PROBLEM/SITUATION: Incompatible data-acquisition and communication tools impede employee and public access to data and geo-based information.
SOLUTION: Link all city workstations into a network of standardized hardware and software, to give employees and the public user-friendly access to any approved information.
JURISDICTION: Fort Worth, Texas.
VENDORS: Attachmate Inc., Intergraph Corp., McAfee, Microsoft, Practionary Inc.
CONTACT: Tex Norwood, Fort Worth GIS Coordinator 817/871-8459.
Fort Worth, Texas, is designing a computer network intended to meet the city's needs for information management well into the 21st century. Appropriately entitled "Technology 2000," the system will provide city employees and the public with simplified access to a wide range of applications, data and geo-based information.
Technology 2000 is expected to be online in two to three years and fully operational by the end of the decade. Before then, however, software engineers must design a way for city employees and private citizens to access authorized information from any application, including GIS -- without extensive training.
Michael Di Paolo, director of Information Systems and Services, said people need access to information particularly from the geographic information system. Di Paolo estimates that over 80 percent of the data local government deals with is location related. "Whether it's a pumping station, hazardous material spill, defective traffic light, crime scene, or a fire -- it's all geo-based information. Through Technology 2000, it can be managed and used to provide services to the public faster and more efficiently than ever before."
Di Paolo stressed that simplified access to this type of information is a major goal of Technology 2000.
SETTING THE STANDARD
According to Public Information Officer Pat Svacina, before Technology 2000 began to take shape, Fort Worth had no standardization in computer hardware or software. Some PCs were in a network, others were stand-alone types. There was no system of integration, nor were all city departments able to access information from the mainframe. The incompatibility in hardware and software often resulted in lost productivity. "Promoting or transferring an employee from one department to another meant weeks of down time while the individual adjusted to the hardware and software used in the new office."
"What we want to do now" explained Greg Evans, president of Practionary Inc., a systems consulting firm, "is to put an infrastructure in place that will enable anyone in or outside the city to obtain GIS information, without spending four to five hours trying to find it. That requires putting in GIS servers and workstation software capable of handling it."
Servers can be thought of as electronic waiters who take the user's order, go to wherever the information is stored -- or to another server that has exclusive access to a particular operating system -- retrieve the information, and display it as a graphic folder containing one or more files. Users then simply point and click.
The system will be "seamless," said Di Paolo. "City employees and private citizens will access any approved information on the network using Microsoft Windows 95, and a Windows-type GIS server, currently being designed by Microsoft and Intergraph Corp. of Huntsville, Ala.
Servers also act as security guards, said GIS coordinator and project leader, Tex Norwood. "They determine if a user is authorized to log-in and have access to the information requested. The network actually has multiple layers of security systems; we can allow someone to access a file and do reports, but not be able to change a particular cell. They may be able to modify two of the fields in a record, but not others."
Norwood made it clear that Technology 2000 is a citywide effort. "Many
departments have worked together to make this happen. We have a 50-member team, with the majority of departments participating." Major vendors assisting in the design of Technology 2000 are Attachmate Inc., Intergraph Corp., McAfee, Microsoft and Practionary Inc.
Norwood estimates that his staff will link 3,500 workstations into the network over the next two years. "Employees will be able to go to any city department, sit down at a terminal and access the information they need. We're also working toward providing real-time access for the public. Initially, that will be through Internet sites at the libraries. We are in the process now of setting up a home page on the Web for just that purpose."
PUBLIC ACCESS TO GIS
Will the public have access to GIS information from the Web using their own PCs? Di Paolo said that configuration has yet to be worked out. "Clearly, the GIS server we are going to use would be too expensive for an individual to buy. We're trying to determine, as part of our GIS plan, how we're going to make that service available."
The Internet won't be the public's only door to the GIS, said Evans. "Eventually they'll be able to dial in to the city network directly from their own PCs using Windows 95 and Remote Access, or similar software."
Svacina believes that by that time, Technology 2000 will have interactive capabilities that will allow private citizens to combine certain data for analysis and make requests for information. "We have an excellent mapping [capability], covering zoning, sewer, utilities, roads, and many other features. As we become more proficient in making data available, we'll be able to help individuals and businesses decide if they want to buy a piece of property, for example. They'll be able to call up and see the property, what it has on it, where it is located, and all the related information about zoning, utilities, transportation and so forth."
"People moving to Fort Worth who don't know the area," Norwood added, "will be able to pull up a map and see where the houses are that were recommended by a real estate agent. They'll see where the house is in relation to parks and schools. They can draw a circle around a particular house, then ask the value of the property, and surrounding properties, and find out whether those values are in an upswing or downswing. They can see where the bus routes go through, look at the crime rate in the area -- they will be able to look at many things globally that will help them make informed decisions more quickly than they could going through the same information in a tabular format."
"We're just starting on this strategy," said Di Paolo. "We still have a lot more data to collect. We've looked at the tools, we know what we want to do, and we're working on how to make that happen."