For me, being a part of the City of Reno's modernization has been amazing. We went from being just a map shop to being an information hub. That barrier of traditional GIS has been broken, and with the organization's adoption of a geospatial mindset, it has allowed us to empower stakeholders with knowledge and new capabilities.
The Biggest Little City in the World Runs on GIS
Many think of Reno, Nevada, as The Biggest Little City in the World. Known for its neon lights and mountainous views, there are more inconspicuous issues the city must address to make Reno a community that is livable, operational, and able to deliver unparalleled service to its constituents and visitors.
At the core of operations to enhance the city's livability is the foundational use of geographic information system (GIS) technology. The City of Reno has entered a new phase of modernization of GIS in all departments through the adoption of an enterprise approach.
Modernizing Reno's Geographic Approach
Reno's GIS division of IT is composed of a strong team led by two GIS analysts, Eric Friedlander and Jacob Fausett, and a GIS technician, Robert Johnson. GIS has always been a foundational tool and approach for innovating and problem-solving across the organization. This team assists departments like Public Works, Development Services, and City Clerk election operations by enhancing their workflows through GIS solutions.
The GIS management team, although small, supports various city departments. Team members recognized the significant role of GIS in achieving their vision of modernizing the way they worked. Eager to expand and advocate the use of GIS and empower departments in the city with new capabilities, Reno's IT director turned to the Esri account team to see what was possible. The goal was to enable the organization with the tools and data to effectively carry out daily tasks. The City of Reno hosted what it called an Esri GIS Day, which included a conversation with the city decision-makers and department directors across various departments at City Hall. The Esri account team then worked with the everyday users of GIS to take a deep dive into expanding the city's GIS capabilities.
While the GIS team was searching for funding to purchase an Enterprise Agreement, the pandemic created a new challenge for the city. With most employees finding themselves in a work-from-home situation, the need to expand GIS services and licensing was more critical than ever. This challenge resulted in the purchase of licensing through an Enterprise Agreement using the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act funds, which has allowed Reno to be nimble in new ways. Through the adoption of an enterprise system, its intention was to strengthen the city's existing foundational use of GIS to aid Reno's vision of creating a smart community that can drive down costs, reduce time to action, and support policy decisions that improve the overall quality of life, neighborhood by neighborhood.
From Map Shop to Information Hub
The traditional ideology of GIS is typically associated with just making maps, but as any GIS professional knows, it goes way beyond that. Friedlander has been able to truly modernize the team's use of GIS in many ways.
"For me, being a part of the City of Reno's modernization has been amazing. We went from being just a map shop to being an information hub. That barrier of traditional GIS has been broken, and with the organization's adoption of a geospatial mindset, it has allowed us to empower stakeholders with knowledge and new capabilities," Friedlander said.
Setting a Vision for the Future
Prior to the adoption of an enterprise vision for the organization, the city was limited in its knowledge of GIS, access to data, and the ability to create appropriate apps to systematically work within the organization. With the enterprise agreement, it has entered the innovative phase of modernization that allows the GIS team to truly enable data-driven decisions by working on
- Visually reporting data with ArcGIS Dashboards to city officials.
- Redrawing Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) boundaries.
- Addressing homelessness in the community.
- Visualizing and analyzing crime.
- Supporting changes in zoning code.
- Strengthening clean and safe park programs.
Highlight GIS Use Case: Development Services
Originally, the Development Services department stored all its data in unstructured, legacy formats, which was overwhelming to look at and sort through. By working with the GIS team, staff were able to migrate their data into a modern format and integrate new functions and search features, informational features, and zoning layers, which has allowed them to access insight at a quicker rate.
Highlight GIS Use Case: Homeless Outreach
With the community's needs in mind and vision to address homelessness, Reno deployed an ArcGIS Survey123 app to answer questions like, Does this community member have a disability? Was the community member referred to services? Where is the location of the encampment? Does the encampment require any repairs?
What occurs in Reno's community is inherently geographically personal. By mapping and applying spatial analysis, officials can better understand their community's makeup and help residents understand what happens and why—enabling the city to make data-driven decisions in the context of where people live.
Highlight GIS Use Case: Elections
Through a geographic approach, the GIS team created a web application for the Government Affairs team to engage the community. Community members would be able to use their location to find and identify their electoral districts and get a summary of their parcel to see their congressional districts, county commissioner, school district, etc.
Strengthening the Operational Foundation
GIS has proven to the City of Reno why things should be developed with a geospatial lens. Through the adoption of an enterprise vision, individual departments now house the expertise and capabilities to address data equity, affordability, and availability in their organization and work to address broadband issues, homelessness, land use and zoning, asset management, and much more.
"As we plan long term, our strategic plans have a geographic lens, and we've been able to synchronize the vision of the entire organization to have that mindset. We look forward to using GIS, developing data governance, elevating training opportunities, and finding new ways to engage the public. Our tools provided us [with] the ability to help city decision-makers and elected officials make data-driven decisions, and that is a mission I am proud to be a part of," said Kannaiah Vadlakunta, director of Information Technology.