Rod Bassler knows all too well what it's like to stand between people and their data. As a GIS analyst and cartographer at several public agencies for 15 years, he has often found himself the lone expert who can extract information from a GIS.

"Mapping requests and things like that always came through me," said Bassler, GIS coordinator at the North Dakota State Water Commission. "I was the central focus point and also the choke point because you get overloaded and can't keep up with 100 people and their requests."

Even for experts, assembling GIS data can be difficult. The State Health Department and the State Game and Fish Department might need data maintained by the State Water Commission. But each agency might use a different geographic projection to represent the earth's three-dimensional features on a two-dimensional display, said Bob Nutsch, GIS coordinator for the state of North Dakota.

"When that data was shared, there could also be quite a bit of time spent converting it to a format that was useful to another agency," Nutsch explained. Also, users didn't always know if they were receiving the latest available information.

In North Dakota, you don't need to ask an expert if you want maps of lakes, data on cell tower locations, information on legislative districts, or a wealth of other location-related facts. You don't have to contact another agency, worry about incompatibilities or wonder if someone else might provide more up-to-date information.

State government users now draw all their GIS data from a single well, the North Dakota GIS Hub. This central warehouse stores the state's GIS files, developed according to a single set of standards. End-users throughout state government can tap the files easily, either through a direct connection or over the Web. Local governments, businesses and members of the public can also access state GIS data using a Web interface website.

In the past, each North Dakota agency that used GIS maintained its own files and built its own storage infrastructure. Several years ago, agency officials decided they wanted an easier way to share GIS data and deliver it to end-users. They also wanted a less expensive and more efficient way to store and manage the vast quantities of data they were developing, such as the collection of aerial photographs they are stitching together to provide a seamless view of the state.

Redundancies Boost Costs

As agencies invested separately in systems to create and store GIS data, they created unnecessary redundancies. When that happens, Nutsch said, "it doesn't take long for the costs to really start to grow." A government organization that wants its own GIS infrastructure should be allowed to have one, he said. "However, when there is no centralization, those agencies that have fewer people and smaller budgets are forced to duplicate this infrastructure" whether they want to or not.

In 2001, at the request of state agencies and the North Dakota Information Technology Department (ITD), the state Legislature approved funding to develop the GIS Hub. The project received $700,000 from the state and an additional $450,000 from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) through the North Dakota Division of Emergency Management.

A GIS Technical Committee, made up of staff from seven state agencies, spearheaded the development of the Hub. The committee worked with a consultant, SchlumbergerSema of Denver, on the design and development. The ITD provides the infrastructure to host the Hub, which is based on the Oracle database management system, working in conjunction with ArcSDE from ESRI. Oracle holds the information. ArcSDE is used to index and manage spatial data and present it to the user. These two applications run on a Sun Solaris server.

Another ESRI product, ArcIMS, runs on several Windows 2000 servers and

Merrill Douglas  |  Contributing Writer