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GCN : March and April 2016
GIS 32 GCN MARCH/APRIL 2016 • GCN.COM nities in so-called food deserts. And in 2014, health officials lobbied the Hamilton County Department of Edu- cation to adopt a “shared use” policy that opened elementary school play- grounds for community use outside school hours to create opportunities for recreation and exercise in neigh- borhoods that lack public parks. In both instances, local agencies mapped populations and resources to develop targeted solutions for resi- dents in need. “GIS is a visual tool that helps you see where your resources are and aren’t compared to where your people are,” said Bilderback, who manages the Step ONE program. “It’s the job of our decision-makers to triage needs in a way that provides a fair distribution of resources across the community, and GIS has helped us do that.” GIS can help agencies at all levels of government solve problems the way it has in Hamilton County — and in Lon- don a century ago. First, however, gov- ernment IT and GIS departments must understand the full range of possibili- ties and the strategies that can bring them to bear. MAKING AN OLD TECHNOLOGY NEW AGAIN Although agencies have used GIS for decades, advances in computing power and mobility have made an old technol- ogy new again. “GIS has become an integral part of what government does because gov- ernment by its very nature is focused on location,” said Todd Sander, vice president of research at e.Republic and executive director of the media and research company’s Center for Digital Government. Government services are targeted to specific places, “and the ability to capture and integrate that has really taken off as a result of other tech- nology changes.” Sander also noted a fundamental shift in the nature of public-sector GIS. It “initially was focused on things the government cared about, like outlying political boundaries, public facilities and infrastructure,” he said. “Now it’s becoming tied much more directly to service delivery.” Mitch Bradley, vice president of sales programs at government software com- pany Accela, said communities are in- creasingly demanding location-based services. “Thanks to apps like Uber, we as consumers have gotten used to being able to quickly see a map and interpret information from it,” he added. “The public is now expecting that capability from government, too.” Internally and externally, the demand for GIS is growing. And so is the oppor- tunity, said Bert Granberg, director of Utah’s Automated Geographic Refer- ence Center, which manages GIS on behalf of the state. Not all government information can be mapped, he admit- ted, but where it can, geospatial tools offer increased transparency, efficiency, accountability and productivity — all of which create value for individuals and communities. “GIS isn’t always the right tool for the job,” Granberg said, “but there are a lot of places where there is significant payoff if you make it the foundation for your business process.” UNDERSTANDING PROBLEMS BETTER When Daniel Nau discovered GIS a de- cade ago, he was skeptical. Faced with personnel reductions and budget cuts, however — and a town full of snowy streets that needed plowing every win- ter — he felt compelled to give it a chance. “To be honest, it was kind of forced on us,” said Nau, director of highway and solid waste management in Fram- ingham, Mass. “We had to revamp our entire [snow removal] system, and we didn’t really know what to do. So we went to our GIS folks.” Nau didn’t even know what GIS was, but the town’s resident expert helped him devise a system of snow man- agement zones — approximately 60 predefined plowing routes designed for maximum efficiency based on the town’s geography and the available re- sources. Now he’s a believer. Combined with GPS tracking that shows where snow- plows have already been, the system has cut employee overtime, reduced FLICKR.COM/PHOTOS/WIDGETSANDSTONE Thanks to GIS, Hamilton County, Tenn., was able to identify neighborhoods that lack easy access to grocery stores and sent in mobile markets as part of a campaign to tackle obesity. 0416gcn_030-034.indd 32 3/3/16 9:51 AM
January and February 2016