Traditional wisdom about GIS is that its significant benefits come at a prohibitive cost for many small cities or agencies. The price of hardware and software is just the beginning. When staff costs and procurement of geographical data are factored in, developing the geographical database can account for 60 percent to 80 percent of the total GIS deployment costs.

Moreover, GIS has little value if insufficient resources are devoted to planning and managing the system, keeping the data maintained and current, and developing applications for end-users who work routinely with the system as part of their jobs.

Add to this the inevitable need for training -- sophisticated systems require specialized manpower with GIS skills and training for other users as well. All this adds up to a simple fact: It generally takes a GIS department in an agency or city to make GIS a valuable proposition.

Easy Does It

That conventional wisdom is being challenged, however, by Digital Map Products (DMP), a company based in Costa Mesa, Calif., which developed CityGIS, a GIS platform accessible through the Internet with a simple browser interface.

Today, more than 60 local governments and agencies use CityGIS applications because they allow smaller entities to use GIS without large investments in infrastructure or staff.

San Juan Capistrano, Calif., uses CityGIS for both engineering and planning public counters.

"It has made my job a lot easier," said Irene Marcote, the city's engineering technician who works the engineering counter. "People at the counter are impressed with the system. We can do a query online -- select a sewer line for instance -- click on the information button, and up comes a hyperlink to the actual plans scanned in as TIFF files.

"We can then print that out, as well as any pictures, and give this right over the counter," Marcote said. "If I had to do that without using this product, I would be going back and forth, finding the plans, pulling them, and then having to run a blueprint or something, then taking it back and putting it away. Without doubt, it is a timesaver."

Marcote is one of several people maintaining information in the city's system. "Maintaining is not a full-time job," she said. "It's basically a small project in your day. You may not do anything for a week or a month, and then all of a sudden, you've got this information."

When new information arrives, she said, city staff sends it electronically to the company, where staff update the map.

Using this approach, San Juan Capistrano developed layers for sewer, water, streetlights and different city facilities on top of street, parcel data and aerial photography.

"Another thing we really like about CityGIS as we continue to grow is that the company is very versatile," said Marcote. "We can send another set of scanned items, another set of digital items, or something we created in a desktop ESRI GIS program, and the company will create a layer for us."

Done Dirt Cheap

"We offer GIS applications as a service using the ASP [application service provider] model," explained Steve Stautzenbach, vice president of sales and marketing for Digital Map Products

Stautzenbach said the company's clients include many midsize suburban cities along the West Coast that can't afford the classic GIS approach of putting the hardware, software and staffing in-house.

CityGIS is a subscription-based service that includes several data layers. "Because of limited resources, many clients are data-challenged," said Stautzenbach. "As part of the subscription, we also develop partnerships with counties and commercial providers of data to provide a city or agency with a complete solution -- our application plus a lot of the base map data they need to get started: streets,

Blake Harris  |  Contributing Editor