Planning Is Key to Building a Collaborative Hub: NC OneMap
Since 2003, NC OneMap has served as the geospatial data backbone of North Carolina. It provides access to reliable statewide geospatial data that helps promote public safety, inform government decisions concerning transportation and the environment, and increase economic vitality in North Carolina communities. It is an organized effort of numerous partners, involving local, state, and federal government agencies; the private sector; and academia. NC OneMap is an initiative directed by the NC Geographic Information Coordinating Council (GICC) and maintained by the North Carolina Center for Geographic Information and Analysis (CGIA).
CGIA recently chose ArcGIS Hub to build the next generation NC OneMap portal. The team members invested time up front on content and site design and developed best practices for their partners who share data. The team's planning pays off by giving users consistent results and an improved user experience and generating fewer support requests.
A statewide geospatial hub
NC OneMap, maintained by CGIA and hosted in the cloud by Esri as a managed web application, provides intuitive data discoverability and access to statewide geospatial data.
North Carolina Center for Geographic Information and Analysis
CGIA was tasked with building a next generation geospatial portal to replace the center's legacy system and provide a secure collaboration space for CGIA's numerous partners to share open data.
CGIA implemented Esri's ArcGIS Hub cloud-based engagement platform to deliver NC OneMap, a next generation discovery and access platform to authoritative, current, open geospatial data and services from CGIA's multiple partner organizations for their statewide spatial data infrastructure (SDI).
NC OneMap's organized content builds confidence and delivers a clean and consistent user experience for all CGIA's stakeholders. Best practices implemented for sharing content have improved the overall discoverability and usefulness of the information that individual departments are providing, greatly reducing the number of support requests received.
NC OneMap is a far-reaching project, promoting a vision for geospatial data standards and best practices; data currency, maintenance, accessibility, and documentation; and a statewide GIS inventory. It comprises 37 priority data themes, including statewide orthoimagery and aggregated parcel data from all 100 counties in North Carolina plus lands of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.
Recently the CGIA team was tasked with building the next generation NC OneMap geospatial portal to replace the center's legacy system. The portal needed to be a secure collaboration space for the team's numerous partners to share open data. With its small team, CGIA needed a solution that would not only allow team members to quickly stand up their content but also be easy to maintain.
Customers of NC OneMap range from novices to experts. CGIA's challenge was to build a site that the average person would find intuitive.
One of the team's goals was to display the most useful content at the top of every page. "The thing we knocked around in the office a lot [was the question], Would our nontechnical customers be able to use the site easily and be able to find what they needed to find?" says David Giordano, NC OneMap database administrator.
Another goal was to provide a reliable data search and discovery experience to customers. NC OneMap is an authoritative discovery point of statewide geospatial data supplied by multiple different agencies. To build consistency, CGIA knew it also had to provide clear guidance to its data-sharing partners.
With these goals in mind, the team evaluated several open data solutions before choosing ArcGIS Hub. Hub is a community engagement and collaboration platform that makes it fast and easy to share data, maps, and apps with the right audiences. It provides open data and programmatic website functionality in a cloud-managed application.
CGIA and many of its partners already use ArcGIS, and the close integration of Hub with ArcGIS Online was an important factor in making their selection. "The ease of integration, ease of implementation, and ease of maintenance were key considerations" explains Brett Spivey, NC OneMap developer. "Pretty much everything we needed was already included with our existing [ArcGIS] license agreement."
Several of CGIA's state partners, large and small, already have their own ArcGIS Online organizational accounts, so that prebuilt infrastructure allowed for quick integration. Because North Carolina state agencies like the Department of Transportation and the Department of Environmental Quality were already using ArcGIS Online in a production environment, the decision to use Hub for NC OneMap was a win-win.
Beyond technology, CGIA team members understood that planning was critical to their success. Since it's easy to begin building pages, it's vital to plan the site map layout before diving into development. Several years' experience with the previous version of the NC OneMap portal gave the team members plenty of insight about customer needs and use patterns. They approached the problem like a business, ferreting out how people would use the site and get the most functionality out of it.
The team identified the pages that data customers were likely to come to the site for. The team members prioritized content and started laying it out in priority order on the web page. They explored different ways users would navigate the site and made conscientious design decisions. The team even included a friendly welcome video to introduce users to the new site.
Next, the team considered the content from a customer perspective. "As a customer, if I enter a keyword such as 'roads,' then I should expect to get all results related to roads," says Giordano. The team developed best practices for CGIA's partners to follow when sharing their data with NC OneMap.
The NC OneMap Guidelines, Recommendations, and Best Practices document was a key part of the team's solution. The guidance document improves NC OneMap usability, and it benefits the individual agencies and other geographic information system (GIS) professionals as well. "We know not everyone will come to the NC OneMap portal first for their data needs," Giordano explains. "GIS analysts or professionals might already be in ArcGIS Online doing a key phrase search looking for data." The recommendations used for NC OneMap apply automatically everywhere people can access the data.
When partners provide a resource to the open data portal, one requirement is that they follow a standardized taxonomy system of tagging that resource. For example, all open data will have the NC OneMap tag, other tags associated with ISO topic categories, and any other tags the data owner decides to include. The North Carolina GIS community already creates good metadata with ISO keywords, so following these accepted practices is relatively easy.
Time invested on the front end has paid off. The site's organized content builds confidence and delivers a clean and consistent user experience. Partners follow best practices for sharing content, which improves the overall discoverability and usefulness of the information that individual departments are providing.
People such as foresters, engineers, land surveyors, and real estate agents go to NC OneMap to look for data. CGIA responds to their feedback.
"The proof is in the pudding, with the comments I'm reading from people who use [NC OneMap] and the data that's in it," says Spivey. "One of the litmus tests that we use in the office is the positive feedback we receive from people who are not GIS professionals but who use GIS periodically in their jobs."
While the previous platform served users well, CGIA is pleased that there are fewer questions about how to search and find data than there were in the past. With NC OneMap 2.0, customers know what to expect and can easily find what they need.
To make [North Carolina] geospatial data available, setting up ArcGIS Hub has been much easier than [it was for] our previous portal, and the functionality is much greater. We're really satisfied . . . the difference is a matter of night and day between the two platforms.
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