GIS Goes Enterprise

Paulding County, Ga., gains collaboration on building enterprise GIS.

by , / June 27, 2005
Put two people in a room together and eventually, there will be conflict. That's human nature. Propose to converge multiple county departments' data in one location and serve it up enterprisewide via a geodatabase -- and the word "conflict" takes on a whole new meaning.

Differing agendas, wish lists, personalities, politics, security and trust issues, varying levels of technical proficiency among users, and so on, all create tension while staff attempts to improve organizational capabilities and efficiency.

"There was resistance at first to sharing -- not 'turf wars,' more like 'turf skirmishes,'" said Jerry Shearin, chairman of the Paulding County Board of Commissioners. "But when the GIS was demonstrated and explained -- how the data-sharing would work and the benefits -- people immediately saw the value. The result is people not only sharing data but also using the GIS to find better ways to work with one another."

Over the last couple of years, Paulding County's IT Department rallied five county departments -- Public Works, Transportation, Tax Assessor, Community Development and Public Safety -- to conceptualize and build an enterprise GIS in an ESRI-based ArcSDE 9.0 environment along with Microsoft SQL Server.

Because of the GIS's success, the county of 106,000 people northwest of Atlanta is expanding its enterprise GIS to include additional county departments. The county also plans to integrate field data collection, asset management, modeling and other applications with the GIS; create standards to govern new developmental requirements for tying to the county's geodetic control surveys and for submitting digital data; and create standards for further development that will allow public access to GIS information through a Web portal.

The Sensitivities of Sharing
One of the biggest internal challenges the county faced in its GIS development was the "trust relationship" with department data.

The county Board of Commissioners and the affected departments supported the GIS and recognized its time- and money-saving benefits -- in theory -- but had concerns about data sharing and security.

"A few departments felt like they were giving up ownership of their data because permission to access the data was being set within the Information Technology Department," said Jim Kiles, GIS project manager for GIS/IT engineering consultant Woolpert, which helped the county build the centrally located geodatabase. "When it was explained that IT only would house the data and that it was up to each department to set permissions, people felt a lot better."

The data, and the responsibility for keeping it current, remains with the department that developed the data. IT staff made policy decisions and technical choices to assure county leadership and data owners/users that data integrity and security would not be compromised.

The resulting database is a logical department-structured design. Only departments that own the data can alter it. Other departments may view data, but only select users can access sensitive information. If viewers need to modify a GIS layer they don't have authority to change, they can redline the area and submit it to the responsible department, Kiles explained.

Staff members further addressed security concerns by combining existing county network security policies and security features of the county's back-end database to enforce the domain policies. For highly sensitive areas, the county added site-specific customized triggers to notify the corresponding department's administration if an unauthorized user attempts to change data.

Paulding County is currently working on additional guidelines that include how data will be used by other public and private agencies. Since the county wants its GIS to grow and contain huge amounts of information -- even outside of the county organization -- staff is considering digital data trading or sharing at low or no cost.

Serving It to the Public
The county's goal is to make GIS a way for citizens to conduct business with the county. Some of the information will be available to the public via ESRI's ArcIMS. During the development phase, Woolpert created a comprehensive Internet Mapping Servince Web site for the county's internal use, which provided a logical repository for the county's departmental data development.

The site enhances the accessibility of GIS data between departments using the Internet and provides a solid foundation for future use when the site is fully tested and ready to deploy to citizens.

Next steps also include integrating the GIS with a computerized maintenance management system to manage assets, E911 addressing and advanced geospatial modeling. The county also plans to track GIS benefits by using metrics to determine how GIS has improved job performance and workflow processes.

Recently, Shearin said, a peer asked how the county justified the GIS cost.

"I said, 'You just do it -- you make a commitment to technology,'" Shearin said. "Now, after only a few months of using the GIS, we can do things we never could before. The investment in enterprise GIS is paying off. We have capabilities that are helping us to recruit new businesses and expand our tax base -- and that's just one of the payoffs."
Michael Morris Contributing Writer
Will Lyons Contributing Writer