Managing demand for geographic and associated records is a challenge for fast-growing counties across the United States. To deal with the surge in demand for geographic information that has accompanied its development boom, Allen County, Ind., developed an online GIS solution to help fund its own upkeep. The new GIS Web portal will give county departments, area businesses and the general public tools to research, view and acquire county geographic data and associated records.

Allen County -- the state's largest county -- has a population of 337,512. The county grew by 10 percent between 1990 and 2000, according to the 2000 U.S. Census, but the cities of Fort Wayne and New Haven grew by 27 percent and 33 percent respectively.

Laying the Groundwork

In 2001, Allen County created the iMap Management Board via ordinance to streamline the county's geographic data operations.

There are two major goals for the project. First, it is important to provide relevant, valuable services that are accurate, up to date and easily accessible. Second, the revenues generated through subscriptions and data purchases will supplement part of the GIS budget, so future burdens to the general fund are reduced as much as possible. The project is not intended to be self-supporting. However, having an additional revenue stream coming into the department is a significant factor in its acceptance by the County Board.

The iMAP Board conducted a local and national survey of map and GIS users. Survey questions included the level of need in 17 categories, such as survey control monuments, parcels, zoning and digital elevation contours. The survey also allowed respondents to rate the accuracy and resolution needed for all 17 categories. Ratings were specific, with a "very high" rating equal to survey-level map accuracy of better than one-foot positional accuracy, and ortho pixel resolution of 6 inches or better. Timeliness, GIS products and services, privacy issues and format were also queried.

Thirty-six local firms, among them engineering, surveying and title companies, returned the six-page survey. Results revealed that 90 percent were willing to pay for high-quality data as long as it was priced fairly. The survey also confirmed that most are AutoCAD users and wanted data available in that format.

Two hundred fifty members of the Urban and Regional Information Systems Association also completed the survey. This national sampling showed that 74 percent of respondents did not charge for data distributed by their governments. Some cited public access policies or laws as the reason. Responses enabled fine-tuning of the county's business plan, and although the survey results were what officials expected, they confirmed things were on the right path.

Defining the Service

Ruekert/Mielke, a Waukesha, Wis., firm, is designing the site, which is expected to be operational by mid-July.

In addition to maps and geographic data, users will search, view and download recorded digital documents, such as warranty deeds or mortgages, stored in the county's document management system. Consumers and businesses can create, order and pay for digital maps with a credit card.

The Web site will include a secure e-commerce environment for the transaction of static- and user-defined data sets. Static data sets will include predefined maps, such as parcels and ortho photography, that will be compiled and made available for each government survey township. Data is purchased and downloaded through a secure online credit card system. The Web pages are designed with the industry standard "shopping cart" interface, which allows users to add and remove items from their cart before purchasing them. VeriSign and E-Merchants solutions are used to handle credit cards purchases and county reimbursements.

Users will also order custom data sets by selecting from the various digital map layers the county converted. An e-mail request will be forwarded to the county's GIS for compilation. For custom purchases, payment will be required in advance. This

Alexander Wernher  |  Contributing Writer