Intergovernmental Information Systems Advisory Council

XII. GIS IMPLEMENTATION - Part 2 of 2

    1. Other GIS Layers

      A geodetically controlled GIS parcel base map detailed above will support a wide variety of uses. It will include the following layers:

      • Geodetic control
      • Public Lands Survey corners of known coordinates
      • Public Right of Way

      It will be of great value in preparing and maintaining accurate and useful GIS datasets or layers which are aggregations of land parcels such as:

      • Legal and administrative boundaries
      • Zoning
      • Land use planning
      • Historic properties
      • School Districts

      It can provide valuable aid in the interpretation and practical use of the following kinds of datasets:

      • Public and private utilities
      • Hazardous wastes and contaminating activities
      • Public institutions
      • Public safety datasets (police, fire, emergency)
      • Zip Codes
      • Census geography (tracts and block groups)
      • Planimetric features
      • Field tiling and ditching
      • Soils
      • Cultural resources
      • Wells
      • Vegetation, forests, land cover
      • Forest inventory
      • Other natural resources
      • Hydrology and water features
      • Watersheds
      • Geology/Hydrogeology
      • Floodplains
      • Elevation
      • Wetlands
      • Digital photography and satellite imagery

      Having the parcel base map in place will aid in the creation of these datasets by providing control and "common sense" checks against land parcel boundaries and ownership records as they are being created. The information that can be generated from each of these datasets will be a great deal more useful with the addition of the geodetic control and land ownership information provided by the parcel base map.

      In most cases some of these datasets will be on hand before the parcel base is complete. The parcel base map should be used as a guide to correct and improve them when it becomes available.

    2. Expanding GIS Use

      As noted above, the most benefit from GIS will be realized when its use can be incorporated into the normal activities of the various functions within local government. This will involve expanding the use of GIS viewing and mapping software throughout the organization, with these users networked to GIS data resources including parcel base map, other digital map layers, and linked stand alone tabular databases maintained on various computers throughout the organization.

      This expanding of use need not wait until all or most of the planned datasets are created. It should begin as soon as there are useful datasets to share. It will grow as more kinds of useful datasets become available. When this is done successfully, it will do a great deal to generate and maintain support for GIS in the organization.

    3. Applications

      As your GIS implementation expands it will begin to include users who have less time, aptitude, and interest in learning how to use the technology, and whose use will be limited to a few repetitive routine tasks. Even the GIS viewing and mapping software "right out of the box" may be more complex than they need. Using scripting or macro languages to create special applications of GIS which are tuned to and streamlined for a few particular tasks will greatly reduce learning time and speed the use of the GIS for these users.

      As your GIS implementation matures you will find you have three classes of users:

      • A small number of GIS professionals and technicians whose main job is GIS processing and maintaining the datasets
      • A larger number of GIS viewing and mapping software users whose main jobs involve a significant and varied use of GIS data and maps
      • The largest group, those who use GIS mostly for data query or other highly routinized applications and are likely to work with a customized version of the GIS viewing and mapping software.
      1. E911
        An example of a common GIS application is E911. Many Minnesota local governments are investing in Enhanced Emergency 911 systems. This is often handled through law enforcement, fire, or ambulance services. An E911 system may require a digital road centerline map and the ability to locate callers in relation to this map. These road centerline maps can be as cheap and simple as US Census Bureau TIGER Line Files. However, some involve the complete re-addressing of the jurisdiction and the creation of highly accurate road center maps using GPS technology. The establishment of parcel-based GIS in the jurisdiction can complement this effort.

        For instance, the fire department is responding to a call about a fast moving grass fire. GIS could tell them where, how many, and what kinds of buildings are on adjacent lands, and what flammable materials they may contain. If the police are called to an address, information about property ownership can be accessed along with police records of previous calls in the area and police records of those living in the vicinity.

        Such an E911 system will include a highly specialized application of GIS viewing and mapping software which is tuned to do a very few tasks quickly while minimizing the opportunity for operator confusion and error.

