfront, and coordinate all decisions and approvals.
Improving the efficiency and effectiveness of an organization by migrating off of old workflow processes and into a modern era is the way of the future. But there are challenges:
- Vision – Seeing a future where location-based information is readily accessible to those who need it.
- Funding – Managing investments for a multi-year return on investment.
- Risk Perception – There is a history of failed IT projects, so public agency managers think the risk is higher than it really is.
- Technology Resistance – Higher-level managers are typically members of the Boomer Generation, and many are somewhat resistant to technology. A management shift to a younger generation more comfortable with technology will facilitate the move to more modern business processes.
- Data Ownership – Since the pattern of government is in silos, enabling the sharing of information across divisions is often resisted. The challenge is to get everybody on board to improve information sharing between divisions and even agencies.
- Shifting Responsibilities – Eliminating the duplication of tasks through modernization of business processes brings the fear of losing staff and budgets. Doing more with less staff and rebalancing the work effort can be disruptive to the status quo.
Approaching GIS as an enterprise solution crossing organizational boundaries can provide significant operational improvements through efficiency and quality improvements.
The challenge to achieving these benefits are organizational. Leadership must establish an enterprise information management vision that supports and enhances the agency’s business. Implementation must be managed from the top of the organization with greater transparency and accountability during technology deployment and long-term operations.
Craig Gooch is a senior project manager in Psomas’ Spatial Technology Solutions team.