When Desktop and Web GIS Unite

Virginia Beach, Va., is using a hybrid GIS application to improve workflow in the city.

What do you get when you cross stylish desktop GIS with user-friendly Web GIS? For Virginia Beach, Va., the combination has meant lower manpower costs and increased flexibility for everyday users to map and manage the city’s property.

Virginia Beach started using Intergraph’s GeoMedia Smart Client in April. The application distributes the city’s Oracle GIS information to both hardcore and novice GIS users. Now city personnel can more easily update maps without relying on GIS experts, which has led to better workflow and efficiency.

"They can edit the city property layer on the fly and make changes to the city attribute information … without the city GIS department,” said Rob Jessen, the city's GIS coordinator.

Prior to using the application, any changes to the city's map had to be done using desktop GIS, which is expensive and requires a user with GIS skill. Now individuals with no GIS credentials can fully edit the map layers they have access to.

For example, in the past, Virginia Beach city staff had to produce an annual map book that detailed yearly changes to the city’s property. Personnel would cull data from email communications and paper maps and manually make the updates over a six-month period. That time investment is no longer needed, since users can use the GeoMedia Smart Client to do the updating as changes happen.

The technology is a blend of the two GIS worlds because while it connects to the Internet and can be used remotely without any administration or licensing costs like Web GIS, it also has rich editing and stylistic capabilities similar to desktop GIS. Although the city still uses desktop GIS, Jessen said a lot of the GIS work can now be distributed across the city to many users, lessening the impact on the GIS department.

Although the GeoMedia Smart Client has been around for several years, it has come stateside just this year. According to Dave Holmes of Intergraph Business Development, a number of European organizations use the application for asset management, ranging from public works assets to road and rail management. Virginia Beach is one of the first jurisdictions in the United States to use the product.

Future Use

Virginia Beach plans to use the technology for a variety of purposes: to collect addresses, track real estate transactions and the city's 2,000 parcels, note building inspections and plan fire hydrant locations for commercial buildings.

Using the technology's workflow manager, city staff can also customize forms and displays with XML to tailor the product to the needs of each department. Rob Jessen, the city's GIS coordinator, said he has been able to maintain and change those forms, making it a moldable product for Virginia Beach.

"The big advantage for us is that it is a very flexible configuration," Jessen added.

The GeoMedia Smart Client is still in a pilot phase and is being deployed in Virginia Beach's public works, parks and recreation and economic development departments and the city attorney's office. When the pilot ends in October, the city's fire, planning and public utilities departments will also roll out the application.

Brian Heaton was a writer for Government Technology and Emergency Management magazines from 2011 to mid-2015.