    4. Working with Vendors

      While vendors and service providers have a vested interest in getting you to "pull the trigger" on a GIS investment, they also believe in the technology and want to see you be successful. Your success makes them look good and feel good about what they do. Most will give you the benefit of their experience and their honest opinions about GIS implementation. Nevertheless, it is important to get the views of more than one vendor or service provider, as they may have differing perspectives.

      Talking with both local government staff and private sector contractors and vendors shows that many problems are due to failures of communication. These can take several forms. The client may not fully communicate what he wants. The contractor may not fully communicate what he will and won't provide. The client may "throw a specification over the wall" in the form of an RFP that will not, in the opinion of the contractor, support the stated objectives of the project as well as a different approach would.

      The solution to these problems is to talk with the vendors and service providers about your objectives, asking them to suggest means to achieve them. Talking with several can provide a reality check on your objectives and the resources needed to realize them.

      When you request proposals, be as clear and detailed as you can about your objectives and your resources. Leave the means up to the contractor as much as possible. When a contractor is selected, conclude an agreement that details exactly what you expect to get. If the project is of any size, it is useful to do part of it as a pilot to work out technical details and lines of communication. Regular partial deliveries can also help ensure that a project is going according to plan. Check these deliveries as they come in to make sure you are getting what you expect.

      Another area of difficulty reported by GIS service providers involves data received from public sector clients. Too often the data is provided to the service provider for the project later than promised, and it is often incomplete and of poorer quality than intended. This means much higher costs for the service provider.

      Since competition in GIS services keeps profit margins very thin, the contractors' higher costs due to communication and data problems will result in poorer service from the contractor and/or the contractor not staying in business. You may not care if your contractors go out of business, but bailing out half completed projects, or building new working relationships and familiarity with your system, data, & operations with a series of new firms, has great costs for your organization as well. In the long run neither "gouging the client" nor "beating up the contractor" is a sustainable strategy for either party. Clients must have their needs satisfied for a reasonable price, and contractors must make a reasonable profit to stay in business.

      In the public sector one must often put work out to competitive fixed price bids and accept the lowest qualified bid. This makes it difficult to build a working relationship with a contractor who has done a good job for you in the past. Such relationships need not lead to unfair dealing. They can benefit the unit of government. You continue to work with a consultant who has learned to work effectively with you and has a greater stake in your success.

      Selecting low bid can occasionally lead to unsatisfactory results, particularly in a developing technology with many new-comers. In such situations, if a bid is a great deal lower than the established competition, it may be the result of ignorance, not efficiency. This in turn will lead to poor quality work and/or requests for additional funding to complete the work.

      Contracting work for a fixed price, particularly if that work cannot be fully and accurately specified in advance, can result in higher costs overall. Each contractor, to stay in business, will have to build in a risk premium on each fixed price job. It will be high enough to keep him from going out of business, when averaged over all his work, and low enough to keep him competitive with the experienced competition.

      One alternative is contracting for work on an hourly basis, with certain "circuit breakers" built in. This means the contractor does not take all the risk if work takes more time than anticipated. It lowers or eliminates the risk premium. This can be effective with contractors who have worked successfully with you in the past.

      Money and effort can be saved by entering into general services contracts with one or more vendors and consultants. These will allow you the option of contracting either fixed price or hourly rate work without going to the trouble and expense of the full RFP process every time.

      Another alternative is requiring separate technical and cost proposals from RFP respondents. The cost proposals are kept sealed while the technical proposals are reviewed. The cost proposal submitted by the consultant providing the best technical proposal is then opened to see if the price falls within the budget of the project. If it does, a contract is negotiated with that consultant. If it does not, the proposal is set aside and the cost proposal from the consultant providing the next rated technical proposal is opened and contract negotiations begin.

      When you do write RFPs and contracts for GIS, collect samples from similar jurisdictions to use as guides to help you consider all the issues. Be careful not to copy RFPs or contracts used by others without a thorough review of their contents. Each situation is likely to be at least a little bit different.

E-mail comments or questions to IISAC at iisac@state.mn.us.

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