GISinc Blog

GISinc Blog

Part Two — Biggest GIS Challenges for Local Government

Published April 21, 2016 by Lori Page

In Part One of our series, we listed some of the biggest challenges we know local government GIS departments are facing. In this follow-up article, we want to share how local governments are in fact “working smarter, not harder” to overcome these perceived barriers.

Transitioning to a Web GIS Approach

We shared how local governments are not always sure where to start when it comes to transitioning to web GIS. It’s not always easy knowing how they would maintain it, especially with Platform options that include configurations, credits, knowledge, and the platform itself. Change for any organization can be a perceived barrier, such as who will own it, how it will function within and throughout your organization, what are the true benefits of using it, and how can you use it if you feel the pinch of capacity and capability?

Consider This: We have discovered with most clients that gradual change works best for achieving long-term success with web GIS. Consider starting out small, and aim for quick wins to help you build momentum within your organization.  Focus on resolving a pain point within your organization, to get that quick win.

We worked with the City of Daytona Beach who started off small and gradually built momentum over time, which turned out to be a winning approach for them. If the idea of starting off small appeals to you, we recommend aiming for quick wins that enable you to share information or engage with your community, create transparency, or crowdsource ideas. An ArcGIS Jumpstart is a smart way to begin small and build gradual momentum.

Stuck in Desktop and Miles away from Mobile

We discussed how some clients feel like it would be a miracle to deploy a mobile solution for their field workers or for the public.

Consider This: The Esri Platform provides a clear pathway, providing your mobile workers with useful apps instead of paper. No miracle required…and it arms them with information in the field that enables them to make more informed decisions.

We always like to point out also that it’s not just field workers and the folks in the office who benefit from the Esri platform. Mobile apps can be deployed for the public as well. Imagine an app that could help a citizen locate the closest recycling facilities or see real-time information on road closures during floods. These apps are ready to deploy and are not as out of reach as you might think.

The Town of Greenville, WI, had a one-person GIS team and no traditional IT department. They needed a solution that would not require management of additional infrastructure so they looked into ArcGIS Online as a mechanism to deliver intuitive web applications hosted on the cloud. After only one week, they were up and running with a public web presence that offered staff and citizens access to the Town’s GIS data through a variety of useful and intuitive web and mobile applications.

As we always say: The Town of Greenville successfully deployed these apps with a one-person GIS team. With our support, you can too.

Maximizing the GIS Investment

We mentioned problems like difficulty determining needs or defining the GIS vision for an organization, lack of confidence approaching other departments, data trapped in silos and not being used to full potential, gaps in specific skillsets,  and just plain making it easy for everyone.

Consider This: We may recommend a GIS Healthcheck to help identify and define the best path forward that would address these issues – even items like collaboration within your organization. Altamont Springs, FL, is a client of ours that started with a single GIS Healthcheck. They were able to use what they learned from their Healthcheck as a springboard for meaningful change in their GIS program.

ArcGIS for Local Government

There are local governments that may not have heard or are still speculating the value of ArcGIS for Local Government and how to get started. Some do not fully understand how or what they are getting – or they do not see the value. There is also a belief that, in every instance, they need to migrate their entire data model to the ArcGIS Platform.

Consider This:  There is no need to migrate all your data so try migrating what you need into the Local Government Information Model (LGIM) to gain access to over 250 maps and apps available in ArcGIS for Local Government. The Roanoke County, VA GIS portal is an example of how these focused maps were built on top of data they already had. As a result of the launch of their web presence, they are seeing a return on investment through increased operational efficiencies. Their Real Estate Valuation Department has been able to quantify a net positive effect on finances and the functionality has triggered interest in Economic Development throughout the County. Their Stormwater Department demonstrated a savings in personnel hours and, perhaps most significantly, Fire & Rescue leveraged the technologies to help save the lives of stranded hikers.

The value is there and the path forward is not as cumbersome as some imagine it to be.

Overloaded Capacity

Recap: Local government GIS departments are often understaffed for a variety of reasons. They also face fear of increasing their workload by engaging other departments, with difficulty innovating while keeping up with the day to day workflow. Responding to fluctuating demands is a challenge and they often find it challenging keeping up with technology version releases, updating their plans, and responding to business needs in time.

Consider This: There is a lot to be said for knowing when it is time to consider support for capacity or capability.  As a 25 year old small business, we’ve been in this same situation and we’ve needed consultative services too. Support for marketing, accounting, HR, you name it. When you have support from the right firm, you can form a strong partnership so things not only work out, but can accelerate your program. We understand the value in relationships with our clients, and we know what it’s like to recruit outside help from time to time. Not to mention, we’ve been working with local governments for over 25 years and offer a variety of  services to support your needs and ongoing projects.  We have been provided capacity and capabilities to McHenry County, IL, since 2011.  Our partnership includes a team from GISinc that provides the County with staff augmentation services from application developers, solution engineers and GIS analysts, helping McHenry County drive their program forward with seamless support services.

Maintaining Relevancy

Recap: Technical staff are often not aware of what they could be utilizing to meet their business needs and the needs of other departments. Internal marketing of their successes and wins is typically not a priority, which leads to problems maintaining confidence in their program and plans.

Consider This: Visit Esri’s recently updated webpages; they’ve made discovering the Platform considerably easier!  Take a look specifically at how the content is organized by roles in the organization – this can give you ideas to communicate with other departments and executives in your organization.  Another great improvement is the Capabilities section, presenting you with solutions to the challenges you may be facing, such as applications, data management, or community engagement.

Budget Issues

Recap: GIS teams may lack budgetary authority and sometimes bureaucracy and political issues prevent their progress. Furthermore, there is sometimes difficulty maintaining financial support due to a lack of metrics. GIS is often not given credit for Return on Investment (ROI). Whether it’s a tangible or an intangible ROI, your GIS program is increasing efficiencies and improving the services for government.

Consider This: Proving tangible ROI can be difficult in many disciplines, not just GIS. When hard ROI numbers are not readily available, think about promoting your program another way. If we take the Roanoke County, VA, example and remove the part about operational efficiency, and interest in Economic Development, we are still left with one compelling story – helping to save the lives of stranded hikers. The City of New Braunfels, TX, was able to deploy an application that aims to eliminate deaths resulting from vehicles being swept away by flood waters. The app is providing a much needed public safety service to a flood-vulnerable city. It is important to look at the numbers to understand how your GIS is providing tangible value, with benefits that reach far beyond the economic benefits for your community.

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