City of Tigard Completes Enterprise GIS Implementation

"While all our key business systems such as permitting, asset management, customer billing, and police systems are separate, they all have one thing in common: location."

by / December 8, 2008

The city of Tigard, located in the Portland, Ore., metropolitan area, recently completed a 24-month enterprise GIS implementation resulting in a centralized corporate geodatabase environment with a suite of desktop and Web applications integrated with the city's key business systems.

Available to both city staff and the public, the city's Enterprise GIS (EGIS) has already greatly improved workflow efficiency and has simplified access to departmental data. The Tigard Police Department can now access both cases and 911 call records, managed in two separate systems, from a convenient Web-based interface complete with maps, reports and graphs. The Public Works Department can now quickly access maintenance and inspection history for a specific asset -- such as a valve or pipe -- from a map. The Community Development Department can query specific permit records for display on a map, or access permit history for specific tax lots using an interactive map.

The city decided in 2006 to formalize its GIS program and move forward with implementing an EGIS to serve both multiple internal departments as well as public users. "While all our key business systems such as permitting, asset management, customer billing and police systems are separate, they all have one thing in common: location. By bringing this information together we have extended the value of our information systems way beyond what was originally envisioned," said Tigard GIS Coordinator Preston Beck.

The keys to this successful project can be attributed to a clearly defined vision, plan and focus on application design efforts. To realize the EGIS vision, the city established an internal steering committee and produced a strategic GIS plan. The strategic plan was an internal effort and helped instill a sense of ownership and consensus in the overall vision from each of the departments. After this critical step, the city launched a formal citywide needs assessment.

Looking for expertise with GIS application and design for the EGIS implementation, the city selected GeoNorth, a prequalified GIS services vendor selected during an RFP process that had been initially hired to review internal planning efforts and complete a financial analysis of a five-year GIS budget plan. The process of implementing an EGIS and integrating GIS with other business systems can take many years so ensuring continuity of funding is critical for a successful program. These services provided long-range budget planning, ultimately resulting in the implementation of a commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) based solution (GeoNorth's MapOptix), ArcIMS, and ArcSDE for a crime mapping pilot project to help better demonstrate the benefits of GIS to internal staff. Having the ability to access familiar data as envisioned greatly helped departmental staff conceptualize the possibilities and focus application design efforts. The pilot project was so successful that the city decided to go public with the solution known as "Crime Spotter."

Crime Spotter uses GeoNorth's MapOptix and Multi-Map Framework, as well as ESRI's ArcIMS, ArcSDE, ArcGIS and Adobe's ColdFusion. The MapOptix Multi-Map Framework is an extensible FuseBox solution that provides the basis for a report centric mapping application. It provides an intuitive way to query a database and generate summary pages with a map and report. "By simplifying the front end with just a simple address query," said Beck, "followed by a series of intuitive tabs with maps and tabular data in an easy to read format, the user's experience is greatly enhanced. Users do not need to worry about panning, zooming or figuring out what layers to turn on." Serving as the model for public access, the Crime Spotter solution exposed issues and helped to better refine goals for the planned EGIS solution. It also provided immediate benefits to the city while the larger system was being developed.

Rapid EGIS application development was possible due

to the solid design foundation GeoNorth put in place. In October of 2007 GeoNorth developed the system architecture and application design and later delivered a business data content access approach design in April of 2008 and the EGIS application and public portal design in May of 2008. These three documents served as the foundation for the larger effort of implementing the EGIS solution. GeoNorth also worked with the city to develop address, transportation, and utility geodatabase models. With the system design foundation and data models in place, application development took only three months to complete. Leveraging a COTS-based solution both facilitated and expedited the development effort, in addition to saving the city thousands of dollars.

Challenges

One challenge was managing user expectations through the process. The city chose a traditional approach that included multiple phases and tasks, with each phase building on the previous. This process was time consuming and involved a significant number of staff hours, testing the patience and frustration thresholds of many. Long after the needs were addressed and potential benefits demonstrated, users still did not have a working system, despite being continually asked to participate in subsequent business system strategy and application design meetings. This frustration was compounded by more frequent problems with the city's aging ArcView 3x GIS application. To mitigate this, the city conducted regular steering committee meetings, communicated progress and coordination efforts regularly, and delegated problems and questions for quick resolution. Since a COTS solution was serving as the foundation, an interactive Web-based GIS prototype was configured by the city so that users could see and experience some of their data in the new system.

The city also took advantage of the time between initial assessments and the later implementation to develop and improve data. A number of staff were assigned to review existing data and develop new data. Of the identified required data layers, some were out of date, some required additional attribute development, and in some cases, data had to be collected or generated from other sources. To assist with data development during the implementation phase, GeoNorth developed an ArcObjects-based address editing tool for ArcGIS. The application greatly improved productivity and accuracy by simplifying the workflow and maintenance of address information that previously was managed in AutoCAD and a separate database.

Another challenge was integrating business systems. The city utilizes a number of commercial business systems for asset management, permitting, and customer billing, many of which have mapping solutions available. The frustrating discovery was that almost all of these business systems did not have an API or protocol allowing system-level integration with a single EGIS solution. This meant the level of integration would be less than ideal and posed a unique challenge for achieving business system integration.

After assessing the various business systems, the city's concerns over limited integration potential as well as the increased loads from directly accessing those business system databases led to choosing a data warehouse approach. While system level integration could not be achieved, integration at the database level could still be accomplished. Additionally, the process of abstracting data from aging systems would facilitate their eventual replacement. GeoNorth developed highly efficient processes using ArcGIS geoprocessing and Microsoft SQL Server Integration Services (SSIS) to update all business system warehouse data from five separate systems and generate business layers in less than 20 minutes. Processes are scheduled, with some running multiple times a day.

While the larger effort is complete, the city sees itself not at the end of a project, but at the beginning of its new EGIS. User enhancements are already being identified in the very short time the application has been available for general use. In addition, there are still databases to integrate, such as the document management system and the city's business license database. Furthermore, technology updates are already being scheduled with plans to implement ArcGIS Server. "Now we have the infrastructure, processes, and knowledge in place, so we can do many of the things we only dreamed of doing. The road ahead looks very promising" said Beck.