Taking the Plunge with a Staff of One

Web GIS Helps Small City Deploy Maps Faster

By Matthew DeMeritt, Esri Writer


It’s a steep climb implementing an enterprise GIS—especially with a staff of one lone soul. Sometimes a city needs assistance to scale the summit. To ensure a lasting solution that grows with its needs, Mountain View, California, collaborated with Esri Professional Services and geospatial firm VESTRA Resources, Inc. (VESTRA), to transition from a limited desktop mapping system to a full enterprise GIS (EGIS). That partnership connected all of Mountain View’s business systems and laid a solid foundation for rapid web map deployment at the city.

To the Limit

Up until 2010, Mountain View’s GIS was primarily used by the public works department to track a small subset of the city’s assets and little more. With mapping being a vital visual reference in all government, GIS needed to be incorporated throughout the enterprise at the city. Even in its limited use in public works asset management, digital mapping suffered from bad data, poor maintenance, and lack of integration with other systems. The fragmentation would only get worse as other department systems were being upgraded that required geospatial data support to work properly.

After serving as the city’s IT manager for five years, the city chose Steve Rodriguez to develop a true EGIS capable of supporting all of the organization’s mapping and spatial analysis needs. Although Rodriguez knew nothing of GIS, his technical background and IT leadership skills were sufficient to begin tackling the problem. After consulting with several large municipal GIS users and taking night classes at the local community college to obtain his GIS certificate—it was clear he’d need to collaborate with consultants to ensure the new system was designed properly from the ground up. He eventually chose VESTRA to draft a plan that would lay the foundation for Mountain View’s EGIS.

Stop the Bleeding

The team started by assessing the city’s GIS infrastructure and identifying areas that needed the most attention—what Rodriguez calls the “Triage Phase.” The team interviewed all public works division managers and supervisors who had operated the GIS in some capacity and knew where their departments were hemorrhaging money and time. Meanwhile, Rodriguez provided his vision for the GIS: a centralized solution that leveraged the city’s existing Esri investments to create a solid web map portfolio. Based on that vision, VESTRA drafted “A GIS Strategic Plan for the City.” A key component of that plan was Esri’s ArcGIS platform and Local Government Information Model (LGIM) data standard.

“I’m new to the field and needed a solid foundation to start with,” said Rodriguez. “For us to be fast and productive, Esri and VESTRA recommended all development be based on LGIM data structures and easy-to-configure templates.”

By combining data standardization with easy-to-deploy maps and apps, the city eliminated the need to build solutions from scratch.

Rodriguez had set three main goals for his project: centralize all GIS data assets and technical resources, develop workflows to maintain the data, and build new confidence in GIS throughout the city. By 2011, Mountain View was following a solid road map to change the face of its GIS.

Attack of the Clones

Over the next three years, Rodriguez worked with nearly every department in the city to understand what datasets they used and how they used them. He and his team pored over hundreds of gigabytes of old files and maps, looking for any critical data that might be orphaned in project folders. They reviewed every layer in the old GIS database and began migrating all digital assets into the LGIM. Predictably, many duplicate datasets were found.

“To give you an example of the data redundancy that existed, we started with five databases of street and address data,” said Rodriguez. “Public safety, public works, finance, IT, and planning all had different versions of the same data, and none were complete.”

After all its consolidation efforts, the team ended up with one clean database. That reduction was an important milestone for the city, as it was the first time it had a single address database that all departments could use. It also allowed the team to change the city’s perception of GIS from a mapping system to more of a data analysis tool for everything from elections to land administration.

“A great example of analysis is when we needed to develop a tool that could determine the size of buffer needed to encompass 25 percent of the parcels in our city around a given project area,” said Rodriguez. “This tool automatically runs multiple analyses to see if a council member lives in a conflicted area and ultimately determines [whether] they can participate in a vote or not.”

Quickened Development Cycle

By 2013, the department launched the first general-purpose map viewers. Within days, department-specific apps began flowing from the team—all of them based on Esri templates. Confidence in the system swelled, leading to more departments and divisions providing their data and asking to be included in the app creation process.

“Being in the unique position of both IT and GIS manager, I was able to effect change on both sides of the house very quickly,” said Rodriguez. “It was like an engine; once we got it started and running, it just picked up speed.”

As the team wraps up the initial GIS master plan, Mountain View’s GIS has reached a point at which application development cycles can quickly move from concept to prototype in less than a day. That process used to take weeks, as the group struggled with a lack of standards and broken maintenance workflows.

“With all our data organized and formatted in a simple model, we don’t waste time deciding how to store the data or express data anymore,” said Rodriguez. “That frees us up to continue to look for other ways to add value to the organization with GIS.”

Mountain View GIS staff can concentrate on production now, configuring their products to meet the needs of the city